The Width of a Post’s Midweek ‘Player Focus – Close Season Special’ series continues with a look back at a player very much in the Bantams’ spotlight this summer, as Ian Sheard recalls 2002/03 winner, Andy Gray
Nephew of Eddie Gray, Andy Gray brings back memories of his determination, power and a little bit of pace. A Yorkshire lad who began his career at the same club as his Uncle, who would soon go on to give City fans something to cheer about in what was a dismal time for the club. Voted player of the year for Bradford City for 2002/03, Andy Gray ‘thunder dragon’? (Wikipedia) was a right winger come striker; although I think it was during his time at City in which the latter part came to prevalence.
The fact that I was studying at University at this time, and also that the mind does black out horrible times from the past, means that my memory of Andy Gray’s time at City is somewhat ironically gray. What I do remember, when he first signed along with Gus Uhlenbeek and Paul Evans, was that he would be no replacement for Eoin Jess who had become my favourite at the time. For here was a player similar to another favourite, Nigel Pepper: strong on the ball, not a bad crosser and a wicked shot from anywhere. Andy Gray had a lot to live up to.
Signed as a right winger initially by Nicky Law, Gray would often be the provider of many a cross or through ball to many a striker due to his vision and pace. However, unfortunately, on most occasions, this ‘striker’ tended to be Ashley Ward. An on-going joke with a Uni friend from Manchester was that Ashley Ward would be the perfect armed robber – always holds up but never shoots. Interestingly enough, however, I recently worked out that his goals to game ratio during his time at City, was actually better than that of Fernando Torres last season. How many Ashley Ward’s could you buy for that!
Gray seemed to take the mantle of scoring the goals on himself and always seemed to be the man to pop up when the goals were needed, unfortunately the rest of the team didn’t, hence the close battle with relegation that. Notable goals for me were his brace against Burnley on a cold Tuesday night and his goal against Watford on a Saturday afternoon when we won 2-1. This game in particular sticks in my mind as it won me £70!
Gray was not the only player during his time to pop with a goal or two from midfield, Claus Jorgenson, another fan favourite, went on an outstanding run of scoring away goals during the same time as Gray was at the club. Jorgenson was another player that has since been linked with a return to City and one that, up to recently, would have been a welcome addition in my eyes. It was midway through this season that Gray was moved up-front to play a striker role alongside Ward. His goal to game ratio, for a team that was struggling, I seem to remember was fairly impressive.
November 2003 saw the arrival of Bryan Robson, who beat Colin Todd and Chris Kamara, apparently, to the post. But like City of recent years, Robson talked a good game but the results never came. Another frustrating time for City as mentioned. A player that I believe summed up this was Ben Muirhead, previously a youth player at Man Utd promised a lot with his pace and fairly powerful shot. The only problem was that much like a speeding train; Muirhead found it difficult to change direction and, as a result, gave the ball away. Jamie Lawrence, younger and fitter would have been the perfect ‘wing man’ for Gray as would future team mate Robbie Blake.
The second spell in administration – which occurred in February 2004 and led to relegation – hit the club hard and players such as Gray, along with Simon Francis, left for Sheffield United with our best wishes. Robson would follow shortly afterwards, leaving Mr Todd to pick up the reins and metaphorically lose them all too easily. Fans were left uncertain as to the future of the club with Gibb hailed as a scapegoat and Rhodes the knight in shining armour. One can see similarities with that and the unfortunate state of the Bulls at the moment. They have my sympathies and I sincerely hope they find a buyer sooner rather than later.
Prior to producing this article I was admittedly a little bit apprehensive about writing about Gray; I think mainly due to the fact that it wasn’ t the best time in City’s history. Having done a bit of research into this though, and having spoken to a number of people about Gray, my memories of him have grown fonder. To me Gray was a player that could be relied on to pop up and get a goal when it was really needed (not just for betting purposes!). He seemed to be a likeable person on and off the pitch and appeared to give his all for the club. I don’t remember ever slating him for lack of effort or for not having a shot on goal when the chance was there.
Some City fans have recently ‘hit out’ at Gray lingering on the supposed contract offer this summer from City, stating that he’s holding out for a better offer. Why not? Looking at it from Gray’s point of a view. Here was a player who gave his all for the club, as the player of the year award suggests, scored goals when the main striker (Ward) couldn’t find the net for 4 months of his 1st season, and went through administration with the club.
Gray may have good memories of Valley Parade, but I’m sure he will see it as a bad time for him as well. The fact that Championship clubs are apparently sniffing after his signature comes as no surprise as he has scored a few vital goals for Barnsley last season and, according to my Tykes mate, ‘will be a loss but too good for you lot!’
So good luck to Gray, thanks for the goals and if the club hadn’t have gone into administration, you may have been in the ‘The Legends of Bradford City’ book that I seemed to think you were in! It would be good to see you in a City shirt again, and not one that costs a fiver this time either!
The Midweek Player Focus – Close Season Special series