1935 : FC Metz (France)
Throughout the 1920s, the newly formed American Soccer League (ASL) had begun enticing British based players across the Atlantic. Excited by the prospect of higher wages and a more glamorous lifestyle, scores of English and Scottish men began crossing the ocean to reap the rewards of the new American soccer gold rush. This was British football's first experience of loosing its players en masse to more competitive and commercial league systems.
By the early 1930s however, American soccer's power was being replaced by that of France. In 1932, France had introduced professionalism into its football, and the Ligue 1 was born. Clubs began scouting Europe for talent, and Britain was targeted. The French exodus began in 1932 with the accosting by SC Nimes of prominent members of the Chelsea squad, doubling their wages. Thus began the period known as the French Menace. The English FA, after their experiences with the ASL, responded that any players who went to France, would not be allowed back. However in reality, they merely imposed small penalties on the players when they returned.
Thomas Lawrence Davis was born in Dublin in 1911. He played for a variety of clubs in Ireland, before being snapped up by English outfit Boston Town. He made his name as a young yet menacing striker, and finally landed at Third Division club New Brighton where he netted 50 goals in 77 appearances. This form gained the attention of recently promoted Ligue 1 club FC Metz.
When Davis arrived at the Stade Saint-Symphorien, he joined a club on the rise. Metz had been formed in 1932, upon the merger of two sides and had been a regional side playing the French Northern League until 1933, before earning promotion to Ligue 1 in 1935. French football was at the height of its British phase. The French national team was managed by Englishman George Kimpton, whilst various British players and managers were plying their trade around the country, including Ted Maghner, Tom Devlin, Fredrick Kennedy, George Berry and Peter O’Dowd. Also playing in France at the time were two other Irishmen; Bernard Williams at Sochaux and Owen Mac Cahill, at CA Paris. Thus, Davis would find himself surrounded by familiar accents and voices, partially eliminating the risk of home sickness.
France in particular appealed to journeymen and peripatetic players, who had become disillusioned with the overcrowded scene of the English game, forcing them to play in the lower divisions. Yet Davis, a textbook journeyman, struggled to settle in France. Breaking his contract, Davis signed for Oldham Athletic. Metz meanwhile finished in 11th and established themselves as a Ligue 1 side for years to come.
|Program from Davis' first Irish international|
Returning to England, Davis was one of the first players to fall foul of the English FAs penalties, and was handed an immediate three month ban. This only halted his form temporarily though, his tally of 35 goals in the 1936-37 season is still a record for an Oldham player. He gained the first of his four Irish caps in 1936 in a memorable 5-2 win over Germany at Dalymount Park. Davis himself netted two of Ireland's goals.
He finished his career in Ireland with Shelbourne and later Distillery in Northern Ireland where he continued his prolific record with 24 goals in one season. He also gained one cap for Northern Ireland, in a 1937 Home Nations' Championship defeat to England.
Davis had no impact whatsoever in France, and the whole episode is a black mark on an otherwise brilliant lower league career. His failure in France would be another chapter in the list of Irish failures on the continent.
For what its worth, a large proportion of the British and Irish players who went to France around the same time, failed to last either. His records at Brighton, Oldham and for Ireland (he scored 4 goals in 4 games) mark him out as one of our most prolific goal-scorers of the inter-war era.