Andy Gray

Today we introduce a new series into Tales of two Halves. ‘In their Pomp’ in a nutshell is about players or teams and a moment that signifies or relays a microcosm of it all at their best – or at least how a fan of the team or player in question might view it.

It will probably encompass in most cases a goal but not necessarily but we’ll see how we go. Today we look at a player and a goal brace which to many Everton fans would more than signify a memory high point – Andy Gray and his goals against Sunderland in a 4-1 defeat at Goodison Park.

Andy Gray was a powerhouse centre-forward as he was a personality. He came from that famous footballing playground Drumchapel in Glasgow and was a big Rangers fan. He benefitted massively from the tutelage of Dundee United manager Jim McClean who recognised all his strengths.

He arrived at Aston Villa in 1975 and by the end of the 1976/77 season had done a Raheem Sterling and won the PFA Player and Young Player of the year awards that same season.  He was a massive forward threat and Villa fans would remember him fondly.

Following a fall out with manager Ron Saunders he moved to neighbours Wolves in 1979. He won a League Cup with them in 1980 but continued cartilage problems dogged him. It was in November 1983 that Howard Kendall took him to a beleaguered Everton who were floundering around the bottom reaches of the division. They needed cover though for Adrian Heath who had sustained a nasty injury ruling him out for the season.

What would unfold? Well in the two years that he stayed with the club he scored 22 goals in 61 games and will be forever associated with FA Cup, League, and European Cup Winners’ Cup glory. That is CV stuff if you like down in black and white.

What Everton fans will remember was a well done piece of T-bone steak who was front and central to all they did well in that period. The description ‘raw-boned’ suggests a certain bullocking willingness but without the nous and street wisdom of the true professional. Gray had both and could use his head like most players used their boot.

That spring of 1985 would have had Everton fans trying to deal with the growing good news before their eyes. Everything was starting to strongly suggest their first title win in fifteen years. Fifteen years of course that had seen Liverpool lord it high over the football landscape. When you are right under that shadow as Everton were, they seemed higher than ever.

Gray, of course, had played his part massively in that rise – his goal in the 1984 Cup Final showed he was a big occasion man and he had recently demolished Fortuna Sittard with a hat-trick in Europe. But his goals that afternoon for many would define him in that season.  This would appear to be the game that set the club into the final weeks sure of their prize.

Gray was a great ‘coup de grace’ merchant. You want your forwards at the end of things and more often than not he did that. There was huge manna to harvest in this respect with balls of gold coming in from Kevin Sheedy on the left and Trevor Steven on the right. The number of times there was any space around a ball for more than a split second and Gray would be on it.

That tended to be more his ‘inside – forward’ role if he was playing with Graeme Sharp but he could do the centre-forward stuff equally well if he was playing with Adrian Heath. This particular day he was playing with Sharp, but it was his day with two goals in a stunning four-minute spell that the club never looked back from.

Already a goal down to Sunderland the central midfield pistons of Peter Reid and Paul Bracewell were running and gunning out wide on the right at this particular moment. Trevor Steven and right-back Gary Stevens had such a strong title deed on that flank it was not somewhere central duo Paul Bracewell or Peter Reid ever needed to be.

In the 34th minute, a sprinting Peter Reid could be found running deep into space deep into the Sunderland left. Behind, Bracewell on the touchline hooked an atypical and unsubtle ball down in front of Reid now collecting and cutting inside. It was as not his usual modus operandi either this wide-right creative artistry.

Wrong footing a defender at speed he put in what in essence is actually a difficult ball if it is to be effective in that it was at that low, easily-cleared height. But there was a Scottish nuclear warhead flying in at knee level at such speed that it really was one of those occasions where the ball was in the corner of the net before anyone realised.

Gray literally was like a missile and it was more like a blue blur as the ball rocketed off his head and into the corner of the net. Gray was off his knees and right over to the crowd in that huge grin of exhortation.  The Glwadys Street avalanched tumbling approval onto their forward beast. There was little doubt who would win the match.

It was a goal of force which suggests bluntness, but headed goals are things of beauty. As mentioned, if certain midfielders can dominate a pitch with their accuracy and influence of passing, Gray’s head could do the same in a penalty area.

The fact that he would do it again within four minutes with another ‘breathtaker’ at the other side of the penalty area almost defied words. The build-up was more prosaic coming from a corner. Cleared out, it arrived with Trevor Steven, over on that side from taking the corner and again arced in a piece of bait. Gray took the bait, ball, and goal.

He flung himself horizontally towards the corner flag, somehow edging ahead of the accompanying Sunderland defender who to this day will wonder how Gray got his head to it. The ball barrelled high into the net with the goalkeeper’s hand hardly slowing the speed of the ball. Goodison gasped in blue rapture major. Sunderland, bewitched by blue and ‘gray’ were to concede two more and no doubt felt they were playing Gray on his own. The rest of the league would shortly concede the title to Everton. Today they would call him ‘unplayable’ but hyperbole was not the everyday footballing mindset or lexicon as it is now.

It was an awesome display and in such moments of review when you think of Andy Gray at Everton, you remember that salvo. He still had two big moments left with goals against Bayern Munich and Rapid Vienna in Europe. It was Andy Gray in his absolute pomp.