Dai Davies spent seven years with Everton after joining from Swansea City in 1970. In June of this year he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Davies spoke to Everton’s matchday programme about his illness and fearless outlook, the uplifting love and support of his wife and family and a goalkeeping career which moulded his attitude today.
First, the rallying call.
Dai Davies wants everyone to know about Nightingale House Hospice, a precious haven in Wrexham for people living with life-limiting illnesses.
Davies, the former Everton goalkeeper, was transferred to Nightingale House in August, two months after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.
“It is a fabulous organisation and has made an enormous difference to my quality of life,” begins Davies.
“The staff are wonderful people, kind and caring and experts in what they do.
“But it is a charity. It costs £9,000 every day to run the hospice and they need help.”
Nightingale House’s official figures place their daily overheads at £9,388, or £3,435,943 per year.
Davies is an outpatient, visiting every Tuesday for physiotherapy sessions and lunch in the hospice’s Caffi Cwtch – cwtch translating into English as cuddle or hug.
“I am coming on leaps and bounds,” says Davies.
“How long I’ve got, I have no idea.”
Dai Davies in action for Everton against Liverpool in October 1976. Main picture: Dai with his wife Judy and son Gareth
Elements of this conversation with Dai Davies have the potential to feel uncomfortable.
He talks in the raw about his illness and the awkward consequences of treatment for prostate cancer seven years ago.
But half-an-hour with Davies is a treat. His easy warmth and candour and the absolute love he so obviously feels for his wife, Judy, are refreshing and uplifting and inspiring.
Judy is within earshot during the interview. When Davies suggests she “suffers” as her husband’s primary carer he is tenderly admonished.
“I don’t suffer at all,” says Judy.
Judy, admits Davies, “had been telling me for weeks I didn’t look well” before he agreed to a doctor’s appointment.
Davies was jaundiced and had been constipated for a period of weeks. His weight had dropped, too.
All three symptoms can signal pancreatic cancer.
“My daughter, Rhian, came one day and said, ‘Dad, you’re not half yellow’,” says Davies, his Welsh tone mellifluous and reassuring.
“I wasn’t resistant [to seeing a doctor],” he continues.
“But my attitude was, ‘I am okay, I am okay, I am okay’.
“I am very lucky that in all the time I have been unwell, I have had no pain.
“But I couldn’t pass a motion. That was my main concern.”
Davies, it transpired, was terribly ill.
Six-and-a-half hours after reporting for blood tests one June morning, Davies was admitted to the surgical unit in Wrexham Maelor Hospital.
“A mass of cancer on my pancreas was diagnosed,” explains Davies, “but its awkward position meant an attempt at removal was too serious an operation to be performed locally.
“I stayed in hospital in Wrexham for three weeks before being transferred to The Royal in Liverpool, which is a brilliant hospital, with really fabulous people. I received excellent care.
“They took out my gallbladder (a swollen gallbladder is a symptom of pancreatic cancer) but couldn’t get to the cancer around my pancreas, they had to leave that in.
“I then had a choice.
“I decided I didn’t want chemotherapy and that I would have palliative care.”
Davies officially retired from football in 1986.
To all intents and purposes, however, he walked away two years previously, leaving Tranmere Rovers with one year remaining on his contract because his mind and body were giving up on him after 15 years as a professional.
He nourished his curiosity over alternative medicine by qualifying as a massage therapist and in the mid-1990s opened his own clinic providing alternatives to conventional drugs.
“I chose not to have chemotherapy because the cancer was too far advanced,” says Davies.
“I am not scared of death, anyway.
“I am quite happy with my progress, plus the fact I have some real quality time with my wife.
“I am well aware I am a spiritual being, having a physical experience.
“That is where I am at.
“I still have pancreatic cancer and I am just living day to day.”
Davies picks up his phone in Caffi Cwtch when we originally plan to talk.
He is with his daughter enjoying lunch and needlessly apologetic when asking to rearrange.
Judy answers 90 minutes later. Dai is home and in bed.
Davies’s incessant tiredness is a by-product of surgery for prostate cancer in 2013 – Judy confirms the precise timing.
“I’m hopeless with dates,” Davies laughs, talking in mid-morning the following day.
He was operated on in Manchester’s Christie Hospital.
