'He was my best friend, all the way through'
This Sunday would have been the 40th birthday of Jimmy Davis, the United Academy graduate whose life was tragically cut short when he was just 21.
The hugely popular midfielder was on the cusp of a brilliant career, joining United as a trainee in 1999 and making his senior first-team debut in a League Cup tie away at Arsenal in November 2001.
Jimmy caught the eye on loan at Swindon Town in the first half of the 2002/03 season and having returned to United for the second half of the campaign, he was soon knocking on the door of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-team squad, making the bench for a Premier League game against West Ham and called up for a Champions League squad against Deportivo La Coruna. Signing a three-year deal in the summer of 2003, he was snapped up on a season-long loan by Watford, before tragedy struck.
On the eve of the new season, on 9 August 2003, Jimmy was killed in a car accident. His passing was marked that weekend with a minute’s silence before United’s Community Shield tie with Arsenal, and nine months later, the Reds commemorated their much-loved team-mate by wearing shirts bearing his name when lifting the FA Cup, following victory over Millwall.
The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Jimmy’s family and friends this weekend.
Webber: It took me a year to get my head straight
In an emotional clip from UTD Podcast, Danny Webber remembers his late friend and team-mate, Jimmy Davis…
In his emotional episode of UTD Podcast, recorded last year, Danny Webber recalled the heart-breaking moment that he learned of the death of his best friend and team-mate.
“Jimmy was my best friend in the football club, all the way through,” Danny told us. “For those that didn’t know Jimmy, he was from Redditch, Birmingham area. He was a great kid to be around, just good fun, banter.
“He was a grafter, who worked hard, but he was just a top, top person, first and foremost. I know a lot of people say that when people have passed, but even when he was here, you loved being in his company.
“At 21, I turned down my contract here and he signed the contract. I went to sign for Watford permanently, and then Watford said ‘can we take Jimmy on loan?’
“A day or two before the season starts, he got a little knock, which means he wasn’t going to be playing the opening game, against Coventry,” Webber continues.
“He was meant to be in treatment on the Saturday morning, so, Friday night, me and him are sat in the hotel, where he’s staying – I’d already sorted out somewhere to live. We’re sat having dinner and we get to about nine, half-nine and he’s talking about going back to Birmingham. I said ‘you’re in in the morning, you need to be here at 9am for treatment’.
“He said ‘yeah, you know what Webbs, you’re right. I’m not going to go.’ I think he just wanted to go and see his girlfriend, his mum and his little brother.
“I said ‘Jim, by the time you get back to Birmingham, it’s 11 o’clock, what’s the point?’ Anyway, we finished dinner, he goes back to his room, I go back to my house.”
But, as Danny turned up to Vicarage Road early the next morning, he quickly realised there was something seriously wrong.
“As I got to the stadium, there were four cars in the car park. Terry Byrne’s [the general manager], Ray Lewington's [the manager] and two police cars. I’m thinking, what have I done? I’ve not done anything bad enough for that.
“As I walk in, Terry comes down with Ray Lew and they’ve got tears in their eyes. I just get that sinking feeling. They said ‘the police need to speak to you.’”
The police informed Danny that there had been an accident, but it could not yet be confirmed whether or not it was Jimmy who had been involved.
Webber’s first instinct amid the confusion was to try and get in touch with his friend.
“I picked up my phone and I was ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing. Nothing. You know, but you don’t want to accept it, in that very moment.
“At that moment, my phone starts to go. It’s obviously come out in the press or something, that a young Man United player had died in a car accident. People are ringing me, thinking it’s me. People are ringing thinking it’s Jimmy but I’m not allowed to answer my phone – the police are saying don’t answer it.
“I’m in floods of tears now and keep ringing and leaving voicemails. They said ‘we’ve been to his hotel and you were the last person seen with him. You left at half-nine and he decided to disappear, we’ve checked everything.’
“They couldn’t get hold of his mum yet. I found out before his parents. They were sending people round to try to get hold of his mum and dad. They were a great family, lovely people. I still have bits of contact with Jenny, his mum, and so on.”
Watford called the match with Coventry off that morning, although Davis’s death would not be formally announced for a few more hours. The funeral took place at Redditch Crematorium on 21 August and was attended by staff from United and Watford.
The Reds paid tribute to Jimmy prior to the 2003 FA Community Shield victory over Arsenal that weekend and, later that season, wore his name and number (36) when parading the FA Cup trophy in Cardiff, after beating Millwall.
Webber also commemorated his friend after the Hornets’ next match and, although he admits that Davis’s death was something that he took a long time to recover from, he has been left with some positive memories of the time he spent with the former Red.
“It was just awful, just awful. It’s not about me in any shape or form but it took me a year to get my head straight again.
“Yeah, it was just a horrible, horrible end to somebody that was so amazing. But his memories are so strong, as anyone who came into contact with him will tell you.”