Did you hear the one about the international footballer possessing Samurai bloodlines; who fraternised with Malaysia’s Prince; who won over the notoriously difficult Brian Clough; was voted in his nation’s all-time best XI and featured in three FIFA World Cup™ campaigns? And, if that is not enough, his son played at the 2014 World Cup. It might seem something from the furtive mind of a particularly imaginative fiction writer, yet that is Alan Davidson’s story. And that is just part of the tale for one of Australia’s greats.
Davidson’s back-story is indeed unique, a life experience that has helped shape his character, and subsequently that of his son Jason who performed with distinction for the Socceroos at Brazil 2014. Davidson was born in 1960 to an Australian father and Japanese mother, whose family boasted direct heritage with the Samurai family of Yamada. With his Eurasian appearance Davidson stood-out growing up in Melbourne, for both better and worse.
“Throughout my whole time in juniors, there was not one other Asian kid,” said Davidson. “My brother and I spent a lot of our childhood back-to-back fighting our way of trouble. But being different helped me stand out to selectors.” The mental and physical toughness he would require to forge a career had been honed from a young age.
Davidson made a mark at the top level debuting for South Melbourne Hellas as an 18-year-old. Appropriately it was at the Greek-backed club where Davidson blossomed. It was Greek-Australian school-mates that had put the sports-mad Davidson onto football a decade earlier.
He made an immediate splash at left-back, despite incorrectly telling the coach he had experience in the role when a vacancy arose. It was a role he held throughout his career for club and country, and the torch is now being carried by Jason in the same position for the national team. Within a year Davidson had made his first senior national team appearance and a storied Socceroo career had begun.
Treading a pioneers path
Unlike now, few Australians had played in England’s top flight in the mid 1980s. Joe Marston was a stand-out for Preston in the 50s, while South African-born Australian-raised Craig Johnston had made his mark at Liverpool a couple of years earlier. But there were few others.
Stand-out performances for Australia against England in 1983, and against Juventus in 1984 suddenly brought Davidson’s name to international attention. He was invited to trial at Bayern Munich but, Davidson says, only two foreigners’ spots were available and that door slammed shut.
Then Nottingham Forest - two time European champions just a few years earlier – swooped. The weather and football culture shock was immense. “My confidence dropped, and I began to play mind games with myself,” Davidson said. “It was tough being away from home, and I was feeling the pressure.” Davidson marked Watford’s silky-skilled John Barnes on debut, and backed up a week later with a visit to Manchester United. It was a world away in every sense from Middle Park in Melbourne.
There was another side to Brian Clough which others never saw.
Predictably there were ups and down, but notoriously enigmatic Forest manager Brian Clough, somewhat unusually, stated his admiration for the raw Aussie defender. “That fact is, I was scared of him,” Davidson says of Clough.
“He invited me to Christmas dinner at his house. I really didn’t want to go. I remember (veteran Forest midfielder) Ian Bowyer saying ‘I have been here for years and I never been invited’. Even the senior players had not seen his house. But he was a much more relaxed man in that environment. He told me to get a drink and I said, ‘I don’t drink boss’. In English soccer in the 80s everyone drank. He looked at me intently for a moment and said ‘well done son, there is lemonade in the fridge’.”
“He said to me I was the first honest footballer he had met,” Davidson told FIFA.com. “Really he was talking about my naivety. He started taking me under his wing. There was another side to Brian Clough which others never saw.”
Davidson’s spell in English football proved short-lived. He fractured three vertebrae and was in plaster for months. With his career in England over Davidson effectively retired from football aged just 25.
Lure of the Green and Gold
After an 18-month absence, Davidson’s mental and physical wounds had healed and he was lured back by the opportunity to play at Olympic Games. For Australia, it was almost the equivalent of featuring at the World Cup, a goal which at the time seemed perennially unattainable. Davidson became an Olympian as the Socceroos reached the quarter-finals at Seoul 1988. There was more World Cup heartbreak a year later, and eventually an 11-year 51-cap career in the Green and Gold came to a conclusion in 1991.
There followed a spell with Pahang in Malaysia, and some unique experiences at a club ran by the Malaysian royal family. The Prince, Davidson says, personally organised a seven-bedroom house for his Australian recruit within a matter of minutes, and would sometimes watch training from his own helicopter.
Davidson’s career was seemingly filled with curious and extraordinary occurrences. Twice Davidson swallowed his tongue on the field. On one occasion, which was captured by television cameras, he was saved from a life-threatening situation by a fan who jumped the fence and alerted the bench to Davidson’s convulsing body. He was carted off to hospital to be replaced by a young Greek-Australian named Ange Postecoglou making his senior debut. Three decades later Postecoglou led Australia at the 2014 World Cup, selecting Alan’s son Jason as his left-back for all three games.
A guiding hand
Alan has played a significant guiding role in Jason’s career path. He has after all experienced the perils and pitfalls of club and international football first hand. Jason spent several years of his high school years in Japan learning football, as well as mental fortitude.
“It was the worst day of our lives leaving him (Jason) in Tokyo as a 14-year-old, but overcoming many hardships and hurdles taught him about himself and developed resilience and determination,” said Davidson senior. “Jason and I talk twice a day now, just to be there and offer advice if needed.” Newly-signed by West Bromwich Albion, the 23-year-old’s career is on a clear upward trajectory. The dividends are indeed paying off. The name Davidson continues to resonate in international football four decades on.