Leeds United 100 - Eddie Gray: It meant everything to me to play for Leeds

Leeds United legend Eddie Gray at the YEPs live Q&A event.Leeds United legend Eddie Gray at the YEPs live Q&A event.
Leeds United legend Eddie Gray at the YEPs live Q&A event.
No man is bigger than Leeds United, but Eddie Gray pushes it close.

The 71-year-old embodies what the football club stands for in every sense, and as the Whites celebrate their centenary birthday there is no better figurehead to be at the forefront.

A little under 600 appearances as a player over a near 20-year playing career with the club secured his status as a hero, but what has followed since has seen him become a true club legend.

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Leeds United without Eddie Gray is unthinkable, and for Gray life without the Whites is very much the same. A player, as Don Revie once stated, who when playing in the snow would never leave any footprints.

Gray has dedicated his life to Leeds. Helping the club reach new heights on the pitch, before being a calm figure in leading one of the darkest hours off it.

As the motto goes; keep fighting – and Gray is someone who epitomises that spirit.

“It’s been my life since I was 15,” he reflected.

“It means everything. You grow up playing at a football club, and when I look back on my career at Leeds I’ve been a youth-team player, a reserve-team player, first-team player, youth-team coach, reserve-team coach, first-team coach, assistant manager and manager.

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“That encompasses everything in a footballing sense. The city of Leeds and the fans have been great to me over the years.

“There’s only one club in this city and it’s huge. Everybody here likes the football club to do extremely well. It can be a hostile place to come and play, which I like. And I hope it’s hostile for every team that comes here.”

As a dazzling left winger, Gray was a key figure in the club’s famed glory years under Revie in the late 60s and early 70s, helping United win two First Division titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup along with two Fairs Cup trophies and a Charity Shield.

A team heralded in history as ‘Dirty Leeds’, but a team who ripped through English football at will under Revie’s stewardship. Gray was also part of Jimmy Armfield’s squad that reached the 1975 European Cup final, where Leeds were controversially beaten by Bayern Munich in Paris, an occasion fans still sing about to this very day.

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Gray, though, had to be sold the dream by the man who masterminded it all before embarking on a journey from his home town of Glasgow to unknown West Yorkshire.

“I’d never heard of Leeds,” he said.

“That’s an amazing thing to say, but when I was growing up the big teams were Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 50s, Matt Busby’s babes and the great Tottenham team in the early 60s.

“I came down in 1962 and the manager at the time – Don Revie – he was so persuasive. He looked after you, he made you feel as if you were a superstar when you were 15.

“That’s why I came to the club. It meant everything to me to play for the club, and I played in different eras. I played in the 60s, 70s and 80s and enjoyed every single minute of it.”

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Now, after taking up every possible role at Elland Road, Gray is looking to the future as an ambassador for what has gone before.

“I just hope the next 100 years are as good as the last,” he said.

“I hope the players here have the success like the team I was in, like Howard Wilkinson’s great team and, to a certain extent, David O’Leary’s team in getting to the Champions League semi-finals.

“I really hope they can go on and emulate that for the football club and themselves. That’s what we all want for Leeds United players.”

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