Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd Legend Eddie “The Last Waltz” Gray – by Rob Atkinson

A dapper Eddie pictured in front of a dapper, all-standing Kop

A dapper Eddie pictured in front of a dapper, all-standing Kop

It’s “Legends Birthday Time” again, and today we almost belatedly celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the birth of Sir Edwin “The Last Waltz” Gray, genius winger, loyal Leeds man through and through and thoroughly bloody nice bloke, as Tim Nice-But-Dim might say – only this time, he’d be spot on.  It was Don Revie who once said of Eddie “If that lad hadn’t pulled a muscle, nobody would ever have heard of George Best”. That’s certainly fulsome praise and a hell of a tribute to a lavishly talented player, surely one of the very best ever to pull on a Leeds United shirt.

The memories of Eddie are many, mainly as that gifted player who would torture full-backs with a genial smile on his face, but also as a manager at Leeds, in charge of a precociously gifted set of youngsters who could have gone far with just that little bit of extra investment – sound familiar? Eddie has also served his time as a pundit, commenting on the latter-day performances of his beloved Leeds United, always straining so hard for impartiality and endeavouring to avoid accusations of bias – indeed, some out here sometimes feel he tried a little too hard in this respect.  But I’ve had the honour of meeting the man a few times, and one of these was on the commentary gantry at Elland Road – when he was preoccupied by the need to find me a chair to sit on, much to my bemused delight – so I’m well aware of Eddie’s professionalism as a broadcaster, just as was the case in his days as a player, manager and of course as the coach in those promising early David O’Leary days.

It is as a player that Eddie will best be remembered and revered by Leeds United fans of all ages.  Those who weren’t lucky enough to see him play in person may well have thrilled to video footage of his bravura performance in the 1970 FA Cup Final when, on an absolute pig of a pitch chopped-up by the Horse of the Year Show, he put in one of his greatest and most tantalising displays of sorcery out wide, reducing David Webb to a gibbering shadow of his normally efficient self.  Legend has it that Webb eventually had to be taken off with severe vapours and twisted blood – sadly he was to have his revenge in a replay gifted to Chelsea by the inevitable Sprake big-match cock-up.

Another vivid memory is of Eddie’s bewitching dance through the Burnley defence in a league match at Elland Road, when he took on and beat opponents just as he pleased before drilling a sublime near-post finish past a bewildered Peter Mellor in the Dingles goal.  It is this match that brings out Mr Gray’s slight perverse streak; he scored two that day and he always insists that it’s the other goal – a superbly-judged 35 yard lob at the Gelderd End – which he remembers as his best.  But nobody who has seen the way he destroyed a top class defence with that mazy run, will ever forget it.  It was a bit like the famous Ricky Villa goal for Spurs at Wembley – except much better.

More generally, it’s the characteristic hunched shape of Eddie Gray that you remember – never totally reliant on speed, he would beat his man with pure skill, manifesting itself in a variety of tricks, shuffles, stepovers and other sundry pieces of magic. His long-term thigh injury, sustained as a mere youngster, led him to rely far more on technique than pace and mobility, although he was no laggard either. But such were his sublime skills that he stands as possibly the last great example of the old-fashioned tricky winger, a man who could play an entire top-flight defence as a toreador plays a bull, a player of prodigious style, skill and élan.

Mere words cannot, of course, do justice to Eddie Gray the player or Eddie Gray the man. Leeds United have been privileged by the service and unstinting support of both, and they have not always played fair by him in his various roles at the club.  But Eddie Gray’s place in the Elland Road Hall of Fame is as secure as that of any other Legend in the whole history of the club; he is synonymous with Leeds, which is after all the place he has lived and worked for most of his life since the age of 15 – not that anyone could guess this whilst trying to understand his impenetrably Scottish accent.

It was my pleasure and privilege to watch Eddie Gray weave his magic for Leeds United many times between 1975 and the end of his playing days, by which time he had become a cultured full-back who also managed the team.  His long and illustrious career gives the lie to Brian Clough‘s infamous remark that, had he been a racehorse, he’d have been shot – a jibe at that long-standing injury.  This was surely the most oafish remark that even Clough – a quite legendary oaf – ever made.  Gray, that most mild-mannered of men, took exception – reminding Clough, who was his manager at the time, that his own career was ended by injury and that he should, therefore, know better than to say anything so crass.  I’d have given plenty to see Old Big’ead‘s face when that shot went home.

