'I'll be living the dream at Wembley ... but I'll share this special day with my wife Tracey who has been there throughout my career'
On Sunday, Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis will fulfill a boyhood dream when he plays his first game at Wembley, leading out his side Southampton in the English League Cup final. He tells why he's thrilled his family will be in the stands - and of the debt he owes to his wife for her support
As a football mad kid growing up in Cullybackey in Co Antrim, Steven Davis dreamed about playing at the iconic Wembley stadium.
On Sunday, the dream will become reality when the Northern Ireland captain leads out Southampton to take on Manchester United in the English League Cup final.
Davis will be filled with pride as his family applaud from the stands and tens of thousands of Saints fans cheer him on.
Given all he has achieved at club and international level and the places he has played in around the world, it is remarkable to think that it will be the 32-year-old's very first visit to the new Wembley. He was only at the old one once as a youngster to see Aston Villa, his first club, play Chelsea in the 2000 FA Cup final.
Davis says it will be a special moment in his career. Not just for him, but also for his wife Tracey and their two beautiful daughters, Chloe (8) and Kaia (5).
Tracey, who is from Kilrea in Co Londonderry, has been with Steven every step of the way. They were childhood sweethearts and after he joined Aston Villa as a teenager, she moved to England with him before they married in 2010 when he was at Rangems, where he won every domestic trophy available.
It's clear that the man regarded as one of Northern Ireland's greatest ever footballers appreciates the huge part his wife has played in his successful career.
Ahead of the biggest game he has played for Southampton, the midfielder offers a loving tribute. "Tracey has been fantastic throughout everything that I've done in football," says the man who led his country with distinction at the Euro 2016 finals.
"She moved across from home at a young age and was a great support in those early years in professional football and still is now. We have a young family and she is a great mum. She really has been brilliant for me in my career, my life in general and for our daughters.
"It is always nice to have someone to come back to after games to share the special moments with and she also picks me up if I'm ever down if things don't go so well.
"Tracey has been a very important person for me. She and our girls Chloe and Kaia mean the world to me."
His family joined him in France during the summer: "They were all out there for the Euro 2016 finals and loved it and hopefully it will be the same at Wembley," he says. "It is going to be a special day for me and the family and hopefully we will be celebrating together after the final.
"I have a lot of people coming across from Northern Ireland to support us. My dad (David) is coming, my brother (Richard) is flying down from Glasgow with his partner, and a few aunts and uncles who go to international games are going as well. Tracey's brother is flying back from Australia, so as you can imagine everyone is looking forward to it."
Sadly, Steven's mum Laura, who he has always said was his 'biggest fan' won't be at Wembley. The Northern Ireland skipper touched hearts when he dedicated the goals that took the nation to the Euro finals to his mother, who passed away from cancer in 2008, aged just 52.
Never failing to remember Laura when he steps out on to the pitch, Davis received high praise from Myeloma UK last year when he donated his fee for Belfast Telegraph columns written during the Euros to the cancer charity.
A generous soul and a true team player who enjoys a laugh, it's no wonder Davis is so popular in the Southampton dressing room.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will tell you of his experiences going to the south coast club and the immense respect everyone from board members to supporters have for the Cullybackey native.
By nature Davis is a calm person, but talking to him this week his sense of excitement about that first Wembley visit was evident.
"I haven't been to Wembley since it was reconstructed, so this will be my first experience of the new stadium," he revealed. "I have never played there or even been to watch a game or any other events.
"I have always meant to go to a game at Wembley but when internationals are on at the ground I've been away with Northern Ireland so I never got the opportunity.
"I went to the old Wembley for a final when I was young and going over on trial at Aston Villa. They took me to the FA Cup final against Chelsea so that was quite an experience.
"That was the only time I ever set foot in the old Wembley. It was an iconic stadium and now the new Wembley is pretty impressive from what I've seen on television and I'll be in it for the first time at the weekend.
"Sunday will be a first on many fronts. It's my first final with Southampton and my first final in England so I can't wait.
"Like everyone I dreamed about playing at Wembley when I was a kid. I also played the Wembley game that people did when they were young. Getting to do the real thing seemed a long, long way away back then in Cullybackey."
Having captained Northern Ireland for several years, Davis is used to wearing the skipper's armband on the big occasion.
Few from his country get the chance in club football these days. The last Northern Ireland international to skipper his side to glory at a major Wembley Cup final was Pat Rice, way back in 1979, when Arsenal defeated 3-2 Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
The last time Southampton played in the League Cup final at Wembley was the same year, losing by the same score to Nottingham Forest. The Saints reached the FA Cup final in 2003, going down 1-0 to Arsenal, though that game was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Southampton last won major silverware in 1976 when they stunned United 1-0 in a memorable FA Cup final. All those years ago Lawrie McMenemy, who went on to manage Northern Ireland, was in charge of the underdogs.
Davis, over four decades on, wants to create history for the modern day Saints.
"Southampton fans still talk about 1976. It has been a long wait for the supporters," says Davis, who joined from Rangers in 2012.
"There is a good buzz around the place and hopefully it will be a day that is a memorable one for all the right reasons and we can go and create a little bit of history for the club.
"This is my biggest game for Southampton and to get the opportunity to play at Wembley in a Cup final is special and then there is that extra dimension to it, hopefully having the opportunity to lead the team out and hopefully be the person to lift the Cup.
"When I captained the Northern Ireland team out in the Euros in every game I took great pride in doing that and it will be the same on Sunday."
Taking on United boss Jose Mourinho and his big name form players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba may be enough to frighten some, but not Davis, who in his time with Northern Ireland has overcome some of the most famous stars on the planet.
"They have players who have been there and done it and got the medals and stuff like that. They have a lot of experience and have world-class stars in their team, but we never go into any game, no matter who we are playing against, with any fear factor," states Davis who has won 92 caps and scored nine international goals.
"Of course, it's going to be a big challenge for us against United but one that we will relish. If we will believe in ourselves on the day and stick to our principles I feel we can be a match for any team.
"I think it is a great opportunity for us to go and try and lift some silverware and we will do our best to try and achieve that. They are favourites but I know from playing with Northern Ireland that shocks can happen."