This is a short note on the man who signed his match reports for the Manchester Guardian with the byline An Old International. Not a lot can be said about Donny Davies, only that he was a footballer, cricketer, a teacher and after his active career a journalist with the Manchester Guardian from 1932 until his premature death in 1958.
Davies took up football with Port Vale as a right winger and was called up for the English Amateur National Team which toured the continent in the summer of 1914. As with many bright young talented players, the war interrupted their careers and instead they went fighting for their country. During the war, he became a pilot but was shot down after only one day of service and survived in several German PoW camps by mere luck. After recovering from his peril, he took to cricket and played for Bradshaw CC in the olton league and in 1924 and 1925 played county cricket for Lancashire as an amateur.
He didn’t excel at either sport but to his credit, his footballing merits suggested otherwise only for the war to abruptly bring those to a halt. Certainly he was at his best when it came to write about sports. What Neville Cardus was for Cricket, Davies was for football for many of his colleagues. After retiring from sport at the age of 38 in 1930 he started a career in the media and was given a post at Manchester Guardian to report on football two years later. It was him among others who accompanied the rise of the Busby Babes in the fifties and soon he became a popular figure among sports writers. In his main job however, he was a teacher at the apprentice’s school of Mather and Platt, a Manchester based engineering company, where he would later become headmaster and until his retirement held the post of education officer. This left him with sufficient time at the weekends and during long holidays to play and later to report on football.
It appears that it was luck that he was on the journey to Belgrade as his colleague John Arlott was initially intended to go. But having covered the rise of the Busby Babes Davies made himself available for the trip. Thus he was on the plane to Belgrade and on the way back they stopped in Munich for a refuel. Once the news of the catastrophe broke, the press at the Manchester Guardian stopped for ten minutes. For his funeral the streets were lined with people who have read his reports for a quarter of a century or rather, whom he has entertained and instructed for 25 years.
Neville Cardus wrote of him as the first
“writer on soccer to rise above the immediate and quickly perishable levels of his theme and give us something to preserve. Old International was not only the best of soccer reporters; he was also something of a poet.”
So says the man who himself is regarded as a poet when writing about cricket.
Letters read that Davies managed to paint a picture of the match he covered and that even people who did not attend the match could imagine the game before their eyes as he painted their movements so vividly.
Having said enough myself, i will finish this piece with a quote by Davies himself where he describes the effortless movement of Bobby Charlton:
“Dispossessing Costic about 40 yards from goal, this gifted boy leaned beautifully into his stride, made ground rapidly for about 10 yards and then beat the finest goalkeeper on the Continent with a shot of tremendous power and superb placing. There, one thought, surely goes England’s Bloomer of the future.”