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The Legend Of Steve Davies


Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Striker" episode. Now in sports, you hear incessantly about the legendary players that defined the game. This hero worship is supported by a rapid base of fans, but, you've got to be a pretty hard-core fan to become a legend in your own right.

STEVE DAVIES: I love football, which is American soccer to you guys. It's our national game. I fell in love with the game when I was about 6, 7 years old. I left school, take a ball, take it up the road, play in the garages with my mates, pretending I was scoring the winning goal at Wembley, which is every schoolboy's dream. I remember in 1975 I watched the Cup final on the TV, it was a game between West Ham United and Fulham, and West Ham went on to win 2-0. From that day on, I decided I was going to follow West Ham. It became a bit massive love affair. I went to every game, home and away. I have a tattoo on my right arm, it's a massive West Ham emblem with, West Ham 'Till I Die, written on it.

It was July in 1994. I'm 22 years old. I'm a self-employed courier. And it's the pre-season fixtures for West Ham. And my mate, Chunk (ph), he called me up and he said (imitating Chunk), Steve, do you fancy going over to watch the game tonight?

Yeah, why not? You know, any chance you're going to watch the Hammers?

(Imitating Chunk) I'm bringing Kelly - which is his missus - and -

not a problem, I'll bring Kelly which is my missus ,too, which is quite funny, because Chunk's real name is Steve. And I'm Steve, too.

So we got into the car, got a carton of little cans with us, picked up a package of cigarettes and off we went to Oxford City. We arrived at the game, and then we found ourselves a little spot right next to the dugout where the managers sit. And the the team were warming up, and a manager at the time, Harry Redknapp, he was on the sidelines directing a few bits. It's at times like that, when you look at them - you think, aw I wish I was out there with them. You know, they're tanned, highly paid. You wish you were a professional footballer then. But sometimes, you know, you have to think back and say, you know, the only reason why I'm not playing out there, 'cause I wasn't good enough. So you have to settle for that, really. Then the team went down to get their full kit on for the game. It's traditional, while West Ham supporters, that we sing our famous song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles."

Then, they come along with Oxford City. They all come out together, and they all set up to kickoff. West Ham started off quite well, and we went winding up in the match quite early on. And, even though it was a preseason game, the players do go in hard, as it were, and they tackle hard and they fight for every ball. We had an attack, and our left winger went down the left wing, and he crossed the ball. Lee Chapman was going up for it - Lee Chapman's our striker for West Ham - and he ran up to about the six-foot mark. And he went up against the defender, probably about five foot four. The defender beat him in the air, and as Lee Chapman came down, he fell on his knees. And this happened probably twice to three times in the first half. I think after about the second time is when I decided, I must tell Lee how he's playing football - come on Chapman, get off your backside. Chapman, why you falling over so much? Get up Chapman, you [bleep] donkey. [Bleep]. You're useless. There you go.

And then, I did catch the eye of our manager, Harry Redknapp, he caught my eye, and I said, what we playing him for, mate? Come on, get him off the pitch, you know. I ain't coming again next season if he's playing. He's rubbish, Harry. I would just give him a hard time. Even when he went near the ball, I booed him - don't touch the ball, it's not for you. I personally didn't think he was trying, and if a player doesn't try on a football pitch, he deserves the wrath of a football fan I think.

Then the first half ended, and the team went off into the dressing room for refreshments and a pep talk. Chunk ran back to the car and grabbed a couple of cans of beer that was left for us four; our refreshments for half time. And, all of a sudden, the team started coming out for the second half. We did about two minutes, and Chapman went in for the ball - he actually went in for a tackle. I was quite surprised. And he came off second best, and he had a nasty bang onto his shin. He was hobbling off, and it was at that point I gave a big cheer - yea, see you later, donkey. And as I do it, I look out the of the corner of my eye, and he ran up, turned around, and started walking over to me. And he goes, (imitating Harry Redknapp) do you bet you can play as good as you talk?

What do you mean?

(Imitating Harry Redknapp) Do you want to play? You think you can play better than Chapman? Come on.

And I thought he was calling my bluff. Yeah, no problem, I'll do it. But no, he dragged me over to the barrier, sent me down to the changing rooms to go and get changed. My friend Chunk couldn't believe it, and a few other West Ham fans around there were like, all open-mouthed going what the hell's going on? I went down there with the kick man, got my full kit on, and he said, what size boots are you? I said, size nine. So he took some boots out of this big basket. Put my boots on, put my shin pads on. And I thought, no, this can't be happening. I'm not going to be playing for West Ham. I've got West Ham tattoos all my life, and everything I do, I lived and breathed West Ham. Is this going to happen? Am I going to play for West Ham?

We came out of the dressing room to quite a big cheer from a lot of the West Ham people. My friends are all laughing, because they've seen me play football before. But even then, even then when me and the kit man came out of the dressing room, I didn't think I was going to go out and play football for my team.