Eddie Gray – genius, magician, legend – and not least of these attributes, the nicest guy you could wish to meet.  A slightly overdue, just in time Happy Birthday, Eddie, and many, many happy returns.

25 responses to “Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd Legend Eddie “The Last Waltz” Gray – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Leeds Tuppa

    Wonderful writer Rob, simply the best. I’m in awe of your matchless talent and superb style. Fantastic, brilliant, amazing – what else can I say??


  2. sniffershorts

    proper Legend that goal against Burnley where he skipped through their bewildered defenders …. magical …. look it up on you tube…. the look on their faces is like WTF brilliant ….. and as Loyal as Loyal will ever be happy birthday Giant …… him and sniffer were my boyhood moulds, I could never mimick the way he seemed to be straight armed and dribbling the ball, balance poise and never scared to advance take a player on a score pure class ….. but always wore my shorts like sniffer …… low on the hips he was so damned cool ha …. But Eddie true genius cut short by injury ….. all misty eyed at remembering Revies Rovers again …. spirits are up again for tomorrow bring it on LEEDS


  3. Every top player I have watched in the Whites shirt from late 60’s well capability to control time and space; EG is perfect example but of course other are like Bobby Collins Billy Bremner, John Giles Tony Currie, John Sheridan list is countless. But as most of the fans now a day is looking for pace well if your skills are in the top level you have always time to make moves for the benefit of your Team. So happy birthday Eddie and thanks for the memories of master class football of Drs Band of Brothers as a strong member of that bunch.



  4. Iain Alcorn

    I have supported Leeds United for over 60 years. in most of those years we have been blessed with having a “mighty Mouse” a powerhouse small man who had the will to win, and drive his team mates on. Such determination is infectious. Go back through the years and you can see their influence on the side Wilbur Cush, Bobby Collins ( in my opinion the best pound for pound footballer I have ever seen) Billy Bremner and latterly Gordon Strachen. Oh what we would give to have any one of those playingnow. Even one big fella in the form of Vinnie Jones (more ability than ever given credit for) would do. This is what is missing, a driving force in midfield. From what I have seen of the current crop of players there is only one possible player who can come any where close to that mantle, and that player is Paul Green who has been injured for such a long time.
    I hope that when he does return he quickly returns to the progressive form he was showing before the injury.
    I cannot go without comment on your photo comments about Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson, Both Very good managers I agree, but both in my opinion had flaws, which ultimately cost us dear.
    Don Revie had the fear of losing which, in many games caused him to try to close the game down only to lose a late goal and end up with a draw in agme that we should have won handsomely. How many more titles would we have won had he that little more belief.
    Howard Wilkinson, I never thought that he could handle a Star player,
    at Sheffield Wednesday he bought Mark Chamberlain but once he became a fans favourite, he lwas rarely played. At Leeds First Vinnie Jones, then Eric Cantona became cult characters in the eyes of the fans,
    They were both transferred. Cantona being all Manchester Uniteds Birthdays and Christmas presents rolled into one. I ask you £1 million for the most exiting player in the country had he wanted away £5 million should have been the minimum, and £10 million to Man Utd.
    Finally I hope that Saturdays crowd give a fitting tribute to Bobby Collins who apart from being just about my best player ever seen, was most influencial in moulding the great Leeds team, how they benefitted from his guideance.


  5. Without doubt the most gifted man ever to pull on the white shirt. Pure genius and having met him a couple of times i endorse everything you say, a great man. Happy birthday Eddie and many more to come.


  6. I saw Eddie make his debut at home to Sheffield Wednesday. I’m speaking from memory again here Rob and I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong but I think it was in 1967; as was usual at the time we were well in the hunt for several trophies and, with a bigger game at the weekend the Don fielded a team of reserves and juniors for this midweek match. He said he’d do this in advance and the Press were going to town over the sanctions the League would impose. But we confounded them by beating Wednesday’s (at that time very decent) first team 1-0.
    I can’t remember now if Eddie scored the goal but, irrespective, his sheer class stood out; a youngster on his debut was clearly the best player on the pitch. Next day at school I told anybody who would listen what a fantastic star of the future I had seen. Happy days!


  7. Happy Birthday Eddie, a great player in a great team thanks for the excitement you gave us on Saturday afternoon.



  8. Happy Birthday Eddie Gray … probably the most skilful player to ever wear a Leeds United shirt and my own all time favourite player. Thanks for the memories and the loyalty.


