The surroundings are familiar for Simon Davies, but the game has changed.

Regarded as one of the best Welsh footballers of his generation, ‘Digger’ is now back where is professional career began, Peterborough United, as assistant coach of the club’s Academy side.

His new path was progressing nicely until the coronavirus pandemic curtailed all things football. The squad have just been crowned champions of the South East section of the Youth Alliance League and before games were halted, had started their play-off campaign with the top sides from other regions.

More significantly, five of the youngsters to have come through under him and head coach Mathew Etherington have gone on to sign professional contracts, an achievement the duo can resonate with.

For now of course, coaching is reduced to What’s App instructions on strength and conditioning. With a young family, Davies has plenty to keep him occupied during the lockdown, but via a rare phone interview with Telegraph Sport this week also afforded himself some time for reflection.

And from having to sleep in changing rooms, to being sent to Tottenham at half time by Barry Fry, to Premier League stardom, to that night against Italy, to a European final with Fulham, to a stein in the Ship Inn after his final game with Solva, it’s fair to say he has plenty to look back on.

In the 1990’s, he and Etherington both came through ranks at the London Road before the Premier League came calling. But for Davies especially, the environment was a little different back then.

He was picked up by Norwich City at 12-years-old and two years later he switched to Peterborough. Weekend training required permission to leave School early on a Friday, an eight hour train trip - and a night of rough sleep in the club changing rooms before two days of training and playing.

Davies will often relay those experiences to his players as a reminder that to make strides in football, you need commitment. For two years he endured the above schedule with friend Gareth ‘Cookie’ Thomas, but not once did he wonder if the hassle was worth it.

“I only ever wanted to be a footballer,” he said, with conviction.

“My uncle (Ian Walsh) obviously played for Wales and my older brother Neddy (Nathan) had the opportunity to try out at clubs but not the desire. I didn’t understand that as I was so desperate to be scouted.”

That much was obvious. Other Ysgol Dewi Sant pupils joined in lunch time matches on the school yard, but resembled statues as Digger and Cookie, nicknames which stuck locally from a young age, dominated the ball by going through their array of tricks.

And yes, that is me airing a personal grievance.

 But when both were 16, it was only Davies who was offered a full time contract at Peterborough. It made the moment bittersweet.

“Me and Cookie were really good mates and I was gutted he wasn’t getting the opportunity as well. I’ve said to him since I thought he had enough ability to try again somewhere.”

Davies proceeded to progress rapidly, and by the time he was 20 the midfielder had amassed 50 league appearances for The Posh in the old Division 3. Alongside him was Etherington, and in the summer of 1999 came the most surreal week of their lives.

Manchester United, the club Davies had supported as a boy, had just completed an historic treble courtesy of a thrilling late win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. The name Alex Ferguson needed no introduction.

“The season was days from starting and Barry Fry pulled us both over and said Ferguson wanted us up tomorrow.

“The next morning we got to The Cliff and there were hundreds of people outside trying to grab photos and autographs of players. I remember parking my Peugeot 206 next to Nicky Butt’s Ferrari and just trying not to scrape it.”

Originally, the pair trained with a youth team that included John O’Shea but on their final day, worked with the big boys.

“We were training with people like Giggs and Beckham who had been heroes of mine growing up. I’d just watched them win the treble and it was hard to believe.”

Nothing was to come of the trial - but in December that year another big name club came calling.

“There was talk Aston Villa and Newcastle, but Barry Fry was a master of publicity, so I never really knew how true all that was.

“But Spurs had been seriously talking with the club. And then on Christmas Eve they put in a bid for both me and Matty.”

While the fee was considered, Davies and Etherington both played on Boxing Day and endured a torrid first half as their side trailed Rotherham 3-0. The eccentric Fry hauled both off at half time, only to then order them to travel to London as they were off to Tottenham. Sure enough, a deal was promptly done.

Under George Graham and then Glenn Hoddle, Davies cemented himself at White Hart Lane. His debut came at Anfield, his first start at Old Trafford, and he got his opening club goals in an FA Cup game against Stockport County.

Adaptation was needed along the way though, from both Davies and the squad.

“Graham made it clear that if you didn’t work hard you wouldn’t get in his team. His priority was the clean sheet and basing wins on that.

“Under Hoddle we played some unbelievable football but were a team designed to go forward. Often we were suspect at the back.

“I think if you could have blended both managers it would have been perfect.”

In five and a half seasons he would play 147 games for Spurs. The 2001/02 campaign saw him named the club’s Player of the Year, and yet it was then that also signified one of his biggest disappointments.