The procedure removed Davies’s cancer but, he explains, “I had complications, which meant I was incontinent.
“I was constantly leaking,” he continues.
“They inserted a camera into my urethra, to try to see into my bladder (cystoscopy) but couldn’t get in because it was too tight.
“They decided they’d give me an artificial urinary sphincter.
“I have a cuff around my urethra and a device in my left testicle, a little switch.
“For me to go to the toilet, I have to press that switch, then the fluid moves from the cuff to a balloon which was inserted under my abdominal muscles.
“That is what I’ve had to do for the past seven years.
“My mates are amazed, ‘You have a switch in there which allows you to go to the toilet?’
“But I have disturbed sleep.
“Because of my urge to go to the toilet, I am up every two-and-a-half hours, then it takes me half-an-hour to get back to sleep.
“Today, I got up, got dressed and had my breakfast.
“Normally, I would go back to bed now.”
When news of Davies’s diagnosis was made public in August, his three children, Bethan, Gareth and Rhian, invited supporters to share memories of their dad.
Messages arrived in such numbers they kindly asked for a pause.
Davies, who left Everton for Wrexham in 1977, seven years after joining from Swansea City and following 94 appearances for the Club, had “absolutely no idea” of the affection in which he is held, nor the memories he’d created.
“It was absolutely incredible,” says Davies, his voice raised for the only time in this interview.
“I don’t do much on Twitter, I don’t understand it and I don’t want to.
“I keep a low profile, so it is fabulous that people will put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard.
“I was really touched by all the kind words; hearing the memories people had from watching me play football, some said I changed their lives.
“Thank you to all the Everton fans who sent some lovely messages and to my ex-teammates who wrote nice things.”
Davies forged close bonds with strikers Joe Royle and Bob Latchford at Goodison Park.
It was a theme which extended through his career, stopper Davies developing strong relationships with the men paid to score goals – in part, he thinks, because of extra hours on the training ground trying to outfox each other.
But it was a fellow keeper, talking three months ago, who perceptively identified Davies’s most prominent characteristics.
Davies won 52 international caps – recording 20 clean sheets – before being dethroned by one of his successors in Everton’s goal, Neville Southall.
Southall was immediately struck by the older man’s kindness and decency, recalling how Davies – whose final Wales appearance came six days after Southall’s 1982 debut – went out of his way to put his junior colleague and new roommate at ease.
“A great guy, a really funny person and a top goalkeeper”, said Southall, who also detected in Davies “incredible mental strength”.
Davies recognises the trait. His resilience was crafted, not innate, a necessity born of his position on the football pitch.
“As a goalkeeper, if you make a mistake in the first minute, you still have 89 minutes to play,” says Davies.
“You wish you could dig a hole and hide in it – but you can’t.
“You need some sort of mechanism to deal with the criticism.
“Mental strength is something you search for and progressively acquire.
“You don’t try to make mistakes, but they happen, obviously.
“Then you need a way to deal with it, to say, ‘Well, that’s the job I’ve chosen, I need something that allows me to not get depressed’.
“An awful lot of people when I played couldn’t cope with the pressure and would take to drink or whatever was available to deal with being in the public eye.
“I never got too high when I played well, nor too low when I played badly.
“I was aware [resilience was a quality], even though I didn’t think about it too much.
“It was for other people to make judgments.”
Davies is employing a similar approach to managing his thoughts today and was especially reliant on his mental resolve in the eight weeks prior to moving to the care of Nightingale House.
In that period, spent in the Wrexham and Liverpool hospitals, contact with Judy and his family – including the 12 grandchildren he and Judy are “blessed with” between them – was limited to telephone and video calls.
“When I was in a little bit of discomfort, I’d think positively, as opposed to letting the situation get me down,” says Davies.
“My belief system is that I am a spiritual being, rather than thinking I am a physical being, searching for spirituality.
“Eight weeks without contact with your nearest and dearest is difficult.
“But now I am able to see my beloved and my children.
“I am capable of doing quite a lot of things and have the occasional visitor.
“They come in one side of the house, we keep apart and clean everything after they’ve been.
“It can be worse for my family.
“They have to put up with the other side of it, trying to look after me.
