He got a sneak of senior action as a teenager with a Tranmere Rovers side fighting to return to the EFL, but it is elsewhere at 21 that Josh Solomon-Davies feels he is now starting to showcase his true credentials. The promising full-back has this season been part of Marine’s international-headline-making run to the FA Cup third round, and in the time since that televised Tottenham Hotspur encounter, he has agreed an extended deal with the Northern Premier League North West Division team.
The former Stalybridge Celtic man is also a Saint Lucia international, and in this one-on-one, we learn a fair bit more about Josh and his football life so far – from West Indies to the Wirral, and Caribbean to Crosby…
(Marine manager) Neil Young said when you signed your new contract last month that he believes you’re the best right-back in the league. He’s a manager who’s had significant success before, what has he been like to work with? What’s different in your game or your outlook now as a result?
I think for a youngster especially, it’s good to have a manager that believes in you, because that just gives you the extra confidence to push that bit harder. When you’ve got someone who’s always pushing you to be better, you know it’s not because he’s trying to get on your back, it’s because he knows how good you can be. Since I joined Marine, he’s always pushed me to be better, and I’ve been a lot more confident on the pitch. I think I’m starting to show more people how good I can be, and that’s because of the confidence he’s given me to improve. It’s nice to be trusted, especially as a defender. I feel like I can go out there and express myself, so he’s helped me a lot, definitely.
You’ve been able to get a proper feel for the club, having been here last season as well, before all the disruption and restrictions of the past year. What have you made of Marine overall up to now?
Marine’s run very, very well, from the top to the bottom. When we’ve had the fans there, the fans have always been supporting us, even at away games. Obviously it’s a big factor when they’re not there, but this has been my most enjoyable time playing football, while I’ve been at Marine.
You’re a full international with Saint Lucia, how much time have you spent there in your life? Do you remember much of the island before you moved to England as a kid?
Yeah, I moved to England just before my 7th birthday. I actually went back for just under a year a little bit later on, when I was around ten. When I was in the academy at Tranmere, we had a lot more free time and I used to go back to Saint Lucia every year. Saint Lucia’s a beautiful island, it’s just a beautiful place. In terms of my life before I came to England, I used to enjoy playing any sports, to be honest. Back then, I didn’t really have a main focus on football. Luckily, we had a nice garden where I used to live, and all my family lived close by, with the kids around the same age, so we used to play any sport in the garden – cricket and football were the main two – every day. Even on the beach as well, we used to play some football. I’ve always loved football and played it, but not as seriously as I am now.
Whereabouts on the island is home?
I am from Gros Islet. The main city is Castries but I’m from up north, as they call it.
From non-league, there’s been Kieran Monlouis and Lamar Johnson also involved with the national team. How many English-based players have typically been in the squad when you’ve been there?
The times I’ve been there, Kieran and Lamar weren’t actually there. In a couple of days it’s meant to be the World Cup qualifier, but for different reasons, it hasn’t been possible for Saint Lucia due to the COVID restrictions. But when I’ve been there, I’ve literally been the only English-based player in the squad. There were other overseas-based players but I was the only one playing in England.
Back to England, has Birkenhead been where you’ve grown up?
Yeah, around the Wirral. Birkenhead and Oxton.
Following on from that, how did you feel being at Tranmere, getting involved with the first team at 18/19? In that environment, did you feel nervous, because there were obviously some big characters in that squad?
I was at Tranmere for a long time, I started with the academy when I was about 11/12. I think the first time I was involved with the first team was when I was 16 or 17, so obviously that’s a massive step from playing academy football. At first, I was very nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. At the time, they were pushing for promotion to get back into the Football League, so the competitiveness in the training was always there. Everyone was getting on top of each other; not in a bad way, but as a youngster, I wasn’t used to that. I was kind of in a shell, shall we say? So I was half the player I am now when I was training with the first team. Even though I knew I was rated quite well by the coaching staff, I just felt like I had to prove a point to the players, so I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. That probably wasn’t the best idea because I was nervous back then. Having the trust of the manager and having the game time over the last few years, that’s allowed me to be a lot more confident in the way I train and play.
— Josh Solomon-Davies (@joshsolomon_) November 29, 2020
Who would be some of the standout characters/people you’ve been around in the game up to now, based on firsthand experience?
At Tranmere, when I was about Under-14s, (current Real Madrid player) Marvin Park was probably my best mate at the time. He was also just unbelievable; he was like the silent assassin, because in training and in games, he doesn’t speak. Then when he had the ball at his feet, everyone was like ‘who’s this kid?’ I remember his dad saying ‘I’m gonna take him back to Spain and then to Real Madrid’ – everyone at Tranmere was laughing and look where he is now.
One of the funniest lads I’ve played with and trained with is Paddy Wharton. He’s one of the maddest characters I’ve met, in every aspect possible!