I walked up to where Harry Redknapp was, and he said, where'd you play? I normally play defense. Right-back defender. I said well, I'll play striker. He said right, your on then. And that was it he called the ref, the ref was Roger Milford, a famous referee in England at the time. He signaled to the ref and the ref said come on in he patted me on the back, on you go son, do your best. As I went on, we got radio reporters for Oxford city football club and they did the announcing and this guy ran up to Harry Redknapp and said who's the lad you just put on? And Harry Redknapp turned around and said to him, ain't you been watching the World Cup? That's the Bulgarian, Tittyshev. And this Oxford chaps said oh, I thought it was him, and off he went.

Striker. The Bulgarian, Tittyshev. And as I stepped out onto the pitch the crowd noise disappeared. It true what the players say when they day did you hear the crowd chanting your name they say will know you don't. It's really weird I did not hear any of my friends at all after that. All I kept thinking to myself was don't [bleep] up, Steve, just don't [bleep] up. The play started and I went in for a tackle. I didn't win the tackle, he a defended on me. Then Lee Chapman missed the ball up a dozen times in the first half so I think we're quite equal on that. And now, I think there's was about 10 minutes into the game it was a big six-foot bloke he struck a ball - probably went about 50 - 60 yards. And then it came at me like a rocket four - five foot up in the air. As it got to me, and all I kept thinking, I've got to got to trap this - all at a a split second. And I did, I trapped underneath my foot, and then I passed it on to Trevor Morle the striker - he shot wide.

Imagine playing flag football with your friends on a Saturday morning in America. Then, on a Sunday evening you go out and play professional football with Miami Dolphins. That's exactly how it was for me. It was then a kind of hit me that I was actually playing for my beloved West Ham. I thought I'm only going to do this once let's go and enjoy it. And, yeah I did considering I had been smoking and drinking before the game I thought I was doing okay. I played a couple of passes to my partner at the time, Trevor Morle, received a pass from Joey Beauchamp. It's not everyday you get that is it? And, yeah. I started to get into the swing of things and then a big moment appeared. My left winger ran on the left wing and kicked the ball into the penalty area which went close to the goalkeeper.

It kind of seemed a bit slow motion to me but I thought this is my chance. And I ran on, ran between the two defenders and suddenly found myself in front of the goal is a goalkeeper in front of me. The ball landed right in front of me and I thought this is my moment, this is my moment to score for West Ham. There's only one place this ball is for going top left-hand corner. I pulled my right leg back, my calf tensed up, my foot connected sweetly with the ball and boy have I never hit a ball so hard put it straight into the top corner. And they said this is probably the only time I did hear the crowd. Who did cheer and I was gone. I was up at a corner flag which was right near were my friends my partner was standing and I ran after them arms aloft and I done a little jig jumped up in the air, punch the the air. It was just all surreal. I just scored a goal. I could not believe it. That was probably the best feeling in the world.

As it is for football, you restart the game and crack on. West Ham went on to win 5-2. The full-time whistle went. I started shaking players' hands for the opposition. And a got into the dressing room with the players and was a bit surreal. Some of the players especially this guy he would come up and smacked me on the head affectionately saying well done, Steve, for most of them were quite surprised I actually scored a goal. Harry Redknapp patted me on the back, said, well done, son. I said, am I going to get a contract? He laughed at me. I took my boots off and threw them in the basket. Can I have my top? He said, no, we need it for the next game. So got my shirt I had on before the game and put it over my West Ham shirt and kept it. And I left in a hurry.

Yeah, I said goodbyes the thank yous and walked up beside the pitch where my friends were. Chunk gives me the biggest man-hug cuddle I have ever had. He was buzzing, I've just played for West. I got back into the car and drove back home, got in, went to bed, went to work the next day and that's the reality of being a professional football for just one half.

WASHINGTON: And that is the legend of Steve Davies. Next on SNAP - wait, no. Just a moment. Just a moment.

DAVIES: Actually that's not how the legend goes. But the truth of the matter is when I ran away to celebrate my goal, I looked over and saw a linesman put the flag in the air and the referee signaling it was not a goal. I was actually two yards offside when I scored that goal. I ran over to the referee. I put my arm around him. I said, that was my moment you [bleep]. And he gave me a big smile. And off we went to kick off again. That's the true legend of Steve Davies, extraordinaire.

WASHINGTON: Thank you, Steve Davies ,for sharing your story with the SNAP. A special thanks to Jeff for bringing us that story. For more on the halftime hero, I have a link to Jeff's story of Howard Magazine honors website That story was produced by Davie Kim. When we return, our guest has a voice so smooth that you almost don't mind that he is pounding you in the face. When SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Striker" episode continues. Stay tuned. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.