TWO decades ago, Kevin Davies accepted the offer of a trial at Bolton Wanderers and a chance to kick-start his Premier League career.

He would go on to captain the club, play in two European campaigns, earn international honours for England and become one of the most revered and respected modern-day players to pull on a Bolton shirt.

Wanderers fans will know how Davies became one of the top-flight’s toughest customers under Sam Allardyce, how he bloodied the noses of Arsenal, Liverpool and the like, and even grabbed a goal against the mighty Bayern Munich.

But 20 years after he first arrived at the club we wanted to delve deeper into some of the highs and lows he experienced as a Bolton player – what drove him to succeed, what made the Whites so special, and how that legacy eventually fell apart.

In a special series of articles which will be printed in The Bolton News and available online to subscribers, we talk to Davies about the good times and the bad, several years after he drew his playing career to an end.

The Bolton News: Kevin Davies slides in to challenge Ashley Cole whilst playing for Southampton in 2002Kevin Davies slides in to challenge Ashley Cole whilst playing for Southampton in 2002 (Image: PA)

CHAPTER ONE: Fat Camp and Lucozade highs

THE first of many headlines Kevin Davies created in a Bolton Wanderers shirt were the agreeable comments made by Sam Allardyce and his first team coach Phil Brown as the team prepared for the new season in the Italian Alps around Bormio.

It was the summer of 2004, and the striker – then 26 – had reached a crossroads in both his football career and personal life.

A big money move to Blackburn Rovers proved disastrous, and a return to Southampton had soured after Gordon Strachan replaced Glenn Hoddle as manager, culminating in him being told 90 minutes before an FA Cup final that he would not be playing in the team.

His fitness and confidence had suffered, and off the field he was also dealing with the terminal illness of his parents as his contract with the Saints ticked down.

“I was a bit lost at the time,” he told The Bolton News. “I’d had the big move to Blackburn and that didn’t work out, then spent a bit at Southampton, where my confidence was really down. Glenn Hoddle had been there, I’d played, but it is well-documented under Gordon Strachan we didn’t see eye-to-eye from game one.

“I’d played very little football in 2003, we’d got to the FA Cup final, but I knew in that year that there was a point in training where we’d be doing shape that I wasn’t even playing against the first team. I knew my career at Southampton was finished unless he left, and then who knows?

“I had half a dozen games playing for Millwall, went back after a couple of months. I scored a late goal against Millwall in the cup to get a replay but I missed out on the final and it fizzled out. I got the old conversation at the end of the season and I knew I’d be looking for a new club.

“I knew I needed a change. My parents were not well at the time, they were terminally ill, and so I took them on holiday to Las Vegas because my dad was a bit old school, liked a flutter, and when I was over there I got the call from my agent to say Sam Allardyce had been in touch.

“That kind of refocussed me a bit. I still had a few weeks left on my contract at Southampton but I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself: ‘You haven’t played in a year, you need to sort yourself out.

“I wasn’t in any sort of shape, and I hadn’t played any football really after coming back from Millwall, so there was a lot of catching up to do.”

Once back in the UK, Davies rang round as many of his footballing friends as possible to find out what he could about Allardyce and the club he had managed to settle against the odds in the Premier League. He heard only positive references.

Time was against him, however, if he was going to make a good impression. The team was flying out to Italy for a pre-season training camp, followed by games in Ireland and Malta.

“Before I went in for the first training sessions with Bolton, I spent about three or four weeks running up and down hills in Sheffield,” he said. “There are plenty to choose from.

“It was a mixture of feelings. I knew I had to find a club, financially. I felt I could still do a job at Premier League level, so I guess I had the motivation to prove Gordon Strachan wrong, that he had mis-managed me, or maybe it was I just did the wrong things? Whatever it was, I had to move on.

“This was a big club. I’d done homework on Sam and I liked what I saw. I knew about the players in the team, so I was on board a flight to Bormio in Italy and ready to show them what I could do.”

Word from Lombardy was positive.

“Kevin has got better, stronger and fitter as the week progressed,” enthused Phil Brown at the time. “I have been very impressed with what I have seen of him so far.”

“We’re fortunate he chose to train with us because many other clubs were chasing him,” Allardyce added. “We’ll take a look and then see from there.”

The Bolton News: Kevin Davies made his first appearance for Bolton in a friendly against Irish side BallymenaKevin Davies made his first appearance for Bolton in a friendly against Irish side Ballymena (Image: PA)

Up in the mountains, Davies had been put on a regimented diet to burn off the excess pounds. A contract from Wanderers was by no means guaranteed and Allardyce was keen to dig deeper into the striker to find out exactly why his career had slowed down.

“I remember him calling me into his room for a chat at one point,” he recalled. “He wanted to know everything that had happened, all the trials and tribulations, why the move to Blackburn hadn’t worked out, what I’d done at Southampton, why things hadn’t been happening for me.

“He was brilliant like that. Sam had different sides to him and after talking to him I just knew this was exactly what I wanted.”

Davies presumes other clubs were interested at the time, although he never pursued any other leads. Besides, his isolation up in Italy allowed Wanderers to test him to his physical limits with no distractions.

“We met at the airport, flew out to Italy, touched down and it was straight down to business,” he said. “I got taken into the Fat Club right away. Day one they put me on the Atkins Diet, no carbs, to burn off the body fat. It was four sessions a day.

“I don’t think I ever worked harder than I did in those few weeks. Sam was in and out of the training sessions in Italy and whenever you’d see him, you’d have that motivation.

“I speak to lots of younger players in the game who have been released and you have to understand there will be highs and lows in football. But you have to keep that fire in your belly.

“During that pre-season I had it in abundance. I was mad for it.

“All the running, I wanted more, in the gym, I wanted to lift the most. I remember kicking Simon Charlton in a training session and he came chasing after me.

“I’d had a sip of Lucozade and because I wasn’t on carbs, I blamed it on that.

“They could see I wanted to be a part of it and I pushed myself to the limit.”

Davies earned rave reviews on his first Bolton start in Ballymena, a friendly which Stelios and the lesser-remembered Lord Kangana-Ndiwa also made their bow.

It was not until after the final warm-up game at home against Olympiakos – drawn one apiece thanks to a fine volley from Kevin Nolan – that Bolton put their cards on the table about a contract.

“It was two weeks before the start of the season and I’d done pretty well in the friendly games,” Davies said. “I remember the conversation with Sam, who just said it wasn’t an amazing deal but it gives me a start, somewhere to get going again.

“A few days before we kicked off he pulled me again to say I’d be starting against Manchester United.

“I’d basically gone from two months earlier not knowing where I was going to be, whether I’d even have a job, and then I’m starting in the Premier League at Old Trafford.”

The Bolton News: Kevin Davies climbs with Emerson Thome and Newcastle United's Gary SpeedKevin Davies climbs with Emerson Thome and Newcastle United's Gary Speed (Image: PA)

Part two of the Kevin Davies series can be found HERE.