sport news Andre Gray's face was slashed at 20... Now he has strong views on the scourge ...

Andre Gray talks honestly from personal experience about carrying a knife and being in gangs, and the problems of social neglect in the inner-cities.

He talks of mentors, role models and an education system which wastes time on the Tudors and puts out the entrepreneurial flame of a child who makes money selling doughnuts in school.

But Gray starts with the FA Cup because his own remarkable journey to the Premier League and Watford's quarter-final against Crystal Palace has its roots in the less fashionable end of the world's oldest football competition.

Andre Gray talks honestly from personal experience about carrying a knife and being in gangs

Andre Gray talks honestly from personal experience about carrying a knife and being in gangs

'The FA Cup was a big part of it all,' said the 27-year-old, looking back to two goals for Hinckley United in a 3-1 win at Matlock Town in the second qualifying round in 2011, before a crowd of just 411. 'It's a chance to prove yourself against the bigger teams and that's when people started to take notice.'

Victory at Matlock launched the sixth-tier team on a memorable run, beating Leek Town and Darlington in replays to reach the First Round proper where they lost at Tamworth in another replay. 

'Tamworth wanted to sign me but it didn't really materialise,' he said. 'And then we got Luton in the FA Trophy and took them to a replay.'

By the end of the season Gray was a Luton player, scoring as they lost a play-off final at Wembley. One year later, his goals fuelled promotion back into the Football League, and earned him recognition with England's non-league team.

Brentford signed him for £500,000 and Burnley for £9million. He won promotion to the top flight and, at the start of last season, joined Watford for £18.5m. Days when he was released by Wolves and Shrewsbury are distant memories.

Gray insists his move from Hinckley United to Luton was 'completely life-changing'

Gray insists his move from Hinckley United to Luton was 'completely life-changing'

'Luckily, I took my chance,' he said. 'I got my break, to move away and change my life. I moved to Luton where I became a man and that was the best thing that happened to me. I kept my head down and worked hard, got the big leap into the Championship and haven't looked back. It was completely life changing.'

Gray refuses to hide from his past. He was brought up in Wolverhampton by his mother Joanna and was 20 years old and playing for Hinckley when his face was slashed by a knife during a fight on a night out with friends.

Fifteen stiches were needed to close the wound and the scar remains clear across his left cheek, a reminder of the past he escaped with the help of football.

He has strong views on the knife-crime epidemic and fears Britain has spent too long failing to address the real issues. He bemoans cuts to policing and disappearing youth facilities; he is critical of the education system, the prison system and the media.

Gray admits to carrying a knife once as he felt like he needed to protect himself as a teenager

Gray admits to carrying a knife once as he felt like he needed to protect himself as a teenager

'It's been like this since I was a teenager,' said Gray. 'I carried a knife at one time: it was the thing to do. You felt you needed some sort of weapon. But there are many sides to it. Egos and play a part. It seems to be the in-thing. There are kids not even involved in gangs

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