Tag Archives: Eddie Gray

Don Revie and Leeds Could Have Saved the Life of Man United’s Tragic George Best – by Rob Atkinson

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The late, not so great George Best

In George Best, the football world lost a massive talent if not a truly great player, when the maverick Irishman died prematurely at only 59 in 2005. In the twelve years since his tragic death, the debate has continued over his place in football, his ranking among the legends of the game. Best was a genius technically, blessed with the skills to enable him to do pretty much whatever he wanted on the football field. But he was also a flawed and addictive personality, less able than most professionals to deal with the pressures of professional football, more likely to be swayed from the straight and narrow by the temptations that would face any rich and over-hyped young man.

That being the case, Best could hardly have suffered a worse fate than to be taken onto the books of Manchester United as a callow youth, there to develop as a skillful footballer, but also to be lost in the maelstrom of hype and self-aggrandisement that has dogged the Old Trafford club since the start of the Matt Busby era and, particularly, since the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. For Best, it was the wrong club at the wrong time; he needed a different approach and a less relentlessly goldfish bowl existence. Stronger, less easily-led personalities than George Best prospered at Old Trafford, but the combination of George’s skill, personal attractiveness and extreme marketability made him ripe to be chewed up and spat out by the Man Utd/media publicity machine. Therein, the seeds of his eventual destruction were sown; Best was doomed by the unfortunate circumstance of becoming a Man United prodigy, his downhill path plotted even while he was enjoying such spectacular, early success.

It could all have been so different for George Best. What he needed was a better and more professional environment, somewhere his stellar talent could have been harnessed for the benefit of a crack team of inseparable brothers. Somewhere with a “Side before self, every time” mentality, with a manager who treated his players like sons and their wives and girlfriends like daughters-in-law, a place and a club where press flattery did not venture, but where instead a siege complex was fostered that strengthened the squad from within. George Best, had he but known it, needed Don Revie and Leeds United; if history had worked out differently, and Best had grown up alongside the likes of Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and ex-Man Utd star John Giles, then I would venture to suggest that his development and indeed his whole existence would have been along such radically different lines, he may well have been still alive today.

George was let down by his football club, its management and the surrounding hype and worldwide acclaim. He was considered by many to be the greatest of all time, a view he would publicly endorse on his own behalf on many occasions. And that says a lot about George, about his inadequate standards and lack of humility. It’s something that would have been ironed out of him swiftly and early at Elland Road. Such conceit was frowned upon in the ultra-professional environment at Leeds, where individual skill was fostered and encouraged mainly within the pattern and demands of team requirements. Those were of paramount importance in Revie’s blueprint, so you had world-class talents like Gray, Bremner and Giles willing, nay, eager to devote their own brand of genius to securing the optimum team results. They’d have kept young George’s feet on the ground alright, and the Leeds backroom staff would have been there every step of the way, nurturing Best’s talent, inculcating the team ethic, bringing him down when that was needed, boosting him when necessary. The fact that Eddie Gray succeeded at Leeds was proof that a properly motivated and disciplined Best could have succeeded as well – and he’d have a had a long career, a longer life, if only that could have been the case.

It’s such a shame about George. The Manchester scene was all wrong for him, as would most probably have been that of London. Moreover, the club where he landed, at such a tender age, was in the business of producing legends, media stars to feed the delusions of their fans and meet the post-Munich hype and voracious desire to be the biggest, the best, the most glamorous. It takes a hardy seedling to prosper and grow in a hothouse like that and, despite early promise and a devastating few years of gaudy brilliance, George was doomed to wither and fade far too soon. The scars of that traumatic fall – he won his last club honour at only 22 – affected him for the rest of his life, leaving him easy prey for unscrupulous advantage takers, and for the buzz and temporary relief provided by alcohol. Who can deny that the more focused atmosphere and environment of Leeds United would have kept Best on the right path, providing him with a stage on which his technical genius could flourish, giving him the tangible rewards his prime deserved and yet never received?

In the public consciousness, Best was the Best – because we’ve been relentlessly told that’s the case, which has a lot to do obviously with the media circus and public adulation surrounding such an over-hyped football club. But sober analysis identifies Best as a genius footballer who was not a team player, not a very professional player and certainly not, over the span of his career, a world-class performer. Best, for all his talents, was not in the top twenty of all-time greats – but he should have been. He could perhaps have been right up there, among the best of the best. That he wasn’t and isn’t is something revisionists will deny, but a look at the facts and stats tells its own damning story.

George Best could gave been a much greater footballer, and he could still have been with us today. If only he’d been lucky enough to have started out, under Don Revie, at Leeds United, just as the Super Leeds legend was being born in the early sixties. What a different and infinitely happier story his might then have been.

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When Birthday Boy Jasper’s Winner Gave Leeds Hope of Staying Up – by Rob Atkinson

Jasper

Jasper: Happy Birthday

On the occasion of former United stalwart Kevin Hird‘s 59th birthday, there’s an opportunity not to be missed – to look back on a memorable win over this evening’s opponents Brighton & Hove Albion.  This victory gave Leeds some short-lived hope of avoiding relegation from the First Division, way back in 1982.  This was a match notable also for the ferocious atmosphere generated by a relatively small crowd of 19,831.  The attendances at Elland Road had dwindled to little more than the hard-core of true fanatics in what would turn out to be a disastrous season – but on days like this, the reduced numbers bizarrely added to the volume and intensity of support; serving only to magnify the pandemonium and chaos when we scored and won.

So it was that one of the best atmospheres ever at Elland Road was reserved for the club’s last top-flight home match for over eight years, as relegation was just a few days away for Allan Clarke‘s men, ending a First Division stint that went back to 1963.  But for those few days, it seemed that escape from the drop was possible, as goals from Gary Hamson – a spectacular thirty-yarder – and Kevin “Jasper” Hird, so nicknamed for his uncanny resemblance to Brummie comic Jasper Carrott, saw United come from behind to defeat Brighton.  Elland Road rocked, with a noisy mixture of hope and relief.  The hope was in vain as it turned out, but this match, this nail-biting comeback, was a fitting swan-song for Leeds who, when they eventually came back, showed that they meant business under Wilko. Watch below as an era ends.

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 celebrate the 66th 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 tries 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 most recently as the coach in those promising early David O’Leary days.

It is, of course, 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 elan.

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 Clough – a quite legendary oaf – ever made.  Even 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.  Happy Birthday, Eddie, and many, many happy returns.