Under Hoddle, the club reached the League Cup final on the back of a 5-1 demolition of Chelsea. Davies scored that night, and as a right wing back his form had been integral to a Tottenham side who had flourished for much of the first half of the season.

However, he was to find himself benched for the big day at the Millennium Stadium.

“It was a shock,” he admitted.

“In the week leading in there had been hints and eventually Hoddle pulled me aside and said he was going with Gus Poyet for experience. It was a ‘home’ final for me in Cardiff and it hurt.”

Davies would come on as a late substitute as Spurs were beaten 2-1 by Blackburn Rovers. But if that was a day in Cardiff to forget, then later that year came a night in the same stadium that will live with him forever.

In June 2001, John Toshack had given him his international debut in a friendly against Ukraine. It was over a year later before he notched his first goal for his country, a superb solo effort out in Croatia.

With Mark Hughes now at the helm, Davies struck again as Wales began their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win in Finland.

It was goal number three however, that remains ensconced in Welsh football folklore.

By the time a star studded Italy arrived in Cardiff expectations amongst Welsh fans were beginning to rise. Alongside Davies there were names like Speed, Giggs, Savage, Bellamy, Hartson. The prospect of a first major international tournament since 1958 was suddenly simmering.

Cue an explosion.

Davies would give Wales the lead just 12 minutes in and set off on a frenzied celebration. Del Piero later levelled for Italy, before Craig Bellamy’s late goal paved the way for euphoria.

“The noise in the stadium that night was deafening. It was like nothing I had experienced before or since.

“Last weekend the game was replayed on BBC Wales and for the first time in over 10 years, I actually sat down and watched it with my girls. The goal, the atmosphere, the names in that Italy side – I loved reliving it.”

The momentum continued as Hughes’ side took 12 points from their first four games. As a measure of fervour, 72,500 packed in to watch Wales beat Azerbaijan. Yes, Azerbaijan.

But agonisingly, qualification wasn’t to be. Wales stumbled in the run-in before the infamous play-off loss to Russia. And Davies endured the heartache from the stands.

“We drew with Finland at home 1-1 (a game Davies scored in) and that was our chance gone. Had we won that we could still have topped the group.

“I missed both Russia games through injury and when I look back now I have mixed emotions. After beating an Italy team that good we should have qualified.”

As for Hughes, Davies has no hesitation lauding a manager who has since divided opinion at club level.

“He commanded respect. I’d heard stories about how unprofessional the set up was in the past, but he brought a real intensity to things.

“He made it about working hard to play for your country and some of my best football was played under him. I’ve nothing but huge respect for the man.”

During the 2004/05 season, Hughes would leave Wales for Blackburn Rovers. And Davies would also be on the move - joining Everton for what was considered a modest £4 million fee.

“I’d had a great few seasons at Spurs but was struggling with shin splints and my form had suffered. Martin Jol had taken over and it was clear I wasn’t his type of player.

“Meanwhile Everton had just qualified for the Champions League and I thought what an opportunity.”

By that time though, Davies had met now wife Carly and moving to Merseyside didn’t prove easy. Breaking into a settled squad whilst staying injury free, even less so.

It would have seemed dubious at the time to have told him some of his best years still lay ahead. But they did.

“Midway through my second season I spoke to David Moyes and I made it clear I wasn’t blaming anyone, but I wanted to go back to London.

“Chris Coleman was in charge at Fulham and funnily enough I’d bumped into him while visiting Neddy in Reigate. I basically asked him to come and save me.”

For clarification, the last sentence was said in jest.

Regardless, in January 2007, Coleman duly obliged. Ironically, he was then sacked a three months later and replaced by Lawrie Sanchez.

He too would be gone by the time the year was done, but then followed the appointment of man Davies still hails to this day as the best manager he ever worked with.

“Roy Hodgson came in at exactly the right time for me. I was 27 yet he taught me so much, and everything he told me rang true. I had two and half of my best years in football under him.”

So the evidence suggests. That season Davies was the club’s Player of the Year and courtesy of Danny Murphy’s famous winner against Portsmouth on the final day, Fulham avoided relegation.

The following season Hodgson guided them to Europa League qualification and then in the 2009/10 campaign, came another historic and yet bittersweet night.

The fairy tale had continued as Fulham reached a first ever European final, beating Juventus along the way. Only 90 minutes, or 120 as it turned out, with Atletico Madrid stood between them and the most unlikely glory in Hamburg.

They trailed early to a Diego Forlan strike before Davies himself volleyed in an equaliser. But Forlan would score again deep into extra time to scupper the dream.

