There was a sense of irony when Preston North End striker Kevin Davies was quizzed by a referees’ website on being one of English football’s biggest sinners in the sense of fouls committed against opposition players.
Davies sat down for the lengthy interview at the Springfields training ground as he recovered from a broken rib sustained in last month’s defeat at Walsall.
A blow in the rib cage from Saddlers defender Andy Butler left Davies with the painful injury, one only diagnosed after he had gone on to take part in a couple of training sessions and been on the bench for the following game against Chesterfield.
He could return to the PNE squad in time for today’s clash with Port Vale, or it could be that the 37-year-old is given a couple more days to pick-up his fitness and then re-join his team-mates for Tuesday night’s trek to Gillingham.
“I didn’t even get the foul,” said Davies with a smile during the interview conducted with You–Are–The–Ref.com.
“I just got up and got on with the game, not realising what damage had been done.”
A trawl through statistics from Davies’ 10-year stay with Bolton – one which ended when he joined North End in July 2013 – show that he kept referees busy.
It was put to him that he is the player who has committed the most fouls in Premier League history, that he was the player with the most fouls in a season for three consecutive seasons (2004-2007) and that he committed more than 1,000 when playing for Bolton in the top flight.
Davies takes such stats on the chin because of his style of play but also puts forward some figures of his own by way of a plea of mitigation.
He said: “The statistics are there, fair enough, but the stats which aren’t there are the number of fouls which were against me.
“If you look at those, there were a number of years when I was the most fouled player as well.
“I have taken whacks and come home hardly being able to walk. I’ve had black eyes, scratches, broken noses but I’m never one to complain about it because it is part of the job.
“I’m recovering from a broken rib at the moment. I’ve taken a lot of beatings and batterings over the years.
“If you average it all out over the amount of appearances, it is maybe one in five games when I have got a yellow card.
“When you talk about Bolton everyone knew about the style of football we played, although we played some good football too.
“I was often the focal point of the attack and players would pick things off me.
“When you have got that many challenges in a game, some of them will go for you and some against you.
“Bolton once sent clips to the referees’ association about the treatment I was getting.”
Davies recalled how in his Wanderers days he was a marked man before some games even started, citing one visit to Old Trafford to face Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of the Red Devils.
He said: “It’s all a bit of gamesmanship, I think the best one was Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Bolton were playing at Old Trafford and we were doing pretty well at the time and I think I can take it as a backhanded compliment, really.
“They kind of regard you as a threat and they know that they have to watch out for you.
“And I think he [Sir Alex] said once that the referee better be on his A-game with me coming to Old Trafford and what that did, it was blown up in the papers.
“Automatically that referee was, if he wasn’t already doing, looking out for any incidents.
“But what that did was take the edge out of my game.
“And that was Sir Alex Ferguson at his best because I was aware then that I couldn’t really go in for those 50/50s because I knew the crowd, everyone who read the papers, all the media and the officials, were looking.
“It worked, so I understand that managers do play those games and I think it worked to a certain extent for him in that game.”
Just once has Davies been called before the FA to explain himself, that being for comments made to the media after a game rather than it being a flying elbow or foul on the pitch.
It did, however, all stem from a controversial moment in a game as Bolton battled for Premier League safety.
Davies said: “Although the yellow cards have totted up over my career, I think I’ve only ever got to 10 in a season probably once, maybe, where I missed a couple of games.
“And I think I’ve had three or four red cards which, over 700–800 games, isn’t bad.
“People will say that is not what you want but it’s one every 200 games or something so it’s not too bad.
“I’ve never been sent–off for two yellow cards, but there was one incident with Bolton.
“They were struggling at the wrong end of the table and had a massive game against Fulham. I think it might have been my 300th game so I was pumped up for the game.
“We knew a win would take us four, five or six places up.
“We were drawing at the time and then in the last minute a cross has come in and I jumped with Brett Hangeland, all 6ft 7ins of him.
“He knew I was getting there first and he sort of dived forward, but I scored the goal so I was off celebrating – it was the last minute of the game
“I knew what it meant to the club and it was my 300th appearance.
“Mark Clattenburg was the referee and he blew and said I had shoved Hangeland.
“We watched the video back later and it was just like ‘wow’.
“There was no push there, I had beaten him in the air, and it was a massive goal, and it would have lifted us up so many places.
“I stayed behind for about an hour, felt just so down about it.
“I knew – and Hangeland knew as well when he was lying on the floor that he was losing the challenge.
“He had just tried to buy the foul which he got, and Clatternburg gave it.
“Later I just made a flippant comment, saying Clattenburg had always got something against me.
“I reeled off a number of decisions – penalties, I think he booked me in every game and I think it stemmed back to my first or second season at Bolton.
“I think I was getting battered around the pitch and he wasn’t giving me anything.
“Eventually he gave me a foul and I gave him a sarcastic clap. It was not my normal behaviour, just a bit of sarcasm and he booked me for that.
“And I just kind of felt ever since then he was booking me in every game, he was going against me in every game.
“It just felt like it went on and on for me and it came to a point after the game where I said to some media guy that I think he’s got something against me
“I got called to the FA and I got a suspended sentence for that.”
Davies believes that better communication between players and referees would benefit the game.
He points out that some refs are willing to engage in a bit of banter with the players, but others do not seem to want to communicate during games.
“It has become a bit more them and us,” said Davies.
“The players have got more respect, obviously, in that you can’t get around them so much and make the decision difficult for them and that’s improved.
“But I still think there’s not too many who will have a conversation with you during a game.
“The other thing is when you go out a hour before kick-off and have that meeting, some referees will say ‘Work with me, work with me during the game. You’re the captains. He’s my fourth official, they’re my assistants, let’s all work together during the game’.
“Then you go out on to the pitch and he won’t speak to you.
“You want to have a conversation about something that’s been reoccurring or something you’re not happy with. But you can’t have that conversation, they’ll just ignore you which frustrates you even more, so why say that in the meeting?
“You just get sick and tired of it – what are these meetings for before the game?
“Instead just let the assistant managers go and hand the team sheets in, you don’t need the captains there.
“I think you can just have a bit more of a conversation with some referees than others.
“People like Howard Webb were brilliant at it, they’ll speak to you.
“Phil Dowd was fantastic he’d have a few little sly remarks, a bit of a crack on the pitch.
“That’s what you want to do, you want to try and enjoy it, and they’re under a lot of stress as well.
“That meeting before the game, either just get rid of it or do something about it.
“You just come out of there laughing and joking sometimes because you just know which referee it is, you know which style he has.
“And you know if it is a certain referee you will go back to the boys and say, ‘Be careful of this guy, he’s pretty card happy. Don’t give him any tongue in cheek...any comments... because he’ll book you’.”
Davies has ruled out being a referee at the end of his playing days, the coaching route the one he is looking to go down.
He said: “As manager? Maybe, yes. I’m doing my badges and have nearly finished my A Licence.
“I’m doing a bit of coaching with kids in the Bolton area and I watch my son play.”