Billy Davies: A Constant Battle to Conform

Billy Davies

Billy Davies is a manager who polarises opinion more than most. Some supporters think he is a short, aggressive, malcontent, trouble-stirring annoyance, while others disagree. They say he is not that short.

Since leaving Nottingham Forest for the second time in March 2014 after fourteen tumultuous months in charge, Davies has found it increasingly difficult to find employment on the managerial merry-go-round due mainly to his reputation going before him.

Five foot five inches in height, the sight of Glaswegian Billy Davies storming up and down the touchline ranting at officials, opponents, his own players, supporters, and memorably on several occasions, press photographers, could be entertaining in the extreme but after a while it also got somewhat tiresome and it seems that it is something that Football League Chairmen have decided they can well do without now.

Of equal tediousness became the public outbursts against all and sundry, the paranoia against journalists, the refusal to acknowledge travelling supporters following a defeat, and the general unpleasantness emanated from the man.

It was all a pity as Davies’ managerial career looked so promising at one point, with his name being mentioned as a serious future contender for either a top-six club or that of the Scotland national team.

Starting out as a player under Dave Sexton at Manchester United, Davies went on to enjoy a solid if unspectacular career played out mainly in his native Scotland. A three-year spell at Glasgow Rangers resulted in less than twenty appearances before short-lived moves to Sweden and England to play for Elfsborg and Leicester City respectively were interspersed with longer spells at St. Mirren, Dunfermline and Motherwell.

It was at Motherwell that Davies both ended his playing career and started his managerial one. Employed initially as player-coach, Davies stepped into management and off the field when the relatively short term of his immediate predecessor, Harri Kampman, was brought to an end in October 1998.

Inheriting a side struggling at the wrong end of the Scottish Premier League, Davies immediately steadied the ship and led Motherwell to seventh spot in the ten-man league. This was an impressive start for Davies, and the next season saw an even better improvement as Motherwell challenged for a place in Europe.

Finishing in fourth place behind the Old Firm and Hearts, Motherwell’s advance was impressive and already Davies was being marked as a manager to watch. At this stage, he was still only just turned 36 and was seen as one of the game’s bright young managers.

A steady if not quite as impressive season followed in 2000-01, with Motherwell slipping slightly to eighth-place in the now 12-man league, but the signs were still reasonably hopeful.

However, by now Motherwell were beginning to feel the pinch financially. Feeling there was not much he could do to further either his own career or the fortunes of Motherwell, Davies chose to accept a position as assistant to former Scotland manager, Craig Brown, at Preston North End.

Two years working alongside Brown followed before Davies was appointed manager in his own right following a spell as caretaker.

The next two seasons were successful as he twice took Preston into the playoffs and a chance to play Premier League football. In 2005 his Preston team made it all the way to the playoff final at the Millennium Stadium before being beaten 1-0 by Alan Pardew’s West Ham United.

The next season saw Davies guide Preston to a fourth-place finish following a 25-match unbeaten run earlier in the season. In the playoff semi-final, Preston were paired with Leeds United. On a memorable night in Yorkshire, the first leg ended all-square at 1-1.

It was now that Davies chose to make one of his first foolish public statements as he declared in the post-match conference it was a case of ‘job done’.

Oh dear, Billy.

Four days later Leeds went to Deepdale and prevailed by two goals to nil. Job done indeed.

This was to all tense and purposes the end for Billy Davies at Preston. His success had led to him being linked with a number of clubs, including that of the manager’s post at Charlton Athletic. In the end, though, it was to Derby County that Davies moved.

Arriving at Pride Park, Davies became part of the club’s ‘five-year project’ aimed at establishing the club back in the Premier League after a five-year hiatus. That Davies was able to bookmark this achievement four years early with an immediate promotion was to ultimately work against him.

Finishing third in the 2006-07 Championship table, Derby then came through a play-off semi-final against Southampton and were pitched against West Bromwich Albion at Wembley in the winner takes all final. A solitary Stephen Pearson goal did the honours for Derby, and so Davies found himself a Premier League manager at the age of 42.

Much has been written about Derby’s historic 2007-08 Premier League campaign in which the Rams became officially the worst side to ever grace the top flight in modern times, picking up just 11 points and a single victory all season.

Long before the season’s denouncement, however, Davies had moved on. In November with the club rooted to the bottom of the table with just six points from 14 matches, Davies left the club.

Opinion was divided regarding Davies’ time at Derby and in particular the manner of his departure. There were those who felt that Davies had suffered for his achievements in getting the club promoted when it clearly wasn’t prepared for the promised land of the Premier League, but an equal number contended Davies had not shown the necessary acumen required at that level.