“Jude has devised a game, ‘Guess who’s in the kitchen today’, which can be absolutely hilarious.
“They’re all wearing masks and I don’t have a clue who’s going to be sitting on the chairs by the door until I come around the corner.
“They could be old school friends, relatives or ex-teammates, some of whom I haven’t seen for years.
“It’s absolutely wonderful and all top secret, though I’m concerned my wife has the makings of a good spy.”
Davies’s love of a joke and refusal to take himself seriously shone through the stories related by former colleagues.
“The more you can laugh at yourself and see the funny side of things, the better,” says Davies.
“When you let the ball in your net, even your own team don’t like you, nor your own supporters.
“And the opposition really want to rub it in.
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re in the wrong position.
“I still have that philosophy and it is important.”
Davies briefly returned to football – with Bangor City, then Wrexham – after leaving Tranmere in 1984.
He properly reconciled with the game, however, when his body stopped aching and a mind cluttered by the pressures of top-level sport cleared.
Davies, who is 72, is passionate about his national language – he part owned an exclusively Welsh language bookshop for a period after he finished playing football – and viewed working as a match summariser for BBC Wales and BBC Cymru as a means of helping preserve his native tongue.
Indeed, Davies grew to enjoy the assault on his senses provided by 90 minutes in a football ground, a sharp contrast to the hush of his Llangollen Natural Health Clinic – where Davies specialised in a gentle pain relieving therapy called the Bowen Technique.
His Everton career was a slow burner. Davies moved to Goodison in December 1970 following one year with Swansea, the club he joined aged 21 after playing for non-league Ammanford Town while qualifying as a PE teacher – an occupation he filled before alternative medicine became full-time.
Davies played only two First-Team matches in his opening four seasons but was revitalised by a loan spell in February 1974 back with Swansea, where former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg was manager.
Davies began 35 league games the following 1974/75 season as Billy Bingham’s Everton team missed out on the title by four points after going top with five games remaining.
“I do treasure my football memories,” says Davies, who won the Third Division with Wrexham 12 months after leaving Everton.
“I sold all my jerseys and medals (in 2008, raising £15,648 at auction) to give some money to the kids.
“I have nothing at home showing I played football or all the things I did.
“There is life after football.
“You do your bit and move on, it is a young man’s game.
“But I was very lucky to commentate through the medium of Welsh on radio and television.
“That kept me informed about football because you need credibility to be able to comment with confidence on what is happening in the game.
“I don’t see much today. Match of the Day is too late for me.
“Sometimes I feel that tired I need to go to bed by 8pm.”
Davies spent his five weeks in the Royal “lying down, looking out the window at a concrete wall”.
“I was unable to walk,” he relates, “because my blood pressure would shoot up and down.
“I lost the muscles in my legs.”
Davies’ treatment at Nightingale House is devoted to regaining physical strength.
But over and above his gym sessions under the supervision of “a brilliant physiotherapist team”, moving to the hospice has broadened Davies’s world.
“The physios have got me out of bed,” he says.
“I can walk with a Zimmer frame.
“But it is also that interaction with people, being out of the house in the car – with my wife driving.
“The interaction between you and others in the hospice.
“The first day the café was open [following the 17-day Welsh ‘firebreak’ lockdown] it was full – with the tables at safe distances.
“That showed how much people depend on and want to support Nightingale House.”
Davies would once satisfy his enquiring mind by completing myriad qualifications – adding remedial massage, Feldenkrais, Reiki, shiatsu and crystal healing, to his expansive field of professional expertise – and studying unfamiliar cultures.
Reading about Native Americans he found a philosophy where “they always assume they have only three minutes left to live and choose whether to be happy or sad in those three minutes”.
It was an enlightening discovery because Davies was a worrier when he played football. If he did well in a game, he would recognise the days fretting in advance had been futile – then repeat the cycle nonetheless.
“Native Indians reckon they learn more in the minute they meet each other for the first time than in the remainder of their lifetimes,” says Davies.
“They live in the here and now.
“They are completely aware of what is around them and how people feel.
“The idea is to try to get into a sense of peace and quiet, then you can come from there.
“Rather than being in an angry and upset state and reacting accordingly.”
Davies slowly and deliberately exhales.
“Stay present,” he advises, “take a breath”.