Andy was dragged from the golf course in Qatar, kicking and screaming and turning his back on an ice-cold glass of wine for this interview. His new life has started in Doha where he has continued his incredible TV career in football punditry. “I wake up every day and the sun is shining and I play golf two or three times a week,” he says. Not bad for a boy from the deepest, darkest depths of Glasgow.
There were no cameras, flashing lights or floodlights for a young Andrew Mullen Gray growing up. What there was though, was a raw football talent that needed to be unearthed and discovered.
“I got spotted by a Dundee United scout in Glasgow, a gentleman named Maurice Friel. I was given a trial against the first team when I was aged 16 and I was useless, absolutely hopeless. I went away and they must have had faith in me as Maurice convinced Jim McLean to have another look at me against players my own age. The second time, I took my brother for support, scored a couple of goals and was offered £16 per week, although £6 of that went to my landlady for digs! I couldn’t wait to sign.”
It wasn’t long before clubs south of the border wanted a piece of Scotland’s hottest property. “Jim McLean told me that I needed to go as if he kept me in Scotland he would be holding me back. I was probably the best player at the club and you had to look at how many Scots were in the top teams in England back in the 70’s so it was the natural progression.”
The lucky club was Aston Villa. It was a risk for all involved but Andy had a plan in place. “Did I feel ready to go? Yes. I was 19, coming 20, and told myself that it was only down the road and it was only a 300-mile drive to come back home.” Andy never looked back and it was way down the road before he ventured back north.
Aston Villa had just got promoted and Andy forged four successful years at the club winning both the PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards. Instead of looking to head back home, he made his new home Just a few miles down the M6 in the unlikely setting of Wolverhampton. It wasn’t to be the last time that Ron Saunders had lent Wolves a helping hand gifting them a goalscoring centre forward. “I fell out with Ron and lost all respect for him and decided I didn’t want to play for him anymore,” Andy explains. “Ron thought that by putting a massive fee on me that he would price clubs out… but Wolves had just sold Steve Daley.”
In terms of transfers, this move was gigantic. Wolves parted with a reported £1.15million plus VAT, totalling £1.44million, just three days after selling Steve Daley to Manchester City. The money didn’t even have time to settle in the bank. “Did the fee put on any pressure?” says Andy. “Not to me. I was at this point 23, coming 24, so all Barney (John Barnwell) had to do was put a few extra quid to the fee to sign me! At the time Wolves were the only club that could afford to pay that kind of money.
“I spoke to John Barnwell and I liked him a lot. John had big ideas, he promised me he would sign Dave Thomas and he did. Dave was one of the finest suppliers of a football in the league which was perfect for somebody like me. Richie Barker and Dave Thomas never got on though and didn’t see eye to eye so it was a real shame as it meant he never settled and Wolves never saw the best of him.”
Wolves enjoyed a great first season as Andy spearheaded the strike-force. A top six finish merited their season, capped with the 1980 League Cup Final victory over European Champions and League Cup holders Nottingham Forest. “We beat some big teams early on which gave us confidence. I had left Aston Villa where we had some great young players and I had come into a Wolves side with equally great, but experienced players. There were seasoned professionals at the club such as Kenny Hibbitt, Willie Carr, John McAlle, John Richards, Emlyn Hughes and Geoff Palmer.”
Andy Gray nearly didn’t make history. Thankfully, it was written in the stars that he played on that victorious day in March 1980 at Wembley but it nearly never happened. “It’s a little known fact but I nearly never made it. Prior to the final, as I had been booked or sent off too many times, I was due to miss the game through suspension. Fortunately, we had a re-arranged game scheduled that was to be either on the Tuesday or the Wednesday before the final and the opponents, of all clubs, were Aston Villa.
“That weekend, Aston Villa were due to play West Ham in an FA Cup tie. If it had ended in a draw the re-arranged league game would have been cancelled because of a replay and I would have had to miss the final. Anyway, I was at Molineux that day, downstairs in the old players’ lounge with Kenny Hibbitt watching the reserves play at Molineux. I remember it being 0-0 with ten minutes to go at Upton Park and of all the teams to make me miss the final it was Aston Villa!
