Belfast Telegraph

Steve's tribute to his late mother touched us all, says star's father

By Ivan Little

The father of Northern Ireland's Captain Fantastic Steven Davis, who dedicated his match-winning goals on Thursday night to his late mother Laura, had tears in his eyes yesterday as he revealed how his wife loved to sing and do the bouncy with her beloved son's fans in the Green and White Army at Windsor Park.

Surrounded by newspapers extolling Steven's heroics against Greece which took his country to the European championships in France, an emotional David Davis said: "Laura really was Steven's number one fan. And she would join in all the Northern Ireland songs and the chanting. When the supporters started to do their famous bouncy she would be up on her feet too.

"We used to sit in the old South Stand at Windsor and I remember one particular night when Steven scored, I looked over to see a great big smile on Laura's face. Watching Steven's two goals on Thursday night brought back happy memories. His mother would have been over the moon."

Steven's wife Tracey, who is from Kilrea, the birthplace of the Republic's manager Martin O'Neill, knew her husband's goals were extra-special for him. She tweeted during the match about Steven "scoring and pointing up to his wee Mummy".

Laura Davis died after a lengthy illness in November 2008, a month after becoming a grandmother for the first time when Tracey gave birth to a baby girl called Chloe.

A picture of Laura cradling her tiny granddaughter has pride of place on a mantelpiece at the Davis family's County Antrim home where the footballer, his wife and children are regular visitors.

Mr Davis, who spent most of yesterday polishing his talented son's silverware which sits in the hallway of his Cullybackey home, was in the North Stand at Windsor with 10 members of his extended family to see Steven lead his team to glory on Thursday.

"And Laura would have been in her element. She was so proud of Steven," said Mr Davis.

Forty-odd miles away in County Down, the mother of Northern Ireland's other goal-scoring hero Josh Magennis was bursting with pride too as she recalled how her son - whom she calls Joshua - had overcome the odds to hit the big time.

And his first footballing coach from Kilmaine Primary School in Bangor reminisced about how he had picked out the young Josh as a potential footballing star - but not as a striker.

Peter Thompson said Josh was originally a centre-half with his school team but became an emergency goalkeeper when the regular shot-stopper fell ill.

"I never played him up front," said Mr Thompson, "but he was a natural all-rounder."

David Davis, who was brought up just a corner kick away from Windsor Park in Belfast, also had an early inkling that his son was bound for greatness.

But he said that it was Steven's Cullybackey-born mother who was instrumental in shaping her son's career, which had started as a youngster at Cullybackey's Buick Memorial Primary School but which really took off at a skills school at the University of Ulster at Coleraine.

"A scout approached us and said he wanted Steven to play for St Andrew's boys club in Belfast where he later had the chance to join Rangers.

"But even though he went back and forward to Ibrox, his Mum wasn't sure that Glasgow was the right move for him. I thought it was great but Laura had a better head than me and reckoned Scotland might be a bit limiting for him."

Steven was also courted by a number of English clubs including Aston Villa. And Mrs Davis liked the cut of their footballing jib.

"She was impressed by the people in Birmingham and the set-up there. And he signed for them, though a few years later he did end up with Rangers before moving on to his current club at Southampton." said Mr Davis.

He only heard about Steven's poignant tribute to his mother after his other son Richard, who had flown home from Glasgow for the game, watched the highlights on TV after their return from Windsor Park.

Mr Davis said the crowds in the hospitality area after the match were so vast that he and his family stayed outside - but Steven came out to greet them and chatted to them for over 20 minutes before the team coach came to take the players back to their hotel outside Holywood.

Mr Davis added: "He loves to see his relatives, particularly the younger ones. But I didn't know that he had mentioned his mother in his post-match interviews. His words touched us all very deeply."

Mr Davis said he was ecstatic as he watched his son's two goals hit the back of the net, especially his 18-yard header which clinched the victory against the Greeks and ensured Northern Ireland could set out on their odyssey in France.

"I don't think Steven has scored all that many goals with his head," laughed Mr Davis. "Especially not one from that far out."

Mr Davis acknowledged that his son had had an inspirational game but added: "The whole team played well. Every last one of them"

Mr Davis hopes to go to France to see his son captaining Northern Ireland next summer.

"I know people who booked their flights before the Greece game, even though they have no idea where the European matches will be played. I would like to be there but I'm not sure yet. Let's just say I'm leaving it open.

"It's one thing to watch the matches on the TV but it's fantastic to watch the action live. The atmosphere at Windsor on Thursday was electrifying. And I enjoying going to Southampton to see their matches.

"The results are important but it is Steven that I'm there to see. Plus it gives me the opportunity to see my two granddaughters Chloe who's seven and Kaia who's four."

Josh Magennis's mother Debbie is also planning to be in France. "It was a wonderful night at Windsor Park," she said. "There was obviously a lot of pressure on Joshua because he was filling in for Kyle Lafferty, but he's always wanted to play for his country and all his hard work and determination have really paid off.

"I didn't get the chance to speak to him after the game but we have been exchanging texts"

At Kilmaine Primary School in Bangor yesterday excited pupils begged their teachers to watch a re-run of the game. But the staff turned down their request.

"We had a lot of work to do," said Peter Thompson. "I think a lot of the pupils were at the game or saw it on the television on Thursday night." Mr Thompson, a former Irish League referee who's now an assessor, was at Windsor but wasn't able to get anywhere near his famous former pupil to congratulate him on scoring his first goal for his country, though he has sent him a message wishing him well in the Finland game tomorrow which could win the group for Northern Ireland.

"He's a lovely young man," said Mr Thompson, "and there was never any trouble with him at school. As a footballer he stood out, and not just because he was such a big fella physically.

"He started off as a centre half in our team but when we needed someone to go between the posts he was only too happy to play in nets, though he later reverted to his defender's role."

Josh became a goalkeeper again after he tried his luck in cross-channel football but Mr Thompson wasn't really surprised when he was transformed into a striker even though he'd never picked him as an attacker at school.

"Really, Josh could have done the business anywhere on the park. And even at that age, I thought he had the ability to make the grade. I hope he gets the chance to play at the highest level in the game. I am convinced he can. He has all the attributes, including pace."

Josh has kept touch with his old school. Mr Thompson added: "He's really down to earth and he presented us with his shirt from a Northern Ireland under-21 international and one of his goalkeeping jerseys from his time at Cardiff City."

Kilmaine has another connection with Northern Ireland's international team. A sister of former Man United ace Keith Gillespie is a secretary at the school.

And the school itself as an unrivalled footballing pedigree, having won their league final in North Down in June for the sixteenth time. Mr Thompson is hoping the Kilmaine success rubs off on Josh Magennis and his colleagues. Otherwise he won't see his prodigy in France.

He said: "Our term doesn't finish until the end of June by which time the first stages of the tournament will be over. But my fingers are crossed that Northern Ireland can progress so that I can nip over for a match or two."

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