Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Alan Davidson

The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear who left their mark on football Down Under. Highly respected defender Alan Davidson talks about his long career and his deep admiration for the late Brian Clough.

alan davidson

Jason and Alan Davidson on a visit to the latter's former club Nottingham Forest Source: Supplied

Alan Davidson, arguably Australia's finest ever fullback, regards his selection in the all-time Socceroos' XI as one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.

Davidson, who played 79 times for the Socceroos, was named as left back in the team containing the likes of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill.

The poll was conducted mainly for fans and Davidson said he was surprised that somebody from the 'old school' should be remembered and recognised accordingly.

"The selection among such an amazing 11 was a real honour and a privilege but what was most satisfying - and mind-boggling - was the fact that they still remembered me after all those years," Davidson, 56, said.

"They selected the all-time team four years ago and most in the team were current players.

"The only exceptions were defender Joe Marston and midfielder Ray Baartz. Having stopped playing 20 years ago, it was very gratifying for me.

"It's always nice to be acknowledged in football."

Davidson, who still lives in his home town Melbourne and is a member of the A-League's match review panel, spoke at length about his long career and how serious injuries may have robbed him of a career in England.

You have played plenty of football at club and national level. Which was the best period of your career?

"I guess the times I look back on with fondness are those when I won things and was part of a team that won something.

"Winning is always fulfilling. With South Melbourne I was lucky to win the league and the cup and I won a few trophies in Malaysia. With the Socceroos, going to the 1988 Olympics was important, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as was helping the Socceroos reach the final of the Bicentennial Gold Cup against Brazil that same year.

"Joining Nottingham Forest in the then first division was a highlight too but of course my high point was representing Australia on 79 occasions. I think it's the biggest accolade for any footballer."

English football was not too kind to you. Tell us about your injury-riddled stay at Forest.

"What happened is this. I suffered a head injury playing for South Melbourne against Sydney Hakoah. We thought we had controlled the problem but when I went to England in 1984 and played about four matches in the first team I collapsed with another head injury in a match in Saudi Arabia during the winter break and that put me out for the rest of the season.

"They worked out that I had damaged brain tissue and warned me I might not play again. I started taking medication and was gradually weaning myself back into football.

"I then got injured again in a league game against Everton. I got a knee in the back which resulted in a fracture that put me out for another 18 months. So that was it.

"I returned home, stopped playing for a while and after a period of time I slowly got back into it again."

Your experience in England must have been hard to take.

"It's a tough road being a professional footballer. I was there for two years and a lot of that time was spent on the side. All I did was walk around the ground and see medical staff.

"I told manager Brian Clough of my disappointment and I asked him to send me to the best neurologist, which he did.

"When I was there waiting to see the neurologist in London the then prime minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher and her daughter came out of his office so I knew he was true to his word.

"Clough was good to me. He gave me the opportunities and he supported me. Before I left Nottingham to come back home I remember I went into his office and he said to me 'listen, I did everything I could for you. I'm sorry, it is what it is. Son, you had a tough run, but that's football'. He was brutally honest. He told me to move forward, go home and get on with my life.

"I know he liked a drink and I gave him two bottles of Australian wine. He gave me a big hug and a kiss and he wished me all the best. Brian Clough was a great man."

Right back and left back were your positions. Was it hard to adjust from one role to another?

"Not really. I was pretty comfortable on both sides and it did not bother me too much. I was a utility player at club and Socceroos level and that is how I'd like to be remembered. I never really had a fixed position.

"I played a lot of games in midfield and others as a sweeper. Coach John Margaritis even played me up front for a couple of games at South Melbourne because our strikers were injured. I scored three goals from the two games but the problem was we conceded two goals too so he put me at the back again."

Was your selection as fullback in the all-time Socceroos XI also a sign of recognition for the National Soccer League?

"There is no doubt in my mind that during my days it was tough and nastier to play. I'd like to think that I was a sort of competent footballer, or so they used to tell me.

"I never looked at myself as anything special. I just loved playing football and I look back on my career as a great journey and a valuable education. Travelling and seeing the world also taught me to become a proud Australian. That's what the Socceroos did for me."

How good were South Melbourne and would they have coped with the demands of the A-League?

"I don't think we would have had any problems coping with today's football. I think we had a strong team with a lot of good players.

