Dec 21 2013 by Mark Ridgway, Sat WIR
IF A footballer’s physical and mental resilience can be measured by how many times he has fought back from serious injury, then Steve Davies must be one of the game’s strong men.
The 25-year-old striker from Halewood is currently with Blackpool, his fourth League club in a journey through the professional ranks that began at Tranmere Rovers in 2005.
A career total of little over 200 senior games would have been significantly higher, had not been for a succession of painful episodes that dogged his progress along the way.
The run of bad luck began with a cruciate ligament injury while he was with Rovers. At Derby County, Davies underwent six operations in three years, including a broken foot, a broken ankle, surgery for hernia and groin problems and, most worryingly, a fractured skull that required 10 metal plates to be inserted into his head.
Davies says with more than a hint of understatement: “As every footballer knows, you get hurt playing. Unfortunately I was just on the wrong end of a couple of bad ones.”
He concedes, however, that the head injury, sustained in a game between Derby and Southampton in 2011, was so worrying that he feared not only his career but a normal way of life might be taken away from him.
Remarkably, the striker was playing again within five months, but the memories remain.
“My first thoughts weren’t about football, it was the fact I had two kids and a wife and I wanted to make sure I was well and around for them,” Davies said.
“I can’t remember a great deal of the incident (his head collided with the elbow of an opponent when jumping for a high ball), just coming off the pitch and being in the ambulance.
“The next couple of weeks were a big blur; it was one of those injuries where I didn’t think I was ever going to get back playing.
“It wasn’t a case of giving up football; it was that there was a chance of it being taken away. But the key thing wasn’t football; it was getting me back to a normal healthy state.
“It was down to the doctors and thankfully I came out the other side. I had to wear a protective mask for a while afterwards, but it was more of a hindrance as it made me more aware of the problem.”
He added: “Even now it’s just a bonus that I’m back playing, to be able to come into work every day and do what I love. At one stage it was possibly going to be taken away from me.
“Every season since then I’ve just been glad to be back in that environment and be enjoying it.”
As a youngster bursting from the youth team into the first team at Tranmere, Davies was branded as the ‘next big thing’, but took it all in his stride.
After making his debut at 17, he went on to play 71 times for Rovers and is thankful to his first club for throwing him in at the deep end.
He said: “It’s key these days that the earlier you start, the better. Tranmere set me up in good stead and since then I’ve gone on to make a good couple of moves.
“When I first broke through I played wide left for two seasons, mainly because we had two good strikers at the time, and the manager wanted to get me in the team. It was OK wide, I enjoyed it, but I always wanted to be a striker, so I was always geared around that.
“At a young age I was playing games, and I started off the 2007 season well. However, I damaged my cruciate ligaments in a tackle against Northampton, which was a blow.
“I struggled to get fit again, but thankfully I made it back for the final few games of the season.”
The following summer, Davies moved on to Derby County with the fee ultimately being settled by a tribunal. Tranmere received £275,000 up front, plus extras based on appearances.
Davies recalled: “I had a few good chances of moving when I was at Tranmere, but I didn’t really want to go for it straight away. Then I got the injury. Derby were really keen to get me there still, so it was a big deal and I couldn’t turn it down.
“The manager there, Paul Jewell, showed good faith in me; he knew I’d get back to the potential I had, so it was something I couldn’t turn my back on.
“I always backed myself to make the step up, as any young kid would; it didn’t faze me going into the Championship. Obviously Derby are a massive club, the fans there have a great tradition, they get great crowds, so it was big deal and a good move for me.”
A promising first season at Pride Park was brought to a premature end by a fractured metatarsal, the first of many injuries that would plague his time at the club.
Davies said: “I always tried to rush myself back from injuries and never fully recovered. I think I was a bit too keen to prove I was all right when I wasn’t 100 per cent. I was picking up different injuries due to the fact I wasn’t fully recovered.
“I was so keen to play, I just wanted to be out there and involved, sometimes you need to know your body, but at that stage of my career I wasn’t sure. I was just forcing myself to play, but that wasn’t ideal.”
Despite his problems, Davies made just under 100 appearances for the Rams, netting 23 times, including 12 in the 2011-12 campaign.
Family issues hastened the end of Davies’s time at Derby, but after manager Nigel Clough placed a £1million price tag on the striker, his proposed move to Ipswich Town fell through.
Instead he chose Ashton Gate as his next destination, a £750,000 move to Bristol City, which involved the gamble of moving to an unfamiliar area of the country.
Davies said: “My missus is from London and we thought it was a bit closer than it was, it was still quite far. It was a tough year for the club as we struggled, but on a personal level I scored loads of goals, which got me the move to Blackpool.”