Davies proves on the right track 
after sporting split from brother

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IF Andrew Davies had opted for a different path as a teenager, he and brother Mark could both be plying their trade as cricketers in the County Championship.

As teenagers growing up in their native North East, the sports mad pair showed sufficient promise as bowlers to appear on the radar of Durham.

However, whereas Mark stuck with the summer game and is now playing for Kent in the Second Division after calling time on a stay at the Riverside that stretched beyond a decade, Andrew chose football.

The lure of a contract with Middlesbrough was too much and it has proved an inspired choice, with Davies’s subsequent career having featured international recognition with the Under-21s, several years in the Premier League, a part in Boro’s run to the UEFA Cup final and a couple of big-money transfers.

Even a first full season in the basement division has brought an appearance in a major Cup final at Wembley and the enticing prospect of another today as Bradford City take on Northampton Town in the League Two play-off final. All in all, therefore, the decision not to follow elder brother Mark into professional cricket has proved a sound one.

“We both loved cricket and football when we were growing up,” the Bantams defender tells the Yorkshire Post when asked about Mark, who, at 32, is four years older. “As you’d probably expect, we were quite competitive when we were younger and that probably brought the best out of us.

“I was a bowler. I shot up to about the height I am now when quite young so I used to love running in and bowling. I played for Cleveland County for three or four years but then, at 16, I had a big decision to make.

“Middlesbrough wanted to take me, and so did Durham. But I was always more into my football. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my cricket in the summer but it was always football that I preferred.

“Mark was already on the staff at Durham by then. Maybe it is unusual that two brothers should choose different sports but it was important we played the sport that most suited us. Mark was always the better cricketer and me the footballer.

“It would have been awful to get to 18 or 19 and get released. Because, by then, our chance in the other sport would probably have gone.”

Opting for sports that are – at least, in theory – played in summer and winter means there has been plenty of opportunities for the two brothers to watch the other in action. Andrew adds: “Mark played at Durham for a fair few years so I would pop along quite a bit to the Riverside.

“It’s how I spent my summer. I’d get a load of mates together and we would go and watch the Twenty20 matches. It was great fun.

“I am not allowed to play cricket any more, I have to look after myself and an injury playing cricket wouldn’t do me much good. But I still love watching.

“Mark is the same with football and was at Wembley for the Swansea final. Now he has moved to Kent, he is a little bit further away and that makes things harder but he still gets along to a few matches.

“He has done brilliantly. He signed for Kent at the start of last season and got ‘Player of the Year’. It just shows that a new start can help. He had a few injuries over the years at Durham but kept going.”

Mark will not be at Wembley today, due to being otherwise engaged as Kent take on Worcestershire at Canterbury in the County Championship.

It means he will miss the finale to what has been a truly extraordinary season for both his brother and the Bantams. The defender is the first to admit that when City’s campaign got under way at Notts County on August 11, thoughts of two Wembley appearances and a record-breaking 64 games were far from the forefront of his mind.

“It has been an amazing year,” says Davies, who spent three-quarters of last season on loan at Valley Parade from Stoke City. “So much has happened. Not just getting to Wembley, but all the games we have played and the late run to reach the play-offs.

“I played quite a few games in that season (2005-06) when Middlesbrough got to the UEFA Cup final. As well as playing for Boro, I also had a spell on loan to Derby and played quite a few times for them.

“But the games I played that year are nothing compared to this season. It has been incredible and certainly something I could never have imagined when I signed last summer.”

In agreeing a one-year deal at Valley Parade, Davies was dropping down to the basement division from the Premier League. “I came here because of Phil Parkinson,” says the 28-year-old.

“When I joined last season, there were a lot of people here he didn’t want. To bring the right players in and get the others out is not easy. That is why I look at him and think, ‘You’ve got it spot on’.

“We had an understanding when I signed for the club. He knew what I would give on the pitch and I knew that if I performed then I would play some games.

“It was a big decision to come here last season. At the time, I thought it was a gamble. To drop down from the Premier League to League Two is a big thing for anyone. But it was all about playing football. I wanted to play, because I knew then that my talent would shine through. Some people might say, ‘But it is in League Two?’ Well, I can tell those people that League Two is not an easy league.

“You play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday and if you are not mentally strong enough then you can be crushed. I feel I have stood up to that challenge, which is shown by me having played more games than at any other time in my career.”

Davies would have more than the 32 appearances he has made for City this term but for a knee injury suffered against Burton Albion on October 27 that kept him out for almost three months. His return came 12 days before the League Cup final.

“I always felt I’d be back in time for the final,” says Davies, who was a half-time substitute in the 5-0 defeat to Swansea. “The injury was really frustrating, as I’d worked so hard in pre-season.

“But, maybe, things happen for a reason and that was my time to miss out. I have come back stronger than ever and play what I believe is my best football since I came to Bradford.”