Harold Davis will return as special guest of East Fife for tomorrow’s League 1 clash with Rangers over 60 years after his time at the club was brutally interrupted by a spell fighting on the front line with the Black Watch in the Korean War.
Now 80, Davis has been invited by East Fife for tomorrow’s televised fixture at New Bayview. He has admitted that it will be “an emotional return”. It is the first time he has been back at an East Fife game since he stopped playing after a trophy-laden eight-year spell with Rangers, and his first visit to the club’s new ground.
It was while under heavy machine-gun fire in Korea that Davis sustained the injuries which prompted a surgeon to advise him to start looking for a new job since there was no way he was going to continue being a footballer. Davis overcame such long odds and after two years of arduous physical rehabilitation work he returned to East Fife, who had retained his registration and paid him a small wage throughout his time in national service.
Davis played only three first-team games for the club after winning his battle with fitness – the bullets had sliced away part of his instep and torn into his abdomen. Scot Symon, who had moved to Rangers after a successful spell in charge at East Fife, returned to sign the right half for a moderate fee in October 1956. Hence the reaction he got years later after popping in for a look around the old Bayview stadium.
“I was friends with Peter Buchanan, a colleague at Queen’s Park, where I had gone to coach after Rangers,” recalled Davis yesterday. “He was a good golfer, so I went to visit him in Fife. Peter said: ‘have you never fancied going back to Bayview and seeing what like the place is now?’
“So we went down and I rang the bell, there was not a game on or anything like that. This guy answers the door and looks at me and says: ‘what can I do for you?’ Peter said: ‘this fellow here used to play for you, do you mind if we come in and have a look around?’
“And this guy looked me and down me said: ‘Davis, wasn’t it?’ Peter said: ‘Yes, it’s Harold Davis’. And he replied. ‘Oh aye, him. He deserted us’. But before I could protest, he said: ‘C’mon on in’. But he was still a bit grumpy about me leaving.”
Joining the Ibrox club from East Fife reserves wasn’t then the major step it might have seemed before Rangers’ current troubles. Under Symon, East Fife lifted the League Cup twice and were promoted to the First Division.
Davis recalls sending a telegram of congratulations to the club after their 1953 League Cup triumph. He continued his rehabilitation at Bridge of Earn hospital, under the watchful eye of physio Davie Kinnear, the former Rangers player. Kinnear, who later joined the Ibrox coaching staff, assured Symon that Davis was not only alive, but that he was thriving again. Symon signed him once more. After 261 appearances, Davis was finally named in the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2010. But Davis, who is now based in the Highlands, is also eternally grateful to East Fife, who signed him from Newburgh in 1951.
“I was just a young lad,” he recalled. “Up and coming, let’s put it that way. I played a few games for them. After I came back from the hospital and all the rest of it, it was nice to get a wee chance to play football. And it was great that they had left it wide open for me to come back to East Fife.
“I liked going to Methil and playing. We had some great players, really classy. I had a lot to learn from the East Fifers. They had that kind of team. If you blended in with them then you were doing well.”
Davis has re-connected with his former life as a footballer in recent years, though this mostly stems from his role as patron of the Rangers Supporters Erskine Appeal, raising funds for the Erskine home for veterans. As recently as last weekend Davis was back in Bishopton, where a room at the home was named in his honour. Now he is preparing for another trip down from Gairloch as East Fife take a timely opportunity to pay tribute to their former player.
“I am looking forward to the whole experience of going back there, even if it is just for a day,” Davis said. “I can’t say I know any of the players on either side. And the management side at East Fife has completely changed. I have met Ally [McCoist] already at Ibrox at various functions. He is the only person I could walk up to and shake hands with – the Rangers manager.
“But I won’t be supporting them on the day. I will be supporting East Fife. Rangers have got enough points to see them through. East Fife are having a hard time of it.”