For out latest ‘Top Boyos’ entrant, we once again turn to a Welsh Premier League great. Bangor City fan Matt Johnson, the brains behind the blog ‘Llandudno Jet Set‘, tells us why Les Davies is his Welsh footballing hero and how he once challenged Leo Messi for European Player of the Year.
I can remember exactly what I was doing when I found out about Les Davies’ nomination for last year’s European Player of the Year award; I was staring in disbelief at a computer screen I could see words and I knew what they meant I just didn’t believe what they were telling me.
I logged on to Twitter to see if the story was true and it did appear to be a true story. The Spanish media were talking about “Big Les” and countless tweets directed me towards the websites of broadsheet newspapers. The Guardian, Times and Telegraph wouldn’t lie, would they?I checked UEFA’s website just to be sure. The first thing I saw was a picture of Les, so it was all true. Bangor City did have has one of the 32 best players in Europe playing for them. I looked and looked at the words “Bangor City’s Les Davies had been nominated for the 2011/12 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award.” and wondered how a player from little old Bangor City could bear comparison with Messi, Pirlo and Iniesta. When it came to Les the rest of the world was merely catching the Bangor fans up, and we didn’t need UEFA to tell us that Les was special. The reason for the time lag is simple, the Welsh Premier League doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in a world under the spell of Champions League hype. Bangor fans realised that Les was a special player during his first stint as a Bangor player. Whenever the ball was near him there was a tangible crackle of excitement. We just knew that something exciting was going to happen. Les would instantly control any pass, perform a little turn and then rampage through whichever defence he was facing. No defence was safe, no defence was impregnable. Les was so strong that if even when he was faced by three defenders he would still retain possession. We weren’t the only people who thought Les was a great player; he earned call up to the Welsh Under 21 squad in 2004 (WPL players don’t normally play international football) and jealous opposition fans would hurl abuse at him.Les had made such an impact on me that when he left Bangor in 2005 I was almost inconsolable. Things would never be the same again. Porthmadog fans would now be the ones witnessing his charging runs, turns and block buster shooting. The season’s first edition of Sgorio (S4Cs football programme) added to my gloom; I watched Les dribble through a defence as though they weren’t there and then smash the ball past the keeper from 18 yards. I cursed to myself, he should have still been at Bangor, he should have still been at Bangor!!! When he was at Porthmadog Les still had an effect on me. For example he taught me stuff; he showed me just how hard footballers kick footballs. During the pre-match warm up before his first visit back to Farrar Road, Les was warming up by having shots at the goal. One of Les’ shot was just too high and the ball headed in my direction. My reflexes and instincts made me attempt to catch the ball but the ball was travelling too quickly; all I could do was palm the ball downwards. The sting in my palms was only matched by the pain in my heart. The sting may have died down after 15 minutes but the heartache remained; Les scored a fantastic goal in the match, he should have still been playing for us!!In 2007 Les thankfully returned to Bangor. Nev Powell, already a Bangor legend from his playing days, enticed “The Truck” back home. Les’ second coming had a magical effect on the club. Since 2007 Bangor have embarked on a seemingly never-ending journey of glory; Welsh Champions, 3 consecutive Welsh Cups and European qualification in five consecutive seasons.Les was integral to this success because he continues to offer a potent combination of raw energy, power and skill that literally scares defenders , and were not talking about effete Bentley owners, here we’re talking about semi-pro hard cases. Alongside the undeniable panache there’s the evident application to the Bangor cause; Les often runs himself into exhaustion. Bangor’s European adventures have added yet more to the Les legend; FC Midtjylland’s website glorified Les as “En tung tank forward”, (roughly translates as “heavy tank forward”).It’s not just Les’ footballing prowess that stands out. There’s his self-effacing nature and obvious passion for his club and home area. They say professional football is populated by transient mercenaries that are always on the lookout for an improved pay-out but semi-pro football is also blighted by transient footballers on the lookout. Thanks to his devotion to the Bangor cause Les charmingly stands out in this environment. For example when he was suspended for the last game of the 2011-12 season (the title decider versus TNS) Les stood with the fans behind the goal with the fans. He even followed us when we all left TNS’ pathetic stadium to watch the match from a nearby hill. In short, if ever a player could be emblematic of a club it’s Les Davies.
Years ago I never thought that I would be able to look at a list of superstar candidates for “European Player of the Year” and say that I once bought a Mars bar for one of them but since last year I have been able to do just that. I can’t adequately tell you how proud that makes me feel. Some people may have argued that the inclusion of Les in the list of patently world-class players made Wales look foolish in front of the eyes of Europe. But football is as much about romance as the melodramatic soap opera powered by oligarchical largesse.
Matt Johnson (@LlandudnoJetSet)