Forty years ago, Everton were in crisis when they signed a centre forward as a desperate last resort to get them out of trouble. Sounds familiar? It should do and if deadline week signing Beto has only half the impact Andy Gray did, Evertonians will breathe an almighty sigh of relief.
Gray arrived at Goodison Park in November 1983 with Everton 17th in the table. Their previous home gate against Coventry was just 9,000, yet within two years the Scot was lifting the FA Cup, the League title and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Now 67, Gray is briefly back in England from his base in Qatar. On Tuesday, he will lunch with former team-mate Peter Reid, with the socials likely to spill over to watching Scotland play England in a bar that night. He is also hoping to make a pilgrimage back to Merseyside to interview manager Sean Dyche for his television channel beIN SPORTS.
Though he also enjoyed success with Dundee United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Rangers, Gray is forever associated with Howard Kendall’s great team of the Eighties and admits the club’s current predicament, poor results, financial restrictions and supporter discontent causes him some pain.
‘Dismayed, distraught, whatever adjective you want to use,’ says Gray. ‘Everton are paying the price for years of mismanagement. They’ve been circling the plug for three years and of course I fear for them again this season.
Andy Gray believes that Everton are ‘paying the price for years of mismanagement’
The former forward arrived at Goodison Park in November 1983 with Everton 17th in the table and quickly became a fan favourite
Gray has backed new Everton forward Beto to succeed like he did at Goodison Park
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‘They weren’t in a great place either when I first arrived, but when I saw the dressing room with Neville [Southall], Reidy, Sharpy [Graeme Sharp], Kevin Sheedy, I knew there was quality.
‘It was largely a young team and, once we gained confidence, we were on our way. This Everton squad don’t have that. Even if they’ve played all right, they can’t score goals.
‘There is a lot riding on Beto from Udinese. I’ve seen in glimpses that he’s strong, quick and can run in behind. He’ll have to produce straight away, like I did. Howard was so anxious to throw men in he initially signed me on a 24-hour loan on the Friday so I could play the next day against Forest. I told Inchy [Adrian Heath] to stay close to me, I’d mess the defenders around and get him a chance. He ended up scoring the winner.
‘When Dominic Calvert-Lewin is fit again, Everton will have to get him and Beto both in the team somehow. This is the biggest challenge Sean has ever faced in management and that includes keeping Burnley in the Premier League. People talk about Graham Potter. Do me a favour, what could he do better than Sean with the current group of players.’
Gray has had two remarkable careers. As a striker, he was the first to win the PFA Player and Young Player awards in the same season, with Villa in 1977. He became Britain’s most expensive signing when Wolves bought him for £1.5million in 1979 and his League Cup final winner the following year remains the club’s last major trophy.
He had two glorious seasons at Everton and wrapped things up by winning a Scottish title with Glasgow Rangers, their first of nine in a row.
His international career is perhaps the only area of underachievement, winning only 20 caps in an era when Scotland was graced with several top-class strikers. While this week’s match against England has rarity value, the Auld Enemies used to meet annually in the Home Championship, Gray twice playing in 2-0 defeats.
‘I didn’t go to a World Cup but should have done in 1978,’ he says. ‘I’d had a good season with Villa and the whole of Scotland wanted me on the plane to Argentina.
Gray believes that Everton will have to get Dominic Calvert-Lewin (right) and Beto both in the team somehow
Beto arrived from Udinese this summer and has looked sharp in his first games for Everton
‘I was in a wine bar for the squad announcement. The waiter wanted to have a bottle of champagne ready but I had a sinking feeling. For whatever reason, Ally McLeod picked Joe Harper instead of me. It was wrong — Kenny Dalglish was the Scottish striker better than me at that time.
‘I was also involved in the qualification for 1986, Jock Stein was a fan. But Jock died and Alex Ferguson was put in charge for Mexico. He called me and said: “I’m not taking you to the World Cup”.’
After hanging up his boots, Gray became a TV trailblazer, the voice of punditry who opened the door for Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and others as Sky Sports and the new Premier League revolutionised the game.
‘I was sceptical I could do it but there was a great producer called Andy Melvin who believed in me and convinced me it would work,’ says Gray.
‘If it has helped other former players down the line, I’m delighted. I’m like any other viewer is when I watch football, I like some pundits and disagree with others. Andy Townsend is one I’d listen to.’
Gray’s upbeat personality masks certain tragedies in his life. He was sat alongside Stein in 1985 when the manager collapsed and died at the end of a World Cup qualifier against Wales.
‘I remember Jock shoving a photographer away right at the end when he encroached to take a picture. Then suddenly he collapsed.
‘We were sat in the dressing room for 45 minutes afterwards still in our kit, totally silent rather than celebrating going to a World Cup. ‘Then Fergie comes in and says “The big man has gone”. It was a terrible, terrible moment.’
Likewise, when a 15-year-old Gray attended an Old Firm match at Ibrox in 1971, he left by the stairway in which 66 fans were crushed to death. ‘My mum probably saved my life,’ he said. ‘She’d allowed me to go but only if I left 10 minutes early. She must have been fearful of the crowds.
‘When I arrived home, I’d had no idea of what had happened. Mum gave me the biggest hug — she’d been worried sick of course because the news was coming out — and then we had this horrible wait until all my brothers got back safely,’
Gray works with Richard Keys (right) in the Middle East and has opened up on the decision to do so
The TV pundit urged Manchester United owners The Glazers to welcome a bid from Qatar
Gray is aware that the role of Gulf states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia is a divisive issue, but tries to speak as he finds. Manchester United fans, he believes, should be happy if Sheikh Jassim, a former Qatari Prime Minister, can convince the Glazers to sell. ‘If I supported United, I’d welcome the Qatar bid. They’d clear the debt, rebuild the stadium and sign the best players. Where is the downside in that?
‘Qatar isn’t perfect but there isn’t a country which is. They hosted probably the best World Cup we’ve seen. The organisation was great and there was no trouble.’
Gray is content how his life has panned out. ‘I’ve had two successful careers, one on the pitch and one behind a microphone,’ he says. ‘I’ve been incredibly lucky.
‘All I need is for Everton to start climbing the table. It’s just a shame they’ve got Arsenal next!’
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