It’s obviously been a magnificent season for Marine, which sounds mad to say when you’ve only been able to play seven league games! But with the FA Cup run, then all the build-up to the Spurs game, when it finally comes, did it feel like the game was over in a flash? Or could you take it in a bit, as it was happening?
Yeah, before the game, it was like everyone was treating us as superstars. Everyone was just buzzing off Marine, and rightly so. It was a mad experience for a lot of reasons. I think as the game went on, I was trying to take it in as much as I could, playing against a team like Tottenham, but it does go by quickly.
Are there any details about playing against those players that stick in your mind? Like trying to get near someone, and then how razor-sharp their movement or precision was, or anything they said?
I’m an ambitious young player, so playing against Tottenham was something where it drives me to be better. Some players, you don’t realise how good they are until you’re actually up against them personally. The movement was definitely the biggest one for me, because in our league, people don’t move as much as the likes of Lucas (Moura). I was marking Lucas for the majority of the game, until he came off, and honestly, he did not stop moving. Also, as a defender, I’ve realised you need to be a lot tighter to players, because they can just shift the ball and shoot with either foot at that level.
You got (Toby) Alderweireld’s shirt. With not being able to swap shirts because of the circumstances, did Spurs bring a bag of fresh ones in? How did it get decided who got which player?!
It was a bit of a sneaky one, that was. I think while a few of us were showering after the game, they came in and dropped a bag off with all the shirts in. I think our kitman took it into his office, and the more experienced players somehow knew this was happening! By the time I got there, I think the captain had had Son’s, the vice had Harry Kane’s. As a defender, Alderweireld was left, so I thought I’d definitely have that one. I was quite happy in the end.
A day that I will never forget! What a run @EmiratesFACup !! Experiences that I would have never imagined that I’m only grateful for! Sharing the pitch with such players has only made me hungry for more! @MarineAFC @SpursOfficial pic.twitter.com/zPEeV7s0ET
— Josh Solomon-Davies (@joshsolomon_) January 12, 2021
Have you got it in a frame yet? Did he sign it?
I’ve got it in a frame. He didn’t sign it but Gareth Bale actually signed my shirt.
Since that game, there hasn’t been a season to actually go back to. How has that been, in terms of your personal routine etc.?
Yeah, it’s obviously a shame for our level that the games were stopped, even before the Spurs game. Having the Spurs game there was massive. The preparation for that was next level, because we trained more often than we would normally, prior to that game. After that, it’s all about how much as a player you want to improve, because you don’t know when your next game’s gonna be. So it’s all about your mental strength to stick to your end goal really. Before this happened, I was training on the side anyway, when I wasn’t training with Marine. I just kept on doing that and I haven’t struggled keeping a routine, because I enjoy the fitness side of the game.
Is there a team DJ at the club?
There is; I don’t know if I agree with their music, but there is a team DJ! It’s Jay Devine. To be fair, he normally lets me put a couple of songs on, but when I do, everyone’s normally like ‘what’s this?’ Jay and a lot of the lads enjoy house music and stuff like that, but I prefer a bit of rap and I suppose the other types of music. It’s a bit of a clash but I’m used to it nowadays!
Have you ever had to sing for your teammates, either when you stepped up to the first team with Tranmere, or when joining a new club afterwards?
Yes, I sang ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley (at Stalybridge Celtic). I didn’t know that you had to sing when you step up to the first team at Tranmere, so when I first got asked, I didn’t sing. It was just because I didn’t know, and I was so nervous, but it was like ‘oh, you’re big time’! So the next time, I did it. To be fair, at Marine, we haven’t sang, I’m surprised. I was ready to sing actually at Marine!
Away from the game, what else interests, relaxes, inspires you?
I love playing on the PlayStation; either FIFA or Call of Duty. I enjoy reading different types of books but mainly about motivation or other athletes’ books. I’m reading one called Relentless at the moment, and it’s about this coach (Tim S. Grover) who’s trained the most elite athletes in the world, like Kobe Bryant. I enjoy reading what they do, to inspire me to work even harder than they do, because they’re obviously at a higher level, so I need to work even harder. I enjoy going on holiday usually, and also just being around my mum and my family.
Finally, Neil Young mentioned his belief that you’ll go on to higher levels of the game in the future. What is your overall outlook as we speak now, in terms of what you’re targeting in the next year, two years and so on?
Yeah, like I said earlier, I’m a very ambitious young player. I think by me enjoying playing football, and being focused at the same time, I will hopefully be able to progress my career. Like I said as well, Neil believes in me, and he’s always told me that he believes I can play at a higher level. That’s obviously nice, coming from an experienced manager. I think I just have to enjoy the game, focus on the game, and the right things will fall into place, if I’m enjoying it and being confident on the pitch.
Interview by @chris_brookes