“With five minutes to go it was still 0-0 then all of a sudden I heard a roar and Kenny came running in to me as West Ham had scored a penalty. It was Ray Stewart who scored it and he was a fellow Scot who had played for my old team Dundee United. We ended up facing Villa and I couldn’t play, as so to serve my ban which meant I was free to play in the final.” Three cheers for Ray Stewart.
The goal. It was ‘Gray, 67’ that was the name in lights. I joked with Andy to talk me through the 30-yard screamer. His response was as cool as the finish and he put me straight. “If you look in the record books all it says is Nottingham Forest 0-1 Wolves. Scorer – Gray.” That was all it needed to say.
There was quite literally no better person to describe the build-up. “This was a ball we played quite a lot at Wolves with Peter Daniel in the side. Peter could pick a pass and hit 50 to 60 yard diagonals so I had a plan that I used to push on the shoulder of the opposition centre back. When Peter hit it, I instantly thought that it’s not getting here and David Needham is getting it. My first instinct was to challenge him in the air then nod it back to John Richards and where he was coming from.
“I looked, just a glance for a fraction of a second and I saw Shilts (Peter Shilton) running off his line and I thought, ‘where’s he going’?. I decided not to challenge as I could see a disaster about to happen and of course, as you know, David Needham thought he had done brilliantly to cushion it with his chest to where Peter Shilton had been just half a second earlier. They clattered into each other and my only thought is to get to the ball before it crosses the line. There is no way this is going to be an own-goal. I have to get there!”
Well he did, but for a left footed player just a few yards from goal and the ball on his weaker right side, there was still work to do. “Richard Keys always ribs me about it and asks why did I run around the ball and hit it with my left foot?” says Andy. “’You had a wonderful opportunity to tell everyone you scored a winning goal at Wembley with your right foot’. But I wasn’t taking any chances.”
Cue the celebrations. Wolves had scored against the odds and contrary to the run of play. “I remember when I had got behind the goal to celebrate I thought to myself, ‘what have I done here’? As I must have been about 90 yards from the halfway line. Half of the boys didn’t even make it as I went too far. They were that tired that they didn’t want to celebrate with me as they would have had to get back to position. I think it was only Mel Eves and Peter Daniel that celebrated with me.”
There was still work to do but Wolves had done enough to secure victory and it was a gallant team effort. “On the day, we didn’t get many chances and we were battered as they were so much better than us, but we hung in there. Paul Bradshaw played out of his skin, Emlyn Hughes was his majestic self and this was his swansong as it was the only trophy that he’d never won from his time at Liverpool. To be fair, he had two knees that were shot to bits and he could hardly walk!”
Luckily, Emlyn managed to climb the famous 39 Wembley steps at the end to hold aloft the trophy to the adoring sea of gold. “As the game went on we grew more and more confident and we had a goal disallowed in the second half, which was a dodgy decision. It was a scruffy goal and they had given a foul against me for a challenge on Shilts (Peter Shilton) that was a bit soft, but we did it in the end and I still have my winning tankard to this day.”
We can all recall the iconic picture of Andy signing on the pitch at the game against Crystal Palace, flanked by John Barnwell who had got his man. A signing with so much optimism, that bore the fruits with a trophy win in a major competition. But where did it all start to go wrong?.
“We finished sixth that season then finished 18th the following season and got relegated the season after. Where did it go wrong? It was an ageing team and we needed investment and the new John Ireland Stand had been made a priority. When we were relegated of course it was a difficult decision to stay and when we went down I was horrified. I wasn’t good to be with that summer but I didn’t deserve to be playing any higher. I had a terrible season and I was as bad as the next guy.”
Anything other than to bounce straight back up for Wolves would have been a disaster and the pressure was firmly on. “We needed to get straight back up. There was a lot of pressure and we went up but got off to a bad start after we were promoted. It was Graham Hawkins that took us up but I don’t think he was the man for the top flight. I say that with no disrespect at all. I remember going to the Goal Post pub with a few of the senior players. We had just lost 5-0 to Nottingham Forest and after training, me and a few of the senior players, including Kenny Hibbitt, had a meeting to figure a way to turn it around. We cared about where the club was going and debated it.
“I went home that afternoon and got a call from Graham to come into the ground and collect my medical records as the club had agreed to sell me as they were in financial difficulty. I was a saleable asset and they needed me to go. I didn’t even know if I could hack it in the top flight and I was unsure that maybe my glory days were behind me. I had put two years hard work in with very little reward.”
