IF FREUD WAS picking his Fantasy XI, Carl Davenport would start at centre forward.
The Cork Celtic and Hibs legend doesn’t mind telling you he’s slept with well over 2,000 women.
But in The Dav’s story, one woman means more than the others; his mother, whose post-war brand of tough love for her only child drove Davenport into the arms of the League of Ireland in the swinging 1960s.
“I wanted to get away from home,” he says from Bolton this week when asked about his decision to leave professional football in England for somewhere he couldn’t pin on a map at the time.
“I wanted to get away from my mother. You’ve got it one.”
Davenport was born in Farnworth in the northwest of England in 1944 to Hilda and father Jim, who had lined out in centre midfield for Blackburn during the war years.
Young Carl’s life unfolded under gas lamps on a cobbled Charles Street in the Lancashire town, where he honed his talent and love for football.
His name soon filled the notepads of scouts from league outfits. He flirted with clubs like Manchester City before signing for local side Bolton Wanderers with whom he trained alongside the likes of ‘The Lion of Vienna’ Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney.
It felt like he was within touching distance of the big time.
“I was friends with Franny Lee from playing in Bolton and we both signed for Bolton at the same time,” he says.
“We were there and we worked our way up and after another year Alan Ball joined as well. They told him to go away and be a jockey, he’d never make it.
“He went to Blackpool and then I went to Preston and we used get the same train in the morning. I’d get off at Preston and he’d carry on to Blackpool. Coming back one particular Friday — we never trained much on a Friday — he’s on the train coming back from Blackpool and he’s hanging out the window at me on the platform in Preston, shouting ‘I’m in the first team, there’s been five injuries!’
“He played at Liverpool and gave Tommy Smyth the run around. His name was made.”
Ball went on to star as the youngest member of Alf Ramsey’s so-called wingless wonders at the 1966 World Cup of course and after a glittering playing career, managed Man City, Southampton and others before his death in 2007.
“He was a great lad,” says Davenport, who shared the North End dressing-room with Irish players like Alan Kelly Sr, Frank O’Farrell and Johnny Fullam.
“All his life he never changed. I went to Man City matches when he was manager. He were brilliant.
“He was in Ireland six weeks before he died with me on holiday. Then he was burning some leaves in his house and it got out of order and was setting fire to a lady’s fence. He ran back to get some water to put it out and had a heart attack.”
It was Ball who first told Davenport of the interest from — and existence of — a club in the south of Ireland.
Alan Ball Sr was a coach throughout the leagues down the years and had learned of Cork Celtic’s search for a striker.
Davenport, then leading the line for Macclesfield, suddenly had a world beyond the industrial northwest suddenly reveal itself to him.
“In January of ‘67, Alan Jr comes round to my house on his bike — he’s just won the World Cup. On his bike!” Davenport sighs. “Course he didn’t live far from me.”
“Anyway, he says ‘my dad says do you want to go to Cork? They want to buy you from Macclesfield’.
“I said I don’t know where Cork is. What’s going on?’
“Well, he says ‘me dad has told them you’re the playboy of the western world and you’ll get them a goal a game’. That’s all he could tell ‘em.”
Davenport said he’d think about it. It didn’t take too long to make the decision.
“I wanted to get away from home anyway. So I buggered off to Cork.”
“She held me back too long, and the relief, I can not describe it,” Davenport writes in his book ‘The Dav’ of the influence of his mother on his decision to leave England.
“I remember leaving that day for Cork and I hadn’t a clue where I was going, but I was free, and that most likely sounds terrible.”
To say the enthusiasm with which Davenport embraced a technicolor life on the other side of his parents’ front door was a reaction to the monochrome kitchen sink drama inside, would be trite.
But his mother’s strict upbringing of her second son seems to have set Carl on a path away from Charles Street, towards the floodlights of faraway clubs.
As a budding pro, the young striker handed over his wages to his parents each week and received what he considered ‘next to nothing spending money’ in return, which, he writes, ‘forced him to gamble to keep up with the rest of the players’.
Ultimately, knowing his parents did not believe in using the services of Bolton’s banks, he sniffed out a biscuit tin brimming with notes – previously handed over by him — which was hidden behind the bathtub panelling.
