Llanelli, Carmarthenshire born goalkeeper Dai Davies was a Welsh rugby union, professional rugby league, and association football player of the 1890’s, 1900’s, and 1910’s, playing club level rugby union for Llanelli RFC, playing representative level rugby league for Wales and Lancashire, and at club level for Swinton (twice), and Leigh, and playing representative level association football for Wales, and at club level for Bolton Wanderers, as a goalkeeper. Dai Davies is the only person to have appeared in both the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final and the association football FA Cup Final, and is one of the very few, perhaps the only, footballer to play for Wales at both international association football and international rugby league.
An in depth analysis of his rugby career is probably not for this biography but he started playing rugby union with Llanelli in 1896. Davies was part of the Llanelli team captained by Owen Badger that lost only once in 31 matches in the 1896-97 season; he scored a try in the win over Newport in February 1897 that was described by the Daily Chronicle as being for “the club championship of the United Kingdom”. Davies first played rugby league for Swinton in 1899. Davies played, and scored a try, in Swinton’s 16-8 victory over Salford in the 1900 Challenge Cup Final at Fallowfield Stadium, Manchester.
Davies joined First Division club Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 1902, having previously only attended one Association Football match and never having handled a round ball, making his Football League debut at Liverpool on Christmas Day. He conceded 12 goals in two days as Bolton conceded 5 at Liverpool then 7 at Sheffield United on Boxing Day but he played 4 more times come March and April with considerably more success, albeit The Trotters were relegated to the Second Division. Davies was a “tough individual” and in a contemporaneous report it was claimed that he “excelled in the dangerous and difficult task of diving headlong at an incoming forward’s feet and whisking the ball away as he curled up and rolled to safety”. A later report said that “in his indifference to cuts and bruises he was characteristic of the age he was playing in”.
In 1903 he established himself as the number one goalkeeper and less than a year later, in April 1904, Davies played in goal in Bolton’s 1-0 defeat by Manchester City in the 1904 FA Cup Final in front of 61,000 at The Crystal Palace. Despite being on the losing side, Davies “had a good match” and made a number of fine saves; he was only beaten once, by fellow Welsh international, Billy Meredith.
Bolton returned to the First Division in 1905 as Second Division runners up and stayed there for three years, before spending 1908-09 back in the Second Division. But from 1906 Davies’ appearances were increasingly irregular. In 1909, they again returned to the top flight as Second Division champions, but were again relegated in 1910; by then, however, Davies had played his last game of 137 for The Trotters at Chelsea in October 1909 and brought his football career to an end, returning to rugby league with Swinton in December 1909.
Davies won caps for Wales at football against Scotland in a 1-1 draw at Dens Park, Dundee in March 1904, and Ireland in a 1-0 defeat at Penryhn Park, Bangor, and finally against England at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham in a 7-1 defeat in March 1908, Davies coming on as a half time substitute for the injured Stoke City goalkeeper Leigh Richmond Roose who was replaced until half time by defender Charlie Morris. Roose had been injured in the fifteenth minute following a shoulder charge by Vivian Woodward; Davies was attending the match as a spectator and at half time, with Wales four goals down, the Football Association officials and Woodward, the England captain, allowed Davies to play in goal for the remainder of the match.
He also won a cap for Wales at rugby league while at Swinton in the 13-39 defeat by England at Coventry on 10th December 1910. Besides playing rugby league for Swinton and Salford he also played for Leigh in 1913 before his retirement and represented Lancashire three times between 1900 and 1901.
He is one of four known players to have played top level football and rugby league, the others being Ted Bateson, Ben Beyond and Albert Brough.
NB in the image he defends his goal in the FA Cup Final against Manchester City at The Crystal Palace on 23rd April 1904. The player in the foreground appears to be Manchester City’s Billy Meredith. Bolton lost 1-0.