100 Greatest LUFC Players - No.4 Eddie Gray

23 Jun 2019 08:18 pm, by YorkshireSquare

4) Eddie Gray (1965-1984)

Country: Scotland | DOB: 17/01/1948 | Position: Midfielder | Apps: 577 | Goals: 68

Eddie Gray was a cultured winger who was an integral member of the legendary Revie side of the 1960s and 1970s, later twice becoming the club's manager. Eddie Gray was without doubt the most gifted player ever to play for Leeds United, he was better than George Best but did not get the same recognition because he played for Leeds. Gray was a schoolboy international for Scotland, and signed professional forms for Leeds at the age of sixteen in January 1965. When Eddie first came to Leeds he played in a practice match against the first team, after the game Jack Charlton told Don Revie that Leeds had better sign him as he did not want to have to play against him twice a season.

He made his first team debut on New Year's Day 1966, fewer than three weeks before his eighteenth birthday, and went on to play for the club for almost twenty years. A winger in the classic mould, Gray was feted in world football for his ability to beat opposing full backs for pace and thought. As the Leeds team grew in stature and experience through the 1960s, Gray became a vital component of the team. In 1968 he was in the Leeds team which won the League Cup and the Fairs Cup and then the League championship a year later. It was in 1970 that he made his most famous appearance in a Leeds shirt.

The team was chasing a unique "treble" of League championship, FA Cup and European Cup with Gray in sparkling form. Days before he had already scored what many Leeds fans call the greatest goal ever by a Leeds player, a solo run past at least six Burnley players in the space of twenty yards using his shoulder drops to throw the opposition off balance then rolling the ball back, leaving the defenders on the floor totally perplexed before cool as you like passing the ball into the net. In the same game he had previously lobbed the keeper from thirty-five yards to score a goal requiring many skills and a "jewel" in its own right.

When his day came at Wembley for the FA Cup final against Chelsea, Gray's immediate opponent was David Webb, an artisan defender who he tortured for the ninety minutes and extra-time period. Webb was constantly left in undignified positions in his wake as Gray ghosted past him. It was an exhibition that earned him the "Man of the Match" trophy. Despite lop-sided possession the game still ended in a 2-2 draw and a replay was required. Gray had taken the corner which had allowed Jack Charlton to open the scoring and he had also rattled the crossbar with a right-foot shot.

In the replay, Chelsea changed tactics and put the more uncompromising Ron Harris to take care of the threat posed by Gray and as a result, his danger was snuffed out through a series of deliberate fouls which went largely unpunished. Chelsea won 2-1 and, as luck would have it, it was the tormented Webb who headed the winner. Leeds lost the League championship race to Everton and the European Cup Semi-Final to Celtic, and finished with nothing to show for their season long endeavours, which had promised so much.

Gray's battles with injury then started, and he missed more than half of the 1971 season, during which Leeds again snatched League championship defeat from the jaws of victory but won the Fairs Cup again. He was in the team which won the FA Cup against Arsenal in 1972 and duly lost it a year later to Sunderland, but missed out on a title medal when Leeds finally won the League again in 1974 thanks to more injury woes. From 1970 to 1975, when his skills should have been at their zenith and when he should have had the footballing world at his feet, he made just eighty-two League appearances.

Written off by some but encouraged by Jimmy Armfield, he fought his way back to full health and during his rehabilitation coached the juniors and forced his way back to first team recognition and played in the team which reached the European Cup final in Paris in 1975 but lost, controversially, to Bayern Munich. Also in the team was his younger brother Frank, who had likewise come through the ranks at Elland Road. This was the swansong of the great Don Revie team, Revie himself had left a year earlier to take over as England manager, and Gray's team-mates started to leave the club.

By the end of the 1970s, Gray was the only player from any part of the Revie era still at the club, although Peter Lorimer would later make a comeback. Now converted to left back, taking over from his brother, who had been transferred to Nottingham Forest, Gray prolonged his career and was in the side which was relegated under former team-mate Allan Clarke in 1982. Gray then took over as manager for two seasons, while still playing, but finally left the club after being unable to regain promotion from the Second Division. His association with Leeds was severed in 1985 after twenty years, five hundred and sixty-one games and sixty-eight goals. He was never booked in the whole of his career.

Eddie returned to Elland Road to help with the development of the youngsters, under Howard Wilkinson and in his first full season saw the youth team lift the FA Youth Cup in 1996, as he worked alongside Paul Hart. Then after the departure of Dave Williams to Manchester United in 1997, he became reserve team coach, guiding the second string to the Pontins Premier Division title in his first season in charge. His work with the youth set-up nurtured a terrific generation of Leeds players such as Harry Kewell, Ian Harte, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate, who all went on to become first team regulars.

He was an immediate choice to support David O'Leary as his No.2 when the Irishman became Leeds boss in October 1998. Unfortunately O'Leary decided to bring in Brian Kidd in, this seemed to be the point when Leeds United troubles began. Leeds United football gradually got worse, Leeds were losing games they should have drawn and drawing games they should have won. This meant that Leeds did not qualify for the Champions League and all the financial problems became an issue. Both he and Brian Kidd fell to a cost cutting exercise.

When Peter Reid left Leeds in 2004, Gray was charged with the task of trying to preserve their FA Premier League status, something which under immense pressure, he could not do. Amidst all the notorious pontificating from ambitious, headstrong board members, a self-obsessed chairman and fly-by-night managers, it was left to a genuine Leeds man to try to stop the club from going to the wall. Gray parted company once again with the club after relegation.

Gray's unfortunate injury record meant that his Scotland career was short and infrequent. He won just twelve caps and missed the 1974 World Cup through injury.

For the full 100 players check out our 100 Greatest Ever Leeds Players...

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Bally wrote on 23 Jun 2019 09:45 pm

My favourite ever player who I was fortunate enough to see play in person