Andy Gray had played his last game for Wolves, ironically against Nottingham Forest, and was sold in a cut-price £250,000 deal – or was it steal – to Everton. “Everton were in the bottom six when I joined and they weren’t in a great place either. The place was on its knees and the crowds had dropped to 12,000 or so when I got there. But it ended up a great move for me. They signed a couple of wily old foxes in me and Peter Reid and we won the league within two years and were a fraction away from completing the treble. We had won the FA Cup a year before that and the following year won the Cup Winners Cup, the only European trophy that, even now, Everton have ever won.”
It was then a return to Aston Villa for the now decorated forward and certainly not one of his best decisions. “I should have stayed at Everton but I moved in haste. I went back to Villa where I had previously spent four glorious years and they were changing managers regularly. Graham Taylor eventually came in, sat me down and said Birmingham City want to buy you. What? ‘That’s never going to happen’, I told him. He told me that he had got to sell me as I was too powerful amongst the players.”
To Wolves fans, Andy then committed the unthinkable. “Ron Atkinson then called me and I went to West Brom who were in the Second Division at the time. I worked with Ron as a coach at Villa again later in my career.” I cut the conversation short about that move, but then came the calling that he had been waiting for all his career. “I got my dream move in 1988 to Rangers. That really was the cherry, on the icing, on the top of the cake. Ron called me and said, ‘who have you always wanted to play for’? ‘Real Madrid haven’t come in for me have they gaffer’? ‘No’, Ron replied, ‘Souey (Graeme Souness) has come in for you and wants you to help him out in his first season’. I would have walked there.”
Andy had got the opportunity to play for his boyhood club. Although now at the tail-end of his career he wasn’t missing out on this gilt-edged chance. “Graeme told me that I could still live and train in England and just travel up on the Friday as I would be predominantly on the bench. It was a great move for my family and suited us and my Mum and three older brothers who all supported Rangers were delighted. We won the first league title of the nine-in-a-row so it was a great time for me.”
Even Andy Gray had his dreams. “As a proud Scot growing up my dreams were to play in an FA Cup Final, win an FA Cup Final, score in a final and play for my country and I achieved all of those. I do feel with my ability I should have won 50-plus caps but my real disappointment was not playing in a World Cup.”
I asked Andy about the trademark diving header that he had perfected at Wolves. “I was brave enough to throw myself into areas that most players wouldn’t and I would put my head where players wouldn’t put their feet.” True story.
All good things come to an end but, in Andy’s case, there was one more throw of the dice in football, if only acting as a stop gap before his career really took off. “When I finished at Rangers I saw myself as a bit of a player-manager. I spoke with Swindon, Hibs (Hibernian) and even talked to Everton but nothing came of it and in hindsight it was the best thing. One day a pal of mine called me about a project starting in six months’ time with BSkyB. I had the meeting in the August and was starting the following February. It’s not like it is now where players are set for the rest of their lives. When you retired then you had to work and find a job. Jim Barron took me to Cheltenham to play for six great months till the opportunity at Sky came along.”
The rest is history. Andy now works in Qatar and by his own admission is loving every minute. “I work for a huge company and I have watched this country grow in preparation for the World Cup. The stadiums are mind-blowing and it really is a great life out here.” Andy’s World Cup dream may still come true after all.
Andy reflected on the aftermath of his time at Wolves and the rapid decline of the club. “It was horrendous. I couldn’t believe where they had plummeted to. I knew they had problems but not to these depths. I kept in touch with Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards and it was tragic to see where this once proud club had ended up.”.
The man who held a place in our illustrious history still cared and Wolves held a place in his heart.
“The good news is, the pride is now back. So many people have contributed to getting them back to where they rightly belong. Steve Bull was iconic and did so much with his goals and what they have now is the kind of investment that John Barnwell wanted and needed.” Who knows what might have been?
Any regrets Andy?. “Looking back, not many. One day when I finally retire I will sit back in my rocking chair and maybe wonder if I’d have made a good manager.”
While you are there Andy, sit back with pride and relive that goal that you scored in the 67th minute as us Wolves fans have done for many, many years. The scoreboard doesn’t lie. ‘Gray, 67’