From fan to fame: How Harry Redknapp helped a supporter live the footballer’s dream

Blog by: Ayush
Harry Redknapp, the manager of West Ham United

As he was putting on his boots that day, he probably saw his life flash right in front of him. Even though he had played out this situation in his head a thousand times, Steve still couldn’t be convinced that it was actually happening.

An ardent West Ham United fan, Steve Davies would look forward to few things as much as watching his favourite team on the field, and at times travelled long distances to watch the East Enders play. The son of a Sunday-league footballer, Steve, like most English kids, harboured dreams of playing professionally, and while those dreams never did materialise, his love for West Ham never waned.

He remembered fondly an experience in his younger years during a match between West Ham and Watford at Upton Park, when he had a moment’s interaction with childhood hero Trevor Brooking. The ball had gone out of play and into Steve’s hands, and while Brooking came running over and asked him to give it back, Steve, understandably overjoyed, was not going to let this moment pass that easy.

“Come and get it,” he said to the legendary midfielder. He had hundreds of photos of Brooking on his wall, but to see him larger than life was something else. To top off the experience, the Hammers won 3-2, with Brooking getting on the scoresheet, making it young Steve’s greatest footballing memory.

However, he’d known in his head that the fleeting moment with Brooking would probably be the closest he’d get to rubbing shoulders with the footballers he worshipped. He wasn’t prepared for what was to happen on 27 July, 1994.

Upon the suggestion of a friend, Steve Davies made the trip to Oxford to watch West Ham in action in a pre-season friendly against Oxford City FC. Now Oxford City were by no means a big club, far away from the newly-remodelled, glitzy Premier League. However, that didn’t deter Steve, who was placed comfortably in the stands, enjoying his beer and cigarettes with his wife and friends.

Current Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp was assistant manager at West Ham then, but his choice of striker in Lee Chapman had not impressed Steve one bit. Struggling to impose himself against defenders considered much his inferior, Chapman drew the ire of Steve, who kept throwing expletives at the striker through the first half from the stands, and told Redknapp that he wouldn’t be coming for the Hammers’ games that season if Chapman was persisted with.

Redknapp, known for the uncanny, turned around and said to Steve, “Oye, can you play as good as you talk?”

The rest, as they say, is history. Steve was taken to the West Ham dressing room, where Redknapp confirmed that Chapman would be replaced by a man no one in the team had ever seen before. For Steve, this was a moment as bewildering as it was memorable. Quaking in his boots, he put on the kit he was handed.

While Steve was used to football in England’s Sunday leagues, this, obviously, was a massive step up, something that he struggled to adapt to. Managing to muster a couple of touches and struggling to keep up with the tempo of the game after a while, Steve tried his best to match the standards that were being set by his teammates, but understandably struggled, given his drinking and smoking addictions. However, a swift counterattack saw Steve sprint forward past Oxford’s defenders and receive a pass from the wing to find only the goalkeeper between him and the goal.

With the custodian bearing down on him, Steve took a swing at the ball, the scene similar to the ones that he had imagined as a kid far too often. The ball trickled past the keeper and hit the back of the net, Steve still unable to grasp the enormity of what he had just accomplished.

Having a day where almost nothing could have gone wrong, it was rather ironical that he saw the linesman’s flag raised while wheeling away in celebration and sheer disbelief.

He had stepped a few yards offside while receiving the pass, and his debut goal had been disallowed. Steve was to get no more chances to add his name to his scoresheet, but still left the ground a satisfied man after West Ham’s eventual 4-0 victory. The referees might have cost him massive bragging rights at his local pub for the rest of his years, but that was hardly going to deter the experience that Steve had had.

His dream was soon over after the final whistle, and never again did he put on the club’s claret and blue strip. However, his success story is a tale that will be retold many times in the future. After all, not many times does a fan get to live that dream of playing for his favourite club. Steve did.

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