Matters came to a head after a particularly demoralizing defeat at home to Chelsea in November. Facing the press afterwards, Davies listed all that he was not happy with at the club. This included the Chairman, Adam Pearson, for whom Davies had this to say: ‘To compete in this league and at this level, you need investment in players. We have to invest in the playing staff. I haven’t spoken to the new chairman in three weeks because he’s a busy man who does things differently to the ex-chairman. But it would be nice to meet up soon’.

The players were not spared, as Davies considered them thus: ‘The team is not good enough for the Premier League. That’s no reflection or disrespect to the players. They know that. They’re not good enough.’

Davies was sacked a day later.

With his stock still high, Davies was linked with a procession of other clubs and posts. These included the Scotland manager position, a role at Everton, the head coach role at Leicester, and further interest from clubs back in Scotland. However, on the last day of 2008 Davies was installed as manager at Derby’s great rivals, Nottingham Forest.

The two-and-a-half years that followed were as equally controversial and ‘noisy’ as Davies’ time at Derby had been. His first full season at the helm saw Forest consistently in the playoff places behind strong Newcastle and West Brom sides. As the season’s end approached and it became clear that automatic promotion was not going to be achieved, Davies started planning for the playoffs.

Three games from the end of the regular season Forest were away at Blackpool, who were desperately chasing the final playoff spot themselves. Davies’ side had already clinched a playoff spot and so Davies decided to make considerable changes to his Forest side for the match at Bloomfield Road.

Blackpool prevailed in the fixture by a 3-1 score line and after the match Davies said that he had deliberately picked a weakened side as he was keen for Blackpool to take sixth spot and so, potentially, meet Forest again in the playoffs as he believed the Seasiders to be the weakest of all sides in the playoff mix.

These comments were made to Blackpool players in the tunnel after the game, and recently recalled by Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Speaking in May 2019 after his retirement from the game, Taylor-Fletcher said: “After the game, we were coming in and he was stood in the tunnel and rubbing his hands. He was like, ‘job done for me. I’ve done this so we’ve got you in the play-offs semi-final and then we’re guaranteed to get in the final ‘ “.

Well, Blackpool and Forest did indeed meet in the playoffs, but it was Ian Holloway and his Barmy Tangerine Army that progressed to Wembley courtesy of a 6-4 aggregate victory.

The first leg was again at Bloomfield Road, and this time Blackpool squeaked through with a 2-1 scoreline. Amazingly, Davies thought it would be a good idea to wait for the Blackpool players in the tunnel at 90 minutes to declare: ‘Job done. You won’t be scoring at our place’.

However, Blackpool did. Four times.

The next season was also a case of ‘so near and yet so far away’ as Forest again made the playoffs. This time it was their turn to come in at sixth spot, and they faced Swansea in the semi-finals. A goalless draw at home was followed by a 3-1 defeat away and Forest were consigned to another season in the second tier.

This second successive playoff failure proved to be the end of the line for Davies at Forest, and he left the club for the first time in June 2011, his contract being terminated and him being replaced by Steve McClaren.

The next 20 months or so were not a success for either Davies or Nottingham Forest, with the former remaining out of work and the latter burning through four permanent managers as well as two caretaker appointments. It was still a surprise, however, when Davies was rehired as manager in February 2013 for his second spell in charge at the City Ground.

If his first spell at Forest had been full of incident and ended on a bad note, it had nothing on his second. In a 13-month ‘Second Coming’ Davies lost no time in antagonising as many people as possible. His public outbursts were by now becoming legendary as he set his sites on all and sundry. Some highlights include approaching photographers during the course of matches demanding to see their credentials and instructing substitutes to warm up behind them in order to check on the pictures they were taking.

Despite these distractions, Forest finished just a point away from the playoffs in Davies’ first half season back in charge. The 2013-14 season saw Davies’ first full one back in charge and expectations were high. Forest started reasonably well and into the New Year were sitting in and around the playoff zone once more.

However, by now Davies was being seen as more eccentric than ever before. He was said to be secretly videoing and recording journalists during press conferences and had banned a number of national media outlets from the City Ground altogether.

His unpopularity was rising in the stands also. No doubt stirred on somewhat by a local press that had had its collective nose put out of joint, fans were unhappy at the lack of acknowledgment Davies displayed them following away games and began to make their grumbles heard.

In March 2014, following an eight-game winless run, Davies was sacked for the second time as Nottingham Forest manager. His passing was not mourned by many in the press who accused Davies of being obsessed with conspiracy theories.

Since departing Forest in 2014, Billy Davies has yet to find another managerial position in the game.