How Andy Gray brought success to Everton

Andy Gray had reached a crossroads in his football career in England. It was November 1983 and at the age of twenty eight, he was part of a Wolverhampton Wanderers team who, three years after winning the League Cup, were in financial meltdown and facing the prospect of a second relegation to Division Two in three seasons. Within a short period of only nineteen months, in an unbelievable turnaround of fortune, Andy Gray, by May 1985, would be the proud owner of three new medals for winning the League Championship, the F.A. Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup. An incredible medal haul in such a short space of time for a player whose best days were supposedly behind him.

Andy Mullen Gray was born in November 1955, in Glasgow. He started his professional career playing for Dundee United in 1973 and in a two year period had scored forty six goals in sixty two appearances. He was the hottest property in Scottish football at the time and a move to England beckoned. In October 1975, Aston Villa succeeded in obtaining his signature. It was money well spent. The following season he scored 29 goals and earned both the PFA Young Player of the Year award and the PFA Player of the Year Award. However he had already made an impression on the blue half of Merseyside by scoring two goals for Villa in their five-one demolition of Liverpool in December 1976. He seemed unstoppable.

Wolverhampton Wanderers paid a record fee of £1.5 million to secure his services in September 1979 and were rewarded by Gray scoring the only goal as they defeated reigning European Champions Nottingham Forest to win the League Cup in 1980. But that was as good as it was ever going to be for Gray at Wolves. At the end of the 1981/82 season Wolves were relegated to Division Two. Although they were immediately promoted by November 1983 it was obvious that the club were doomed to be relegated again. The club needed money and Gray was one of their few remaining assets left.

Meanwhile, across on Merseyside another giant of the English game was struggling. This was Howard Kendall’s third season in charge and the dreams any Everton fan may have harboured of a return to winning trophies again had long since dissipated. The supporters were growing increasingly restless. Before a home League Cup tie with Chesterfield, the famous “Kendall out” leaflets were distributed. By the first week in November, after yet another Derby defeat, Everton had now slumped to seventeenth position in the table. The following Wednesday, my friends and I were amongst a crowd of just over 9000 at Goodison to see Everton beat Coventry City 2-1. Little did we realise at the time that this competition was to play a key role in an unexpected Everton resurgence.

Kendall did not have an inspiring record in signing experienced forwards. In his first season in charge, he had brought in Alan Biley and Mick Ferguson to deliver the goals. Neither did. The following campaign saw Kendall bring back former Everton striker David Johnson from across the park. Johnson had scored 55 goals in 148 appearances for Liverpool but at the age of thirty one his powers were on the wane. He managed just four goals in forty appearances and was shipped out to Preston North End by October 1983.

With Everton’s main striker Graeme Sharp facing a lay off due to injury, Kendall needed to bring a forward in quickly. He approached the Everton Board to see how much money they would let him spend. Kendall had narrowed the list down to three: Paul Mariner of Ipswich, Bob Latchford at Swansea City and Andy Gray. Everton could not afford Mariner so the Board sanctioned the purchase of Andy Gray. Kendall knew of Gray’s injury problems but had been reassured by the fact he had played over thirty games in the previous season. But he also knew that a fully fit Andy Gray would be costing more than the £200,000 Everton had agreed to pay.

Back in Wolverhampton, Gray realised that he did not want to be playing in Division Two again next season. Since that League Cup win in 1980 , the medal cupboard in the Gray household had not received any new additions. Wolves were in desperate financial straits and Gray knew that he would be on the move soon. He arrived home after having a few drinks with Wolves midfielder Kenny Hibbitt discussing the club’s plight. His wife informed him that Graham Hawkins, the Wolves manager, had been trying desperately to contact him all afternoon. That could only mean one thing: he was going to be sold.

Gray knew that a number of clubs had shown an interest in him but on arrival at Molineux, Hawkins informed him that the clubs had agreed terms and he was going to be sold to Everton for a fee of £200,000. It was hardly a dream move. Everton were only just above Wolves in the table, they had just lost another Derby game and Howard Kendall’s position appeared to be anything but secure. Gray travelled up to Merseyside, arrived early for the meeting and, as he went to buy a paper, was spotted and recognised by an Everton fan who quickly rang the local press. The news was out. Andy Gray was about to sign for Everton.

However, there were two main problems still to be overcome. Due to his injury record, Gray underwent a rigourous medical examination of his knee. He waited anxiously outside as the medical team discussed their findings. Eventually the doctor came out and asked Gray a few more questions about his knee and was satisfied with the answers. Andy Gray was now ready to sign. Or was he? He still had some financial issues to sort out with Wolves before he could put pen to paper. Kendall was desperate to have him registered in time to play against Nottingham Forest so he contacted Derek Dougan, then the Chief Executive at Wolves. A deal was struck. Everton would sign Gray initially on loan for three days before signing permanently on the following Monday.

Life was about to change for Everton fans, Andy Gray and Howard Kendall in ways that they could not possibly imagine.

Not all Everton fans were convinced by the new acquisition. The Football Echo letters page received a number of comments to the effect that, just like the signing of the injury prone Peter Reid, Everton had bought another crocked veteran. Initially, Gray’s Everton career did not set the world alight. His first eight league games produced one solitary goal. To top it all, Wolves defeated Everton 3-0 at Molineux on December 27th with their fans chanting “Andy, Andy what’s the score”.