He took a bit here and a bit there over the course of months, knowing ultimately he’d be found out and have to face the consequences. It weighed heavily on him every day.
The final whistle eventually and inevitably peeped on his personal Ponzi scheme.
‘Well son, what did you spend the money on” his father asked coolly, while his mother stayed in another room.
“Horses, women and drink.”
“Promise me you’ll never back horses again.”
“Okay, but what about the women and drink, dad?”
An English-registered Ford Cortina pulled into St Patrick’s Quay in Cork City centre on the evening of Saturday, 7 January, 1967, the night before the local derby between Hibs and The Dav’s new club Celtic.
Davenport was greeted by a couple of club officials, including Donie Forde after whom the main stand in Turner’s Cross is now named, and two players.
They shook hands and made their introductions and his new teammates promised to get their striker to his digs on the Mardyke.
Instead, now without the Celtic bosses, they crossed the bridge and slipped behind the curtain of a snug in a Merchant’s Quay bar, where they got to know each other over a couple of pints.
They then made the walk to the Lower Glanmire Road to take in some music in the famous dancehall, the Arcadia. If the hashtag #greatestleagueintheworld was around in 1967, this episode would be trending on Twitter.
The following day Davenport introduced himself to the city as his new side came from two goals down to win 3-2 away at Flower Lodge.
The ‘long-striding Englishman was on a loose ball like a flash to stab home the equaliser’ according to the newspaper reports on Monday morning.
The Davenport era had begun, but it wasn’t evident that he’d help make the next few years a golden period for the game on Leeside with massive crowds every weekend, two teams duelling for honours and big imported names like Davenport himself, Dave ‘Wiggy’ Wiggington and Dave Bacuzzi adding some glamour to serious local players like Jackie Morley, Noel O’Mahony, Miah Dennehy and many more.
Hibs v Celtic was about to become showtime.
“When I went to Celtic’s ground — Turner’s Cross — the Tuesday evening after the derby, I walked in and said, ‘that’s the worst pitch I’ve ever seen in my life and that’s the worst training ground I’ve ever come across,” recalls Davenport.
“They said ‘that’s the stadium, not the training ground and it’s where you’re going to play’. So that didn’t go down too well.
“Cork Hibernians had 200 people at games and Cork Celtic probably 300. But the standard weren’t bad then.”
Davenport hit the ground running on and off the pitch. He went on a goal scoring run that helped propel Celtic to mid-table by season’s end and he quickly found his feet socially.
And then they made him player-manager.Source: IWOTO Cork City Fanzine/YouTube
“I were only 23,” says Davenport. “’I’ve found out since it’s the youngest ever in history.
Within one season there were 18,000 people there . That’s amazing that isnt it?”
“Everybody seems to get together and liked the football and liked me. I drew crowds wherever I went to, you know what I mean? Even when we played away I put a couple of thousand on the gate.”
Davenport was buzzing around Leeside in a flash imported car, with a Guinness beermat in the place of a tax disc. Various young women filled the passenger seat.
He drank halves — to ‘make it look good, in case anyone saw me out’ — in pubs from Kinsale to Crosshaven to Washington Street.
If the playboy of the western world clause was inserted on that initial contract by Alan Ball Sr, no court in the land would suggest he didn’t fulfil his side of the bargain. But he held up the goal-a-game stipulation too.
Davenport insists he was serious about his football and took to moulding a team that would challenge for honours using modern training techniques; they finished third in 1967-68.
“What I did was put all the best bits and pieces from all the clubs I’d been at,” he explains. “I cut them all together.”
Watching Lofthouse, Finney and Stanley Matthews be professional on the pitch and away from it, informed his methods which he insists were cutting edge and effective.
“I got them really fit and I think that was a big thing. When I went over I don’t think they did any training.”
‘Carl Davenport seeks release from Celtic’ read the headline in the Cork Examiner on the morning of 7 June, 1968.
“The news of the player-manager’s written request will come as a surprise to a majority of soccer fans, but not to those more closely connected with the club,’ the piece explained.
Davenport insisted he was frustrated with the club directors’ reticence, as he saw it, in agreeing plans for the following season. ‘Strictly speaking I have not had an official offer’ was the barely-coded quote on his own future.
“The Hibs boss Amby Fogarty tapped me up,” he says now. “It was a big controversy. Celtic wanted about £7,000 for me which would have been a record and it went to a tribunal and all of this.
“I were over in England when it was going on. They’d kept arguing and eventually got the fee down to £3,000 or so which was a record anyway between two League of Ireland clubs, but I was getting paid by both. I didn’t want to come back,” he jokes.
The protracted transfer from Turner’s Cross to Flower Lodge — now Páirc Uí Rinn — eventually saw Davenport become an integral part of a Hibs side that would help define — along with the hugely successful Waterford side and others — football in the early ’70s, boasting names like Wigginton, Tony Marsden, John Lawson and Sonny Sweeney.
Under Fogarty and then Dave Bacuzzi they won the title in 1971, and the FAI Cup in 1972 and 1973.
“I was disappointed that that team at Hibs were not kept together because we would have dominated. There wasn’t a weak link in the team,” says Davenport of that swashbuckling side.
“I think that team at that stage, if they were kept together, they would have won for the next five years. They were a fantastic team that had everything. But then they sacked Fogarty and when I left, three or four seasons afterwards, they were gone out of the league.”
Davenport clashed with English coach Bacuzzi. “I got a bit fed up of him. He tried to break me, giving me extra training and picking on me,” claims Davenport.
“So I went back to Celtic as manager and won league with them. Incredible.”
That 1973-74 league title was the nexus of Celtic’s story. After that the graph plots to seventh in ’75, then eighth a season later, then ninth, 14th in 1978, 16th and then, just like that, they’re gone from existence too. Showtime was over.
Could he have taken opportunities to have another go on the other side of the Irish Sea?
“I should have gone back to Cardiff,” says the 74-year-old. “They wanted to buy me from Hibs. But I was on good money. They gave me £180 a week to stay at Hibs. £180!
“My digs were only five pound a week. Three meals a day as well. I might go back to them.
“But I was on more than anyone. £180 a week! Keegan was on a hundred at Liverpool.
“But I should have went to Cardiff and I could have always come back to Ireland later on.”
All the stories have been told
Of kings and days of old
- Living On A Thin Line, The Kinks
Davenport ghosted out of Leeside in ‘72 for whistle-stop stays at Limerick and St Pat’s where the standout moment is arguably his decision to cry off the night before a match and instead order steaks and champagne to his club-provided room in the Green Isle Hotel.
Saints manager Jack Burnett knocked on the door before the room service arrived.
“This girl, half naked in the room, and I just got away with a fine. I had to pay for the two bottles of champagne,” he recalls.
Davenport has strong ties to Leeside still. He married Jean Crosbie, daughter of ‘newspaper magnate, George Crosbie’ — as the headlines described him when breaking the news of the wedding. The family owned the Examiner.
Ray Davies married Jean’s sister and the Kinks lead singer and Davenport cut a dash around Kinsale and a ‘swinging Cork’.
Davenport’s marriage ultimately ended but he has lots of good memories, friends and family still in Cork.
A packed Turner’s Cross paid tribute to him at a testimonial in 2003 against a Bolton Wanderers side managed by his friend Sam Allardyce, who was seemingly surprised at the affection and respect for Davenport, a long way from Burnden Park.
Ever the romantic, Davenport admits he did try to revive Cork Celtic with ‘a millionaire friend’ while Cork City played their games in Bishopstown for a period in the ‘90s.
Like Superman now back living on Krypton, the septuagenarian resides in Bolton. He went to Goodison Park last week to visit Big Sam but was not impressed: “Terrible game, terrible players, I can’t believe the money they pay these people. They’re not that good.”
He’ll return to Cork next month for a charity event in Ballincollig at which he’ll skip down memory lane in front of an audience of football fans who remember Leeside football’s golden era and one of the men who helped define it thanks to his goals, but a lot more too.
“I have four league medals…and there’s not many have four league medals for four different clubs,” he says. “I must have done something right.”