Curtis Davies is a rock in Derby County’s defence and a big voice in the dressing room – driving the Rams’ push for promotion to the Premier League. He has been there before. He has experienced Wembley ecstasy and heartache. He has been up; he has been down. And sometimes in the same footballing moment…
Are you confident about winning promotion, it’s starting to look like the play-offs might be your best route back to the Premier League?
It’s tough because Cardiff have put together a really good run and obviously Villa and Fulham have come steaming through, but you never know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to turn my back on our automatic chances but we need to keep ourselves going and make sure we step it up, because other teams are coming strong behind us as well.
There have been wobbles but whatever happens in the last 10 games it’s been a good season…
As we speak, this has been our worst blip but overall we’re doing a lot of good things. Now it’s for us to react and that’s what it’ll come down to. This will be the time when we show our experience level, our ability to bounce back, because a lot of teams can get there with a bit of a run. It’s when you have that little stumble – it’s about how you react to it.
It’s a cliche but can you really just take it one game at a time, focus on yourselves and ignore what everyone else is doing?
Ultimately it’s only on us. We can talk the talk but the only thing is walking the walk in games and getting it done. I’m hoping we’ll get back to winning ways because at this stage of the season you can’t say ‘the next one will be alright’. Games run out and teams will be steaming away from you or chasing you down.
You’ve captained Hull in the Premier League and people look to you for leadership. Does that add pressure?
It doesn’t bother me at all. I said when I signed that I came here to be part of a side hopefully pushing for promotion and so far we’ve done that. So I came here and I knew what I wanted from it, it was whether or not everyone else was going to buy into that – and everyone else has. We’ve got ourselves into a good position right now and we need to see it through, but I’d back us to at least finish in the play-offs.
You’ve won a play-off before but you’ve got mixed memories of Wembley after the 2014 FA Cup final when you led Hull against Arsenal…
That’s the thing, I played at Wembley three times and won twice and the time I didn’t win I scored a goal so I can’t complain too much. But yeah, the 2014 cup final was the best game and worst game of my life – not worst in terms of performance but in terms of experience. To go to a cup final and to captain a side in a cup final is what dreams are made of. Then to go 1-0 up is one thing, to go 2-0 up in eight minutes was unbelievable. But then Arsenal’s strength in depth came through.
Do you still think about how the game ended and how you felt?
They ended up getting back to 2-2 and it went to extra-time. They were able to bring on Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky – full internationals – and we were all out on our feet so it was tough to take. But it was an experience that I’ll take with me forever. Obviously, I would have rather had the experience of winning it but everything happens for a reason and it wasn’t our year.
What are your thoughts on former Hull City team-mate Ryan Mason’s enforced retirement?
It’s one of those things where he’s been trying his hardest to get back and, if anything, prove that he could. In the end he’s had to retire but he’s been doing a few things with the media and he’s now looking forward to a future that, sadly, will be away from football. But it doesn’t daunt him. He’s had time to sit back and look at everything and I’m sure he looks forward to family life with his newborn son and also making a new career for himself so he can make himself proud again.
You obviously have one eye on your own retirement with your media work…
I’ve done stuff with BBC News, 5Live, Match of the Day 2 Extra, The Morning Show on Sundays… I’ve done Sky Sports News, The Football Daily Show numerous times. And I’ve done a lot of stuff for Premier League Productions – it doesn’t air in the UK but it’s on all over the world. I’ve done loads of bits and I really enjoy it.
And you’re doing a degree in sports journalism to build your CV too?
Yes. I chose to do the degree so I could open my eyes on the writing side. It covers all you need to know and how much of the law comes into play when you’re going to be a journalist. A lot of our reading is to do with law – I think I should do a law degree! It’s amazing what you can and can’t say, you need to be very careful.
How is it being back in the classroom?
It’s just good learning something again. A lot of people probably hated school but I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked learning things, I liked being among friends and having a bit of a discussion and debate. It’s quite good to know that I’m learning something that’s going to be beneficial for a career, and just having a degree on your CV will go a long way.
With your media work, is it difficult to criticise fellow pros while you’re still playing the game?
Yeah, it’s definitely challenging, anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not scared to say what I think, but I’m not a controversial person either. You have your opinion, you need to tell the truth but it’s how you word things. Having said that, obviously some things are inexcusable and if someone makes a big career mistake you have to address the elephant in the room – you won’t be in a job for long if you just sit on the fence.
And you’re making waves on Twitter too?
When I first came to Twitter it was more of an exploration and to see what it’s all about. Eventually you get more and more followers and now I’m getting to the back end of my career I started to think, ‘Yeah, this could be my platform for future endeavours’. It’s quite important to keep up with social media for me being a potential pundit. At the moment I really just like using it to have fun with people.
But you don’t just stick to football matters on Twitter…
No, I tweet about movie quotes or what was on TV last night, all sorts really. I prefer it for that because everyone sees my interviews with Rams TV or 5Live when we’ve played a game. Nobody gets to see the other side of me, the funny side, and that’s what I like to portray. Not that they’re going to know me inside out, but I like people to know I’ve got a personality away from, ‘Oh yeah, it was a good result and we’ve scored some good goals’. I think that’s the problem: you get pigeon-holed because of your persona in terms of answering questions in an interview after a game, which I’ve always been honest about. But, I’m not just that guy – I’m the guy that has fun with his family, I have kids, I have a deeper side to me, I have a funny side.
Do you see your future working in the media?
As a guy who is close to retirement you always keep your eye open and look for any opportunities where you can potentially get an income after football. Unless you become a top manager, it’s going to be hard to match the income that you’ve earned all these years. So you have to try and make the most of what you have. I hope that after my playing career I’ll still work in football as a pundit. I want to make sure I’m earning well and have my family looked after. It’s always important to keep your ear to the ground and look out for different opportunities.
The Perils of Promotion
When Hull City were dubbed “The least prepared side in Premier League history”
On the eve of the 2016/17 season, Hull City boss Steve Bruce had walked, key players were sold, no players were signed and injuries had decimated the squad. “It was one of those situations – if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry,” Curtis recalls.
He did laugh: tweeting an infamous nine-man team photo during pre-season. “It wasn’t me attacking the club,” says Curtis. “It was a bit of fun just to show the fact that, as players, we’re still together, we’re still having a laugh, we’re going to give you our best. It took pressure off the owners for a little while because people were saying ‘at least our players are sticking together.’”
Curtis stepped up to the captaincy at the start of a torrid season. In the end came the inevitable conclusion – relegation. But before a ball was kicked Curtis was already hurting. “It was the most frustrating time,” he says. “I’ve been relegated three times but that promotion is probably the most disappointing thing that’s happened in my career.
“We’d done all the hard work to win the play-off final, which is the hardest way to do it. And then for the club to not invest in the players we needed to help us stay up was very disappointing. I don’t know any team that’s gone into the Premier League with a worse squad than the one they had in the Championship.”
Curtis has played for England at U21 level but he’s now considering an unusual pathway onto the international stage, one that will make his dad beam with pride…
“I won’t kid anyone,” Curtis says, “I’m not going to be able to play for England now. I’m 33 next month so I can’t see Gareth Southgate giving me the call any time soon.”
There have been other international opportunities, thanks to home nation family links. But Curtis is now looking further afield. “For me it would be an honour to play for Sierra Leone, just to make my dad and my family proud. I spoke to their Swedish manager, Lars-Olof Mattsson and he emailed me to see if I’d be interested. But I still had it in my mind at that stage that maybe I could get an England call-up.
Later, another manager tried but that was when E-Bola was happening. My own health is one thing, but I’ve got a wife and two children now and they come first.”