Frank Gray recalls fondly when ten-man Leeds United held Barca

Frank Gray
Frank Gray
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Being the younger brother of one of United’s most celebrated players never fazed Frank Gray who also enjoyed some memorable times at Leeds. Leon Wobschall reports.

THE FAMILY feel that the late, great Don Revie cultivated at Leeds United in the sixties and early seventies took on a special resonance for Frank Gray.

Britain’s best may have beaten a path to his door in his formative years, but Gray – brought up in the football-rich Glasgow suburb of Castlemilk where his older brother Eddie, Arthur Graham and Ray Houghton hailed from, along with modern-day players such as Aiden McGeady, James McArthur and Ikechi Anya – only had eyes for one venue.

Elland Road, where his elder sibling was one of the household names in football.

Gray, a Celtic ball-boy as a youngster, could have signed for the Hoops and had his pick of other clubs, including Arsenal and Manchester United. But Leeds had an irresistible pull.

Gray, now 60 and Nottingham Forest’s scout in the south of England, said: “Eddie was obviously already at Leeds and I’d been going down three or four years every school holiday and I got to know the place and club. It was just a logical step to sign for them.

“It was probably easier for me than some of the other lads. It was a good progression for me; I remember all the England-versus Scotland five-a-sides and don’t remember England winning too many!

“When I signed in 1970, they were just about reaching their peak.

“Don was as great man-manager and took a great interest in all the players as individuals, not just as footballers. He took interest in their families and that brought the players closer to the club.”

Gray made his bow against Crystal Palace in April 1973, with another memorable night following the next month, unfortunately for the wrong reasons in the Greek city of Salonika when Leeds were denied victory thanks to a woeful refereeing performance in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.

It was a sign of things to come with Gray part of the Leeds side who suffered one of the greatest injustices in football on that fateful night in Paris, forty years ago this May.

That represented an “if only” moment as did the 1976-77 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Hillsborough and the 1978-79 League Cup last-four clash with Southampton.

But Gray, who had a second spell at Leeds after returning in the early eighties from Nottingham Forest, had plenty of highs to savour.

Gray, who started his Leeds career in left-midfield before being switched by Jimmy Armfield to left-back on Boxing Day 1974, said: “I remember scoring on my debut versus Crystal Palace and that was a special day. Eddie also scored on his debut for Leeds, so it was nice to do the same thing.

“When I was 18, I managed to play in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final against AC Milan as well, which we lost unfortunately.

“We felt a little bit cheated as we did in the Bayern Munich game. In both finals, we were on the end of some dubious refereeing decisions.

“Looking back, when Don Revie left, I think those at the club at the time realised they made a mistake when they didn’t appoint Johnny Giles or even Billy at the time to carry on that continuity.

“They went for Brian Clough, who admitted in later years that he went about the job the wrong way. But in saying that, Jimmy Armfield came in and we got to the European Cup final..”

When pressed to pick one United highlight, Gray – who played a handful of games in the 1973-74 title-winning campaign but didn’t pick up a medal – would go for one spring night in Catalonia in April 1975.

The venue was Barcelona’s Camp Nou where United claimed a heroic 1-1 draw, despite Gordon McQueen’s dismissal, to seal a 2-1 aggregate success in an epic European Cup semi-final second leg.

It was the penultimate hurdle to cross before the ultimate coronation...

Alas, it was not to be with Leeds the greatest British side never to have lifted the continent’s biggest prize.

Gray added: For me, the semi-final against Barcelona was a real highlight when they supposedly had the great side with (Johan) Cruyff and (Johan) Neeskens.

“It was a fantastic performance from the club and one of the highlights. Cruyff was the most expensive player in the world at the time, but we kept him fairly quiet over the two games and he didn’t cause us too many problems. We kept 110,000 fans fairly quiet, too.”