sport news 'I know the boys who've left us would love Bielsa': Eddie Gray takes comfort in ...

sport news 'I know the boys who've left us would love Bielsa': Eddie Gray takes comfort in ...
sport news 'I know the boys who've left us would love Bielsa': Eddie Gray takes comfort in ...

Even at 73, Eddie Gray does a decent pre-season. 

Most mornings, he runs five miles in the glorious countryside around Kirkby Overblow in North Yorkshire, followed by a dip in the pool. 

Gareth Southgate, who lives in nearby Harrogate, is among those familiar with the Leeds United legend jogging along as they drive through the village.

Eddie Gray is delighted with Leeds' resurganec, doing him and his old team-mates proud

Eddie Gray is delighted with Leeds' resurganec, doing him and his old team-mates proud

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It is nearly 60 years since Gray left the Castlemilk council estate in Glasgow to be persuaded by Don Revie to shelve his ambition to play for Celtic and move south instead.

The Glaswegian accent remains but life has changed in every other aspect for Gray, whose playing career encompassed winning trophies under Revie, an apocalyptic 44 days with Brian Clough and appearing in a European Cup final for Jimmy Armfield.

He has also twice been manager, 20 years apart, was David O’Leary’s assistant when his ‘babies’ reached the Champions League semi-finals and remains heavily involved with the club, watching every kick of Marcelo Bielsa’s current heroes working for the Leeds United television channel.

He still lives with wife Linda in the picturesque home he built for £26,000 at the peak of his career in 1972. With six children and 17 grandchildren, two of whom are at the Leeds academy, there is more than enough to keep him busy.

Gray (third from left) played in Don Revie's Leeds side which won two First Division titles

Gray (third from left) played in Don Revie's Leeds side which won two First Division titles 

The past couple of years have been testing, with former Leeds team-mates Trevor Cherry, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter and close friend Peter Lorimer all passing away, having already lost Billy Bremner, Terry Hibbitt and Paul Madeley.

Yet on the pitch, Leeds United’s fortunes have been transformed by Bielsa, who ended their 16-year exile from the Premier League and made them widely popular with a thrilling brand of football and developing new stars such as England’s Kalvin Phillips.

‘The football has given me comfort in a tough time,’ says Gray. ‘I know the boys who have left us would have loved this Leeds team. The way we play with a style and carefree attitude allied to hard work.

‘Marcelo has changed the careers of a lot of players. If you’d said to me three years ago, Leeds players would be at the Euros, I would have laughed. But they deserve to be playing at the highest level. They showed at Manchester City, they can beat anyone.

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‘It’s not easy to lose people you’ve grown up with. Peter was my best mate, we roomed together for 10 or 12 years. He wasn’t well for a long time but it’s hard to realise you can’t go together to Elland Road again.’

Gray spent the best years of his career under Revie, who created a camaraderie in the dressing room that had never been seen before in British football. He points out Revie and Bielsa are nothing like each other in personality but share an ability to lead.

‘They are completely different characters,’ he says. ‘There was nothing better Don liked after a big game than to have a party and a sing-song with the boys.

Don Revie (centre) was one of the greatest English managers, fostering a rock-solid spirit

Don Revie (centre) was one of the greatest English managers, fostering a rock-solid spirit 

‘I remember Peter would always do “The Road and the Miles to Dundee”. Don loved that bonding off the pitch.

‘I can’t see Marcelo joining in that. If you asked these Leeds players what he’s like, they might not know. But it doesn’t matter, at the training ground they buy into everything

‘Marcelo lives in a small flat in Wetherby, I see him walking, say hello and that’s it. It’s his way. It adds to his mystique. He does things no other manager would. Have you seen any others sit on a bucket? We had a centenary dinner at the club. It was a black-tie do, Marcelo came in a tracksuit. It’s part of his aura. What he has done with the football club is incredible.

‘People ask me how they will do next year after finishing ninth. I think they will do even better. Raphinha and Kalvin have had their first experiences of the Premier League. So has Stuart Dallas, right back, left back, midfield, everywhere. Rodrigo struggled at the start and finished with a bang, there are reasons to think the team will improve.

‘The biggest worry would be keeping hold of all our good players but they seem to have power now. They’ll be more focused on looking to add.’

Gray played 577 times for Leeds between 1966 and 1983, going down as an Elland Road legend

Gray played 577 times for Leeds between 1966 and 1983, going down as an Elland Road legend

It was December 1962 when Gray, a month short of his 15th birthday, made his life-changing journey by train from Glasgow to Leeds. Revie and assistant Maurice Lindley met him at the station, took him to a guest house and arranged for him to be collected the next morning. Gray thought he would be playing in a trial game with other kids until Revie told him he was going to train with the first team.

After a week, Gray returned home to tell his parents he wanted to join Leeds, despite being raised to support Celtic. He went on to play 577 times for Leeds between 1966 and 1983, seventh on the club’s all-time appearance list.

At his peak, he was compared to George Best and it was not fanciful. Two of the club’s greatest ever goals were both scored by Gray in the same game against Burnley in 1970. The first a remarkable chip from 35 yards, the second a dribble around four defenders from the corner flag.

Yet looking back, he feels his career would have been even better without a serious injury at 16.

‘It was a reserve game against Sheffield Wednesday,’ he says. ‘I went to take a corner and my left thigh pinged. I’d torn a muscle. Medical science wasn’t like today. I played in a youth game four days later, which I see now just wasn’t right.

‘The treatment I received calcified the thigh. Every time they cut it out, bone growing into muscle, the muscle got shorter. It hindered me, by the time I was 24, I’d had five operations.

‘When Jimmy Armfield took over after Cloughie [1974], I was waiting for the insurers. Jimmy asked me to coach the

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