FROM a Birmingham boys’ club to Burnley to the brink of League One, Mark Yates and Steve Davis have trodden similar paths.
But tomorrow they will very much be in opposite camps, as the two ex-Clarets go head to head in the League Two play-off final at Wembley.
It’s been a dream start for Crewe Alexandra boss Davis, in his first managerial job in the Football League.
The former defender enjoyed success with Nantwich Town, winning two promotions in three seasons and the FA Vase, but to achieve a top seven finish in his first professional role has been extra special, just months after taking charge when Dario Gradi stepped down.
His side couldn’t be in better form going into tomorrow’s showdown – the last game of the 2011/12 domestic season.
Crewe boast an 18-game unbeaten run which stretches back to February, while two 1-0 wins over play-off final opponents Cheltenham Town will give them added confidence.
But boss Yates hopes it is third time lucky for his Robins.
“They were both tough, tight games. We know we’ve got to step up,” said the former Burnley midfielder and first team coach, who had two spells with the Clarets.
“We finished five points and a league place above them, so we don’t fear them.
“They will be the people’s favourites I imagine, being on a good run. But all good runs have to come to an end.”
Both have prepared well, but it is pot luck tomorrow.
Whatever happens, though, the pair are certain to be on good terms given the connections which go back to their boyhood.
“We’re both from Birmingham, and when we were young lads we both played for a club called Beeches Terriers, albeit at different times,” said Davis.
“Although I didn’t know Mark back then, our paths have crossed a few times in football since.”
Yates added: “I’m a bit younger than Steve so we didn’t play in the same team, but I know Steve well now, as does my assistant Neil Howarth, who also played for Burnley.”
Their backgrounds aren’t the only quirk of fate that Davis has encoun-tered in foot-ball, having played along-side his name-sake at Turf Moor.
“It was quite funny at the time. Steve came on loan from Southampton and we were defensive partners for about three months,” said the 46-year-old, who became known as Steve Davis the first.
“I played one side, he played the other. We had some funny moments. It must have been a nightmare for the comm-entators!
“I was hoping there would be an ‘e’ in his name to make it slightly different, but there wasn’t. He was a young lad like I was too.
“When I left he came in on a permanent deal and Burnley moved through the lea-gues.”
The Davis duo proved to be one of many highlights for the former defender, who won promotion to the Premier League with Barnsley after leaving the Clarets.
“I went to Burnley the season after they nearly went out of the Football League in 1987. There was a sense that they’d had a lucky escape,” he recalled.
“In my first year we got to the final of the Sherpa Van Trophy, and that got the club up and running. It gave everyone a lift and the club move forward from there.
“The following season I was made captain and spent three more seasons in that role.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time there under Brian Miller and then Frank Casper. It was one of the best clubs I played at, in terms of the people around there. They were passionate and intelligent supporters.
“I moved on to Barnsley from there for a couple of hundred thousand, which was a decent fee at the time.
“But I always enjoyed playing at Burnley, and my boys were born there, so I’ve still got those family connections.”
Yates is equally fond of the club, despite admitting to having a difficult time in his first spell at Turf Moor in the early 90s.
His second, as player-coach under Steve Cotterill in 2004, helped to shape his manage-ment career.
“I really enjoyed that time,” he said.
“It’s a really nice club with lots of good people and steeped in tradition. Steve was a big influence on me, but I left to see if I could be a number one.
“As a player he extended my playing career at Cheltenham for quite a few years and we won promotion in the play-off final under him.”
Yates will be hoping for sim-ilar success tomorrow.