“That time was so special and after we’d beaten Juventus I honestly thought we were destined to win it (Europa League). For years after I was absolutely gutted about the final.

“When I reflect now on what we did though, and watch the clips, I look back on it with a bit more pride. It was an unbelievable run.”

It also signalled the end of two significant eras. Hodgson, who Davies recently visited at Crystal Palace to observe training as part of his coaching badge application, left for Liverpool.

And it was time to close another chapter too.

After an international career that yielded 58 caps, two Welsh Player of the Year awards, and the captain’s armband for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, Davies retired from Wales.

“I was beginning to pick up frequent injuries and I really needed time between club games to recover. There were younger players coming through and I knew it was the best decision for me.

“When Gary Speed took over he tried to get me out of retirement, and I was tempted because of the respect I had for him, but it wouldn’t have been right.”

Those injuries would hamper Davies for the next three seasons. There was a reunion with Hughes but his stay at Craven Cottage would prove to be brief before another familiar face took over.

Martin Jol.

The popular theory was Jol’s past indifference towards Davies at Spurs resurfaced – prompting his retirement at the end of the 2012/13 season. A theory the player himself is happy to quash.

“I’d had a knee operation and was really struggling. With six months of the season left I spoke to Martin and said I couldn’t go on. To his credit he allowed me to still come in every day and do what work I could.”

For so many, leaving professional football creates a void. For Davies, it was a relief.

“The injuries had got me down and I was frustrated. I was ready to retire.

“I was still in good shape, eating well, and could clock quick running times. But my body couldn’t handle the day to day training.”

It wasn’t quite all over though, as a summer visit to see family in Solva prompted him to get the boots back out.

Or as it so happens, someone else’s boots.

“I went to watch my brother Chris play in a friendly against St Ishmaels and the boys were short – so they asked if I’d go on the bench.

“Next thing I knew they were digging out kit for me and I came on in the second half.”

Then Solva manager Peter Cole persuaded him to sign on and despite living in London, he travelled back to play a handful of games. Suddenly, the village club where he had started out under the influential Ronnie Beynon was getting national media attention.

Although things were a little different to what Davies had become accustomed to.

“My first match was in the Senior Cup in St Clears and I remember running out for the warm-up and there was Trigger (Solva striker David Price) having a fag against the wall.

“That day we had a really dodgy refereeing decision go against us and I remember telling myself not to get too frustrated.

“But although it was strange I actually enjoyed it. I had a chance to play with my brother and Cookie again and finish off where it all began.”

He signed off after a day that defined grassroots sport. An 8-0 win over Johnston 2nds in a storm so bad the goals were barely visible.

“It was my birthday that weekend, so the boys made me do a stein of lager in the Ship Inn afterwards. It had been fun but I decided then it was a good time to finish.”

Indeed, it was time to start looking forward. By his own admission Davies had no intention of getting back into football, a notion made tricky by dint of the fact he ‘didn’t know anything else’.

Then the call from Peterborough came, and after some consideration Davies walked back into a world barely recognisable from the one he set out in.

“Things have changed massively. When I was 18 at Peterborough I think we had one coach and a physio. Now there are two coaches, analysts, fitness gurus, the lot - and that’s for a League One Academy.

“When we trained we’d spend two hours on the field and often we’d want more. Now young players do an activation session, then a gym workout, and training is an hour tops.

“There are no excuses for these lads now. And the ones that really want it stick out – you can tell which players are going through the motions or don’t really believe in themselves.”

For Davies, family life helps put football in perspective now. His two girls, Ada and Hatty, are aged seven and four. Priorities have changed, but the desire that took him from humble beginnings to professional football still burns bright.

“I want to be successful, but I want to enjoy it as well. I’ve done my B Licence but still have to complete my badges and acquire the tools so to speak, and I know it’ll take time.

“I’d like to be a first team manager or maybe even be involved in the Welsh set up one day. But for now I have to take things as they come.”

Regardless, his links with home will remain. A scratch golfer, he’s long attended and donated to charity tournaments at St Davids – a course he insists remains his favourite.

But it’s not just the local fairways that draw him back.

“Solva is home. When we had a weekend off at Tottenham other players would be jetting all over, but I just couldn’t wait to go back.

“It’s always been a safe haven for me, and no one treats me differently. My older brother Lee will b**lock me just like older brothers do – back there I’m just one of the boys.”

Here perhaps, underlines the modesty that signifies a face instantly recognisable to Welsh football fans and beyond.

When you have done so much in a game broadcast to a global audience, it takes a special type of humility to remain one of the boys.

And if there was a kickabout on the yard now, he might even let the rest of us get a touch……