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Gone but not forgotten:
Jimmy Davis
Position: Right midfielder
From: Manchester United - on loan - July 2003

This is about so much more than football, of course. For all that the game we follow must've played a massive role in Jimmy Davis' twenty-one years, the loss of a footballer is merely a part of an altogether greater and more devastating loss. A reminder for us, perhaps, that players are human beings, and as fragile as everyone else. That we have no right to claim ownership of them.

So, what am I doing here? Because I cannot imagine the grief of those to whom Jimmy Davis was more than a Watford player for five short weeks. And even if I could, I wouldn't want to insult them by attempting to find words on their behalf. All I can do, for what it's worth, is to describe this particular, terribly small part of that greater loss. And to be aware that terribly small is all that it is.

For those of us who have experienced the tragedy from this particular perspective, its timing seems especially shocking. It goes without saying that there could never, ever be a good time...but all the same, it just seems extraordinarily, unbelievably and unbearably cruel.

The first day of a new season is a special moment for everyone involved in football, even more so than the much-heralded Third Round and Final of the FA Cup. It's a time when everyone - players, managers, fans, pundits, reporters - is looking forward, perhaps with a sense of nervous anticipation but always with optimism, no matter how ill-founded that might ultimately prove to be. We'll never learn because we don't want to learn, and whether the previous campaign finished with promotion, relegation or stagnation, the following August will bring the same eager excitement. It'll always be so.

On Saturday 9th August 2003, Watford were to begin with a home fixture against Coventry City. All the usual feelings, of course, but a few unfamiliar ones too. For this had been a particularly positive summer, culminating in a sense of detachment from a baggage-laden recent past, a freedom to succeed or fail on our own merits rather than those of previous regimes. A new beginning, a fresh start. When the news filtered through that Jimmy Davis, who'd joined on loan from Manchester United for the season, had been killed in a car crash earlier in the day, it felt as if the ground had just disappeared from underneath our feet.

I doubt if I'll ever be able to forget that day. Walking through the High Street, it felt as if the world had suddenly been divided into two sets of people - those who were enjoying a leisurely stroll around the shops in the fierce sunshine of one of the hottest days on record, and those who were stumbling around in an absolute daze, numb and confused and broken. The contrast seemed utterly unreal, almost surreal. Sadly, it was neither. It was all too true.

Of course, the grief of the supporters pales into insignificance in comparison to those who knew and loved Jimmy Davis personally. The vast majority of Watford fans had not even seen him play, after all. First and foremost, our hearts went - and continue to go - out to his family, his girlfriend, his friends, his manager and teammates at both clubs. Yet relative insignificance does not mean that those personal feelings weren't acute, heartfelt, genuine.

Because Jimmy Davis' future, in the short-term at least, was very much a part of our shared future, of Watford Football Club's future. Of the thing that we invest so much time, money and love in.

Even if you'd yet to see him on a football pitch, you would've had plenty of advance notice that he was a little bit special. For a start, following the success of Danny Webber's second spell, we were pretty much allowed to take our pick from the youngsters at Old Trafford for a season-long loan...and you don't get rubbish by doing that. Although his appearances were curtailed by a groin injury, pre-season reports provided plenty of confirmation:

"Davis looks to be a treat indeed, scurrying this way and that on tiny, frantic legs, plenty of pace, plenty of tricks... but a healthy dose of grit in the mix too, as he revealed when holding off a robust challenge on the halfway line. His was the first breakthrough... Ardley played a fine ball through, and Davis scampered onto it, left the keeper on his backside and flicked the ball into an empty net. It will certainly be no hardship to see more of him."
- Matt Rowson, Aldershot Town v Watford report

But it was more than that. It was abundantly clear that he had already become much more than just a temporary addition to the squad, someone passing through. As he discussed the coming season in the week before its kickoff, you could sense the paternal twinkle in Ray Lewington's eye as he talked about "little Jim", about how "he is an infectious little character and the crowd will grow to like him". You could feel the manager's eagerness to introduce this lively, sparky youngster...and you could share that eagerness, mixing it in with all the excitement of the new campaign.

And then, of course, there's the story that emerged later, behind the choice of "Gangsta's Paradise" as the team's intro music for the season. Of the tradition that dictates that all new arrivals must sing to the assembled management and players for two minutes at their first away match. Of his word-perfect performance, continuing even when the required time had passed and even when Terry Byrne had picked him up, slung him over his shoulder, and carried him away. A wonderful image. No wonder he was already much loved.

And no wonder the loss felt so tangible, so personal. So firmly connected with our own lives. Most of us are unable, and unwilling, to maintain a healthy distance between our day-to-day existence and that of our football club. Perhaps we can only feel the echoes of the pain that those closest to Jimmy Davis must be experiencing right now, but those echoes are painful enough.

Tragically, the memories that he was able to give us exist mainly in the imagination. But for anyone who'd looked forward to experiencing those moments-to-remember, who felt the ground disappear from underneath them when the news broke, who left flowers and messages outside the stadium, who felt spine-shivers during the silence before the Bournemouth game, or who reacted in any number of different ways, those daydream memories will stay forever.

Rest in peace, Jimmy. Or if you prefer, entertain everyone else up there with a song or two....

Ian Grant