Obituary: Harold Davis, Rangers legend

Rangers FC wing-half Harold Davis in 1961
Rangers FC wing-half Harold Davis in 1961
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Harold Davis, footballer. Born: 10 May 1933 in Cupar, Fife. Died: 26 June 2018, aged 85.

Harold Davis had a unique precursor to top-level professional football after spending two years in military hospital with gunshot wounds.

The former Rangers player, who has died aged 85, underwent a catalogue of operations after his body was “ripped apart” by bullets in his foot and stomach in the Korean War.

Despite being signed off from the Army on medical grounds and given a pension, he fought back to go on and play for Rangers for eight years, winning four league titles, two League Cups and one Scottish Cup, as well as a runners-up medal in the 1961 European Cup Winners’ Cup following defeat by Fiorentina.

Davis was born in Cupar, Fife, in 1933, one of four children. His father worked in a sugar beet factory but had three fingers blown off by an explosive device while serving with the Home Guard during the Second World War.

With an RAF base at Leuchars a few miles away, the war had a real sense of immediacy to the family, who had an air raid shelter at the bottom of their garden

The family moved to Perth as Davis’ parents began work in the pub trade but his father died aged 39 in 1947 following problems with stomach ulcers.

His mother kept on working in the family pub – The Palace in George Street – but Davis declined the chance to follow suit and joined East Fife, where he played under Scot Symon, who would later manage him at Rangers.

Davis was enthusiastic about his spell of National Service, which began in 1951, as he signed up for the Perth-based Black Watch, and enlisted for the Korean War despite having the opportunity to stay at home.

His injuries came about during trench warfare in May 1953 when he was shot twice as he raced between gun pits.

He was flown off the battlefield and spent about ten days unconscious in a Japanese hospital before flying on to London, where he spent a year undergoing and recovering from abdominal surgery. He later remarked that his insides were like a plumbing system that had undergone piecemeal repairs.

Davis returned to Perthshire for recuperation and rehabilitation at the Bridge of Earn Hospital, but his determination to fight back to full fitness was noticed by one of the physios, former Rangers player David Kinnear, who pushed his special patient hard and then recommended him to Symon at Ibrox.

Speaking in 2006, Davis said: “A lot of the other patients were older, content to simply get fit enough to live. I wasn’t. I was determined to get extra-
special fit.”

Davis joined Rangers in 1956 and went on to make 261 appearances, playing at right-half alongside defenders such as John Greig and Bobby Shearer. Davis was widely viewed as one of the fastest and hardest players around and continued to be driven to get fitter than anyone else in the team, never shirking a physical challenge on the park.

The Fifer recounted in his autobiography that he had at least 20 scars on his body and not all of them from his days on the battlefield or football pitch – he lost a chunk of his ear when he was hit with a bottle in his young days and suffered a split nose during a brief boxing career at the Perth YMCA.

After leaving Rangers in 1964, Davis joined Partick Thistle for a year and then had a spell as trainer for Queen’s Park before a return to Ibrox on the coaching staff under Davie White in 1968. He spent another two years in Govan before being moved on in 1970 and then had a year as Queen of the South manager.

Davis would later have a coaching stint with Dundee but he moved north to the Highlands in 1975 with his wife, Vi, and son Alan, to run a hotel in the Wester Ross village of Gairloch, where he would remain after his retirement. There was one more brush with serious injury, though, as he survived a serious road accident in 1998, when he suffered a broken neck.

Gavin McCafferty