  9. You kind of stole my thunder in your first paragraph,i was going to say………well i’ll say it anyway,he was better than George Best. There i’ve said it.The difference wasn’t just his suprior talent and temperment but also his application and ability to pass the ball,the latter being a basic skill which was missing from GBs, repertoire. Eddie used to play with his socks rolled down too,they don’t make them like him anymore, sadly.


  10. I can’t praise Eddie enough , on a recent post rob you mentioned that you had found it difficult to communicate with the suits at ER these days regarding the scattering of ashes , well this was my experience back in the day when Eddie was manager , my brother died during this period and my mum wrote a letter to Eddie requesting we could scatter his ashes on the pitch , not only did Eddie reply but he met us on the day and walked us down the tunnel onto the pitch ,


  11. My favourite Leeds player of all time, a better player than Best, and unlike the Irishman, he never beat his wife up 😉 The goal against Burnley my all time favourite goal.

    From one Scotsman to another Happy Birthday Edwin, and heres to a celebratory 4-3 win for the boys tomorrow as a belated Birthday present


  12. Reality Cheque

    That is a truly fitting tribute Rob to Mr Leeds United whom I also had the pleasure of watching and admiring throughout the 70’s onwards

    I was also fortunate to meet him personally in his professional capacity as manager of Leeds United and admire the sensitivity & confidentiality with which he handled and resolved a very difficult situation, the details of which must remain private in the interests of all parties concerned

    I guess the only word that fully encapsulates everything Eddie has ever done and continues to do for Leeds United Rob,is “AMBASSADOR”. What an absolute gentleman. Happy Birthday Eddie


  13. Life is LUFC

    I have missed Eddie this season, his dulcet tones and his honest comments about the match and players on both sides. It’s hard to decide who was my favourite Revie era player because in their own ways they are all hero’s and legends. Happy birthday Eddie and happy days.
    By the way who is this George Best you write of…….the only one I recall tottered about the pitch for that lot in red and white in a third rate team from over’t Pennines 😂😂😂😂😂 that demolition job in 1972 and our Eddie got the first one.


  14. Life is LUFC

    You’ve done it again you little devil….2014


  15. Agree with every word, Rob. He was also criminally under-capped by Scotland (a paltry 12 appearances over 8 years) – I often wonder what the hell the SFA were thinking about over all that time? But it is, of course, his club appearances that provide the greatest memories. Re his humiliation of David Webb in 1970 – a year or two ago I watched some footage of that match, and some comments from Webb himself recorded many years later (some blurb about not being able to get near Eddie because, with it being his first Wembley appearance, he ‘wanted to enjoy the occasion’. I’m still trying to make sense of that remark!).


  16. Iain Alcorn

    Hi Rob, apart from your occasional diversions into politics, you write so little that l disagree with, had l been so gifted l could almost have penned myself. I’m now just 2 months short of my 74th year, and have supported United, “and there is only one”, since l was a 5 year old sitting on my fathers shoulders. I well remember every week standing on the cinder bank behind the goal with my schoolboys pass watching 1st and reserve team matches. I can still remember the names of most if not all of the “then” players. Watching the reserves changed quite dramatically when the Don became manager, it became much more a youth team. Apart from the Dons arrival as manager one other event led to the rise of the greatest team this country has seen. Shortly after he became manager, l can vividly remember coming out of my workplace to see a Yorkshire Post plackard ” United pay £22,000 for Everton player” l hope its Bobby Collins l thought to myself, and smiled all the way home on the bus. reading the paper. That was the start. The Don saw things in players that wasn’t immediately apparent, as an instance after watching a very inept winger in the reserves for a number of weeks, l saw something l couldn’t believe,
    His name appeared on the first team sheet playing what was then left half, Norman Hunter. That reserve youth formed a great part of our wonderful squad. The most gifted of all being Eddie Gray. What a player !!!
    On the pitch Bobby Collins nurtured and cajoled them to become as great as they were. Even then, we struggled to produce that star striker, we had to delve into the transfer market, Don Weston, Jim Storrie, Bobby Davidson, Alan Clarke, Mick Jones, Joe Jordan, Ian Baird, Lee Chapman, Mark Viduka etc. etc. The best we have produced was Noel Whelan, who no matter what billing he gets on radio Leeds, is hardly a Legend in the same mould as Charles, Collins, Bremner, Gray or many others from our great history.
    I wish Eddie many more happy returns,
    and you many more incisive articles.


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