All things Ivor: From Merthyr Tydfil to Fulham legend

Rhys Daly 12th November 2019

Gordon Davies may have written his name in Fulham history books by scoring 178 in his 450 appearances across two prolific spells, but he almost never donned the famous white shirt at all. In this exclusive interview, Ivor tells Rhys Daly how his move to Craven Cottage came about, how Les Strong gave him his famous nickname and why he had no choice but to leave the club for Chelsea in 1984.

Davies, who opted to join Fulham for the first time back in 1978, has spoken out about how he learned his trade in his native Wales, and the steps that led him to London.

He said: “I started at Merthyr, I used to come home from college and play, and then when I finished teacher training I was fortunate to go and get a job back in Merthyr.

“It was a situation of initially playing in the reserves, for a few weeks and then getting a call up to the first team as a right winger.

“Up until that point, I had been a central midfield player, but they needed a quick ball player out wide, so I started in the southern league as a right-winger, but I don’t suppose you can call me a winger because I shot at goal more times than I crossed the ball.

“That showed in my stats because I scored 30 goals from the right wing. From the start of the following season, because I was only there for a season and a half. Everything went well for me during that part of the season, and I scored 35 goals by the beginning of March, and 10 league clubs were then looking with the possibility of signing me”

Davies went on to name some of the professional clubs that were desperate to secure his signature, and why a previous rejection left him shocked about the fresh interest in his services.

He continued: “The interest did come as a shock, when you’re told at 16 years of age by Manchester City that you’re not good enough and they release you, you tend to think that your chance of playing professional football has gone.

“It was one of those situations when you’re trying to get into a better league and better yourself, suddenly my name was mentioned in some Sunday papers linking me to various clubs.”

Davies, now 64, went on to discuss the fixture than changed his life forever and the dilemma he faced as his career took a dramatic turn.

“The interest came to a head when we played away at Kidderminster in the Southern League, when after the game I was told by my manager that there quite a few league clubs had been watching me during the game, and that they now wanted to speak to me.

“It turns out that there were ten league clubs that wanted to have a chat with me that evening, and they were all on a time limit of five minutes each and had lined up outside the changing room door.

“I can’t think of them all but there was Plymouth, Notts County, Lincoln, Torquay, Fulham, Cardiff, Swansea, and a few others.

“They all had five minutes, it was a whirlwind hour and although it was agreed that I wouldn’t sign anything that night, some of them tried to seal a deal there and then.”

Davies then spoke about his thought process as he prepared to make what could have been the biggest decision of his career, and why he eventually chose to join Fulham.

He continued: “I had the chance to go home and chat to my family and some of the ex-pros that I knew, and it took a couple of weeks to make my decision, after which I phoned Fulham and told them I was happy to sort out a deal.

“After I had sorted out a contract with Merthyr they were able to have a chat with Fulham and agree a fee of £3,000 initially and £1,000 after 10 games and £1,000 after 20, there was another clause that I didn’t know about at the time – and they asked Fulham to take a team down to Merthyr to play in a sort of testimonial game.”

In what turned about to be a crucial day for the career of the forward, Davies revealed that he had offers on the table from two of the biggest clubs in English football, shortly after he agreed a deal with Fulham.

He said: “This was before the days of mobile phone, so the day I traveled to sign for Fulham, the Merthyr chairman tried to contact me because two first division clubs had just asked him about me.

“Only my Grandmother was home, and she didn’t know where me and my father had gone, and asked her to tell me to call him as soon as I was back.

“Of course that day I went to see Fulham and signed for them, but the time I got home I get the message, and the chairman said ‘please say you haven’t signed for anybody’ when I told him I had, he swore in Welsh and I heard a big thud, I thought I’d given him a heart attack!

“He said that he was pleased that I had signed for somebody, and then revealed that Tottenham and Liverpool had been in contact with him earlier in the day basically offering a blank check.

“Of course you look back and think about what might have been, but it could have gone totally wrong for me.

