Michael Gray has found that when one door opens – allowing him to embark on a promising new career as a TV and radio pundit – another he wishes had closed years ago stays open, wider than ever.
As he puts it in a terrific interview in The Guardian:
“Nobody’s interested in my England caps, in me finishing seventh in the Premier League with Sunderland or Blackburn … none of the good stuff. All they want to hear about is that bloody penalty. I don’t mind that now but at the start it was one of those stories I didn’t want to talk about. But looking back, I think it marked a point where I became a stronger person and it helped get me to where I got in my career.”
So he wouldn’t necessarily thank Salut! Sunderland for repeating Stephen Worthy‘s account from the Blackcats list – except that it does add wonderfully to the folkore surrounding those momentous few seconds of a momentous day …
Might have mentioned here before but a mate of mine, Luke Nicoli, who I worked with at Match magazine, is best mates with SKP. Grew up in same street in Stevenage, played junior football together. Luke eventually ghosted Kev’s autobiography.
Well, the two of us were in the Wembley press box that day. As Colin and others here will know, there’s a sense of decorum expected here. But with me a Sunderland fan and Luke, a Gooner but backing his mate all the way, we were up and down like a bride’s nighty the entire 90 mins. The Wembley press officer had a stern word with us at one point but soon the entire press corps were joining in, jumping up and down. It was extraordinary.
After the game, we went down to the players bar. Kev came over carrying his Championship/Div 1 player of the year award (a big golden boot in a case, IIRC). I had to stand with it between my legs as SKP went off to be interviewed. There was a small knot of us standing around, drinking Guinness. We watches as a steady procession of players streamed through. Quinny. Lionel. Nicky S. Bally.
But one was missing. A good half hour after all the other players from both sides were in there, drinking, there was still no Mickey Gray. Then he appeared. It was as if he was trying to crawl around the walls, to blend in so he couldn’t be seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so glum.
You wanted to give him a cuddle. As Eddie Waring once said after Don Fox missed that easy penalty for Wakefield in the Challenge Cup Final – the poor, poor lad.
It was a brilliant, tragic, magical, awful day.
* M Salut adds: thanks once again for the excellent service you gave Sunderland, Mickey, and good luck with the new career. Here’