When all the noise was, understandably, about the rise and rise of Deli Alli, eighteen-year-old Keinan Davis’ senior debut for Aston Villa in the third round of the FA Cup at White Hart Lane was a special moment for some.
This story begins with a chance meeting at the Emirates for the U21 Premier League 2 play off final between Arsenal and Aston Villa in May 2016 when a few Villans met Keinan Davis’ former manager Dave Northfield, who coached the U18 team at Biggleswade Town. Dave told us how fond he and the Waders were of Keinan, which was clear by how many of his former teammates came to support him, and the rest of Villa’s kids, try and overcome Cazorla (31 at the time) and co.
Ever since that night, a few of us Villans have kept in touch with Dave, who still takes a keen interest in Keinan and follows his progress closely and now manages Biggleswade Football Club, a senior team that is a follow on for the boys from the Under 18s.
Born in Stevenage, Keinan made his way through his hometown academy from humble beginnings. Keinan would regularly walk the six mile round trip to make the training sessions, showing his commitment!
Unfortunately, despite that dedication to duty, Keinan, along with the rest of Stevenage FC’s U16s, was released in April 2014. Keinan, then fifteen, was told at the time that “he was too small and would never make it as a professional footballer.”
However, rather than have their lads moping around, Dave Northfield and a few other coaches decided some of these lads, including Keinan and Northfield’s own son, were too talented to be discarded at an early age and there and then decided to form Biggleswade Under 18 team. Keinan was now a Wader.
I might be a Villan but I was really taken on hearing that Biggleswade U18s were formed with players like Keinan Davis, who had been released by professional football club’s academies and that it was providing a platform where these lads could regain their confidence and the hopes of getting a second chance.
Biggleswade’s Under 18s win the Championship – twice!
Along with released youngsters from other clubs, such as Ipswich, Luton and Cambridge, Davis played in an assembled team that showed their combined talent on the pitch. In spite of their manager inviting fourteen or fifteen professional football clubs, none apart from Cambridge United initially replied to give them a game to test their skills against better opposition.
However, it wasn’t long before scouts started noticing the newly formed team, as Biggleswade U18s took their assigned league by storm, winning the Thurlow Nunn Championship two seasons running.
As one coach told me “the team out-played the best teams in East Anglia for two seasons with some unbelievable displays.”
The first knowledge Aston Villa had of the Biggleswade side was at a chance meeting between their manager and an Aston Villa scout at a Bedfordshire v Cambridgeshire county match that a few of the boys were participating in. Invited to watch Biggleswade’s Under 18s, sure enough Villa’s scout duly attended a game and returned on nine further occasions in the run up to the club offering Keinan Davis a week’s trial.
Anyone checking back through the @u18Town Twitter feed won’t fail to be impressed with their results around that time, with Davis scoring a hat trick against St Neots Town in October 2015, which ended 6-1, as just one example. The young Waders also got through to the second round proper of the FA Youth Cup too around that time, with Davis described by Waders as “tearing it up” doing what he loves best, which is scoring goals! Round pegs in round holes and all that…
Admirers soon came calling and apparently Davis had offers from four professional football clubs to go on trial, including one of the big clubs in the area in Ipswich Town. When Villa invited him to spend a week with the club at Bodymoor Heath, he seized his chance to pursue his dream and indeed impressed enough to be offered a contract with Aston Villa, which he signed on 15th December 2015.
Villans took Keinan to their hearts right from the start because his story is one of admirable commitment to play football despite rejection, with support from genuine coaches and family and a steely determination behind a shy, humble exterior.
The tales of the other young Waders who were ‘discarded’ are ones that need telling too.
What a lovely moment it was when Aston Villa took their Under 21s to play the Waders’ senior side: Keinan Davis was made captain, received a signed shirt and a guard of honour no less!
Clearly he impressed Rémi Garde even though he’d only signed for the club a few months before, as Davis made the bench for the senior squad twice under him last season, following a striker injury crisis for games against Norwich City and Liverpool.
After being at the club just over one year and now approaching his nineteenth birthday, he has grown into a formidable physical striker, who seems to complement his pacy partner Rushian Hepburn-Murphy perfectly.
Sure enough, Keinan Davis signed a new contract under Steve Bruce a few weeks ago.
For me, Aston Villa Football Club has found what is potentially an ideal strike force partnership in Keinan and Audrey, as Villa fans like to call Rushian, for the future. It would be a shame if this partnership was broken up at this stage!
“Young players need to remember they are only as good as the lads around them!”
I’m sure Steve Bruce must have taken a moment at White Hart Lane to ponder his own humble beginnings as he watched a very nervous Keinan Davis making his senior debut live on the BBC in front of millions and the talented André Green getting more minutes for the seniors.
Born in the North East, Bruce too was rejected by a number of professional football clubs as “not good enough” before finally being given a chance as an apprentice at Gillingham. The rest, as they say, is history: he went onto to captain and make 414 appearances for Manchester United amongst others.
So what does the future hold for Keinan and for that matter yet another crop of talented youngsters coming through the ranks at Aston Villa? Who knows?
Any Villa fan who watches U23 games and who stayed up to the wee small hours one week last summer to revel in the streams on You Tube of the academy players yet again winning the Hong Kong Sevens’ Cup knows what a crop of talent we have coming through just now. As all Villans know, there are no guarantees and we’ve been here before!
Piece submitted by Julie Bayley.