“You never know how things may have worked out, but looking back on the career that I had, especially that I had at Fulham, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

In what would turn out to be a pivotal moment in his playing career, Davies made his full Fulham debut against Blackpool in 1978, and had a nightmare start to his time at the club.

He revealed: “I didn’t even know I was going to be playing and the boys who did the kit didn’t either, because they forgot to bring any of my boots.

“When Bobby Campbell announced the team I had to try and find boots that would fit me and ended up having to wear two pairs of socks in a pair that were a size too big!

“Unfortunately, I gave away a penalty after six minutes.

“Our then captain, Ray Evans, then came across to me and was nose to nose shouting at me and I was shaking like a lead, I didn’t touch the guy and he fell over my legs.

“Anyway, the skipper told me that for the rest of the game I shouldn’t come back across the half-way line, and he said if you don’t score, I will chin you after the game.

“To tell you the truth I could’ve crumbled there, but as luck would have it, I laid on the equalizer for Les Strong of all people, and then Les crossed the ball to me, it fell nicely and I hit a left-foot volley into the bottom corner and that was the start of the loving relationship with the supporters.”

Davies has also spoken out about a transfer that has become infamous among Fulham supporters, which was his move to Chelsea in 1984.

He said: “The move came about because I had been having contractual conversations with the club for months and we had almost agreed everything, but the talks broke down over appearance money.

“Most of the first team were getting it, but when I asked for it to be put in, it wasn’t. And by the end of the season I had come to the end of my contract.

“What the club did, was make be sign a week-to-week contract so I could play in the new season, I had to go in every Friday and sign up for the next week.

“I did that throughout August, September and the first few weeks of October, and I was the leading goalscorer at the time.

“The club still weren’t happy about putting that one clause in, so it got to a point where after ten weeks I couldn’t see the end to that situation apart from me leaving.

“I got a bit of stick for joining Chelsea, but at the time that was my only option. They were the only club to come in for me, and they wanted to take it to tribunal.

“It did go to that because I was out of contract, and it was decided that the fee would be £100,000.

“They remained the only club to come in for me, and I agreed the contract the following week, it was a move that I looked forward to, not because it was Chelsea but because it was the first division.

“I had scored goals in third and second division football, but trying to see if I could do it regularly in the best league was something I had to do.

“Despite it being Chelsea, I couldn’t let the rivalry make me turn it down, I had to take the opportunity because there was no way Fulham were going to give me the contract I thought I had earned.”

Davies, who has been fondly referred to as Ivor by fans during his fourty-year association with Fulham, has now revealed the true origin of the name, and how supporters took it on from his fellow players.

He said: “The supporters picked up on it because the players were looking for a nickname for me from the day I joined!

“At some point just before the evening news, Ivor the Engine came on the television, a little Welsh train, I walked in the following day, and Les Strong and John Mitchell seem to have had a chat and they shouted out ‘Ivor’.

“I turned around, because I thought another Welsh lad might have signed, and as soon as I did, they said ‘that’s it’

“I think the fans heard it while I was on the pitch, and the chant started ‘IVOR, IVOR’.

“Even now the fans come up to me and say ‘Ivor, can I get an autograph or a selfie, and I answer to it because as far as football is concerned, that it what people know me by.

“Even because of the program, it says Ivor above Gordon Davies, even youngsters use it, and from my point of view, it’s nice to have a good nickname rather than something worse!

“Even the first day I went to Chelsea, Micky Droy walked in, I looked him straight in the eye, and he said: ‘Ivor! Welcome to Chelsea, hope it all goes well for you!’

“Even for Manchester City, Wrexham and for Wales, you’d get the odd ‘Gordon’ but on the most part it was Ivor, and that stuck with me throughout my career.”

Davies, who now works for the club in hospitality, still regularly attends Fulham home fixtures, and recently gave his thoughts on why things are looking positive at the Cottage.

He said of Scott Parker and his team before the win over Luton: “Scott is learning, in a game where it is results based, we’re only six points off the top and we haven’t played really well consistently yet.

 “Scott need to be given time to find his best formation and team.

“We have the squad to finish in the top two and we have the squad to do it, we just need to find that formula to finish teams off in the final third.”