Debut: vs Wakefield Trinity (H) 6th December 1919
Honours: Championship (Finalist: 1929, 1930); Challenge Cup (Winner: 1923); Yorkshire League (1928)
As for the 24-year-old Davis, although fame passed him by, save for a Tour Trial in 1924, and injuries ruled him out of two Yorkshire Cup Finals in 1921 and 1928, he was to give such stalwart service at Headingley over a period of eleven seasons that he carne to be widely regarded as far and away the finest uncapped forward of his day.
A dobbin maybe, but a thoroughbred and a stayer for all that! Pulling his weight from the very first whistle to the last, and carrying out his routine duties with utter dependability, Bill was ever ready to promote the team cause through flashes of individual opportunism. A swoop on a loose ball, a nicked pass to set the men behind sprinting clear, a controlled dribble, turning defence into attack, a gallop to make the vital link.
Indeed, it was just such a gallop that almost broke the impasse in the second half of the 1923 Challenge Cup Semi-Final at Broughton, with the score 0- 0 and the Loiners still looking for a chink in the seemingly impregnable Barrow defence. There it is! Bacon was through in a flash! Bursting upfield like an emperor, he turned to look for an aide, and who should be there but the ever industrious Bill Davis, a subtle change of angle as the 2nd-rower drew fullback Spencer, a perfect pass, safely taken by Buck, with the open line five yards away and then, even as the cheers were mounting into a deafening crescendo, the winger unaccountably let the ball slip from his grasp!
Ah well, it was just one of those things! He’d better make sure himself in the replay! And so he did, touching down twice as the Loiners romped home by twenty points to nil. As for the Final, which Leeds won 28- 3, Yorkist of Leeds Mercury had this to say: Bill Davis and Joe Thompson were the two giants of the game in the second row. Certain dribbles of theirs in the first half were among the outstanding incidents of the match. They were equally clever in their running and handling, and their combined vim and persistence, perhaps did more than anything else to undermine Hull’s confidence. Davis scored a characteristic try. He and Thompson truly were great forwards.
Cool and resourceful under pressure, Bill seemed to take everything in his stride with unflappable sang-froid. And why not? Big as they came, opposition forwards were no problem, and he could even fathom the whimsicalities of that jade of a rugby ball, but twenty-two yards of turf gave him a major headache! Employed on the Headingley ground staff and promoted overnight to Head Groundsman, in succession to Ted Leyland (father of Yorkshire’s one and only Maurice), he was wrongly advised to give the cricket square a pre-season dressing of sand, with dramatic consequences.
Not that there were any complaints from George Macaulay (7 for 17 and 5 for 33) and Emmott Robinson (3 for 27 and 5 for 38) when Worcestershire were tumbled out in May 1927 for 46 and 81, to leave Yorkshire the victors by an innings and 164 runs. Surrey, too, were put to the sword by ten wickets in that same month, though Herbert Sutcliffe, than whom there could have been no finer counsel for the groundsman’s defence, made a mockery of Percy Fender’s official complaint to Lord’s by scoring a chanceless 176 in double quick time. Even so, Dicky Moulton was eventually recruited as Head Groundsman, with Bill no doubt more than happy to be relieved of the responsibility.
For all he was in his 32nd year when the 1927-28 campaign got under way, his fitness and stamina were unimpaired, and his zest for the game apparently as great as ever. Nor did his labours go unrewarded, his last three seasons with Leeds yielding a Yorkshire League medal in 1928, and League Championship runners-up medals in both 1929 and 1930.
Transferred to York, along with Arthur Lloyd and Harold Thomas during the summer of 1930, and followed there only months later by Mel Rosser and Dan Pascoe, Clarence Street must have been a real home-from-home, with former Headingley favourites, full-back Ted Owen and trainer George Rees waiting to greet them. More noteworthy still is the fact that the following May they were all treading the Wembley turf and putting on a brave show of open rugby despite losing to Halifax by 22 points to 8.
Groundsman and trainer with York for a time, Bill was later employed at the foundry of Adams Hydraulics Ltd. Retirement brought the contentment he richly deserved: gardening, bowls, dominoes, and time to look back with modest satisfaction. Whatever the jersey, he’d kept faith!