Behind the scenes on the training ground, however, Gray’s natural arrogance and confidence were starting to make an impact on a squad lacking in self -belief. He made an immediate impression at his first Everton press conference when he said he had joined Everton to win things. Even Mystic Meg at the height of her powers would not have dared to predict that happening.

Gray impressed the Everton squad from his first training session. John Bailey floated in a series of crosses which Gray planted firmly into the net. Impressed, Gray said to Bailey: “That is the best quality of cross I have had in more than five years”. Bailey, full of pride replied: “That is the first time anybody has managed to get on the end of one of my quality crosses in five years”.

Howard Kendall noted that Gray had the ability to instil a sense of confidence into players when things weren’t going well. He led by example. On the field he was loud, cocky and always spurring his team mates on. He was an inspirational role model to a team of young players who could see what you could achieve with determination and self- belief. He demanded a certain quality of play from his team mates and he had an unbelievable desire to win football matches which raised the playing standards of those around him.

January 1984, Everton faced a difficult Third Round F.A. Cup tie away to Stoke City. Gray opened the scoring with a stupendous header in the sixty seventh minute and Everton went on to win 2-0. Gray’s incredible heading ability continued throughout the run to Wembley. In the quarter final tie away at Notts County, Gray sealed a 2-1 victory with an incredible diving header from no more than six inches off the ground. Gray’s run of goals continued at Wembley as he headed the ball out of a despairing Steve Sherwood’s hands to seal a 2-0 victory over Watford and earn Everton their first F.A Cup win in eighteen years. Meanwhile, his former club Wolves were relegated to Division Two at the end of the season.

In different circumstances, Gray might not even have been an Everton player by then. Everton had embarked on a League Cup run that season as well which took them all the way to the final. However, Gray could not play because he was cup tied having played for Wolves earlier in the season. Gray started to sense that perhaps Kendall wanted to stick with his League Cup side as his starting eleven. In a fourth round F.A.Cup replay away to Gillingham, his fears seemed to gain substance. He was informed by Kendall after the pre-match meal that he would not be playing. Gray was furious and was on the point of giving the manager a mouthful and walking out of the club. Fortunately he reconsidered and accepted the decision. He was back in for the next game and Kendall told him it had been a mistake to leave him out.

Everton fans were anticipating the new season with an unusual sense of optimism. However, Andy Gray was injured in the first game so Kendall went with the more youthful partnership of Graeme Sharp and Adrian Heath. Once again, Gray made a significant contribution off the pitch. For the away game at Newcastle United in September, Kendall dropped Sharp and recalled Gray. Graeme Sharp was so annoyed at being dropped he wrote out a transfer request which he showed to Gray. The older player advised him against any hasty actions and told him not to do it. Then, although Gray scored, he cracked a bone in his foot and was out for six weeks with Sharp taking his place.

After a terrible injury to Adrian Heath against Sheffield Wednesday in November, Gray was recalled to the side. From the 1st of December to the 11th of May, Gray played his part in an Everton team which only lost one league game, scoring eight important goals in the process. Two performances stand out. In a crucial 2-1 away win at Leicester City in February, Gray almost knocked himself out by colliding with a goalpost as he scored for Everton. Against Sunderland at Goodison in April, Gray scored two of the most powerful diving headed goals ever seen as he delivered a personal footballing masterclass in scoring with bullet headers. At the end of the season, Everton were champions and Andy had his medal. In the same season, Wolves were relegated to Division Three.

Gray saved some off his best performances that season for the European Cup Winners Cup. He scored his first ever Everton hat trick as they beat Fortuna Sittard 3-0 in the quarter final. In the second leg of the legendary semi -final against Bayern Munich at Goodison, he terrified their defenders with his aggression and battered them into submission, scoring Everton’s decisive second goal to confirm their place in the final. In the final against Rapid Vienna, he scored Everton’s first goal as they went on to claim the Cup Winners Cup – Everton’s first and, still to this date, only European trophy.

It might have been the treble that year but Everton had to play Manchester United in the Cup final at Wembley three days later and they just did not have the stamina to carry them through.
It had been a whirlwind nineteenth months for Andy Gray. He had now won every honour in the domestic game and a European one as well.

Fate can be a cruel master. In the summer, Gray had just moved to a new house in Formby after receiving assurances from Kendall that he had a place in his plans for the new season. The day before he was due to go on holiday to Portugal, Kendall turned up at his house and told him Aston Villa wanted to buy him back and that he was going to buy Gary Lineker from Leicester City. According to Gray in his autobiography Shades of Gray in 1986, when he heard those words, he knew his Everton career was now over.

Kendall’s decision provoked outrage amongst the Everton fans. Petitions were drawn up and thousands of fans wrote to the club demanding that Gray should stay playing for Everton. Gary Lineker came and went but never took the place of Andy Gray in the fan’s affections. To this day rumours persist that Kendall was too scared to tell Gray he would not be playing regularly and chose to sell him instead.

It was a glorious nineteen months and if one player could be said to have changed the footballing fortunes of a team in such a short space of time, that man was Andrew Mullen Gray.

Thanks for the memories.