In order to understand what the mentality Terry Cooper’s 1989/90 title winning team was like, look no further than Danny Bailey.
No player in City’s side better epitomised the determination, effort and belief of our champions quite like the box-to-box midfielder, plucked from non-league anonymity to become a Grecian legend.
Originally an apprentice at AFC Bournemouth, Danny turned professional in 1980 and made his debut the following year. Unfortunately, that would be the midfielder’s only Cherries appearance and he left the club at the end of the season, slipping down into non-league.
In the space of seven years, Danny played for five semi-professional sides – Dagenham, Walthamstow Avenue, Grays, Wembley FC and Wealdstone – before being spotted by Steve Neville. Danny was then signed by Terry Cooper in 1989.
It was testament Terry’s management skills that he saw Danny, a 25-year-old player who had never proved himself in the Football League, and managed to build a title-winning team with the midfielder at its centre.
Quickly becoming adored by City fans for his consistent effort and never-say-die attitude, Danny played in every single league game during the 89/90 season. He only scored one goal all season but the 25-yard rocket into the roof of the net at Peterborough in October was well worth the wait for his first Football League goal.
Shortly after winning promotion to the Third Division Danny left City for Reading, much to the disappointment of Grecians who had fallen in love with their long-haired midfielder.
Danny struggled away from St James Park though, falling out of favour at Reading after one season and not managing to make an impact after that at Fulham. Danny became available on a free in 1992 and City chomped at the chance to bring him back to Devon.
Sadly, Danny’s second spell at City was nowhere near as successful as his first, but as the Grecians slipped back into the fourth tier Danny remained a fan’s favourite. He’d make another 150 appearances before returning to non-league with Farnborough in 1997.
Nine years and 14 clubs later, Danny retired from playing to set up the Bailey Football Academy with his brother in East London, helping nurture Premier League talents like Dwight Gayle and Charlie Daniels, developing the next generation of champions, much like himself.