"Obviously the game is faster today. Back in my days we used to work for eight hours then go to training. I was an electrician by trade and trained for four or five nights a week under coach Rale Rasic. I diversified in a few things but basically we were pretty much full-time part-timers."

The three FIFA World Cup campaigns you were involved in ended in failure. Tell us about the Socceroos' bids to reach the 1982, 1986 and 1990 finals.

"Looking back at the 1982 campaign we let it slip. We lost 0-2 to New Zealand in Sydney in a group match and I'm pretty sure we would have made the World Cup had we won that section.

"Even in the match in Auckland we drew 3-3 after leading three times.

"The Kiwis went on to win an easy group (comprising Indonesia, Fiji and Chinese Taipei) and survive a final group featuring China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) to qualify for the finals in Spain. For us it was heart-breaking and a tough pill to swallow.

"Four years later we lost 2-0 on aggregate to Scotland in a final playoff. We did well in Glasgow and I remember the crowd were booing their players at halftime when the score was still goalless.

"After that we got knocked out by Israel in the 1990 campaign and at that stage I was pretty much heart-broken, sick of soccer and sick of the Socceroos losing. I was devastated. The dream of any footballer is to go to a World Cup and we had three bites at the cherry.

"But I am grateful, being a football father, that I had the opportunity to go to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to watch my son Jason play."

How do you see the current Socceroos team?

"The big plus for the Socceroos is that they go through Asia and we should thank former FFA chairman Frank Lowy for that. It's a long and tough road but they don't just play one or two hard games to qualify now.

"If we were in Asia those days we probably would have qualified.

"Also most of the current Socceroos play all over the world and Ange Postecoglou has done a great job in putting the team together. He made some tough decisions that transpired into success.

"Postecoglou has a good balance of young and experienced players and he has created a strong mould. There also seems to be a lot of depth."

The A-League is going fine but it needs something new. What should come first: expansion or a second division?

"The league is positive and exciting and is great for our game. Back in my days our clubs were predominantly ethnic-backed but today you go to a Melbourne Victory match, for example, and you see the Greeks, Croats and Macedonians all wearing blue shirts. Now it's about derbies and battles between cities rather than ones involving ethnic backgrounds. That's moving forward in the right direction.

"I would go with expansion first. With a second division you'd have to create a whole new second tier but one has to ask if there is a financial structure and if there are adequate facilities. More importantly, is it sustainable?

"You even have to question the sustainability of the A-League itself when most clubs finish the year at a loss.

"We can add two more teams to the A-League and slowly grow that way as opposed to adding another eight or 10 teams and blowing our budget."

Who are the best players you have played with and against?

"I was a big fan of Terry Greedy, who was an excellent and courageous goalkeeper. I had a lot of respect for him. Apart from his skills he was a school teacher and a gentleman and he had a great rapport with all his team-mates.

"I faced Brazil's Romario at the 1988 Olympics and in the 1988 Bicentennial Gold Cup. He was a key player and beginning to come to the forefront of the world game. He was real quality.

"I also was impressed by the class of midfielder Aleksei Mikhailichenko when we faced Russia in the same Olympics."

And, finally, a standard question: which players do you admire most abroad and in Australia?

"I admire the best. I was a big fan of Diego Maradona and now I look at Lionel Messi who is a legend too. He never ceases to amaze and he does his stuff every game. I would have loved to train with him.

"I have great respect for Tim Cahill and Marco Bresciano, although the latter has just retired. They both are great role models. I have watched both of them look after my son Jason. One of the reasons the current Socceroos are so good is because they have guys like Cahill and Bresciano mentoring the younger generation and taking them under their wings."


Club career:
1976-1977: Altona City
1978-1984: South Melbourne
1984-1985: Nottingham Forest
1986: South Melbourne
1987-1992: Melbourne Croatia
1992-1996: Padang FA (twice on loan to South Melbourne)
1996-1997: Collingwood Warriors
1997-1998: Melbourne Knights

International career:
Australia: 79 matches

Australia: OFC Nations Cup 1980. South Melbourne: NSL 1984, NSL Cup 1996. Pahang: Malaysian Premier League 1992, 1995. Malaysia Cup 1992. Collingwood: NSL Cup 1997.

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11 min read
Published 23 November 2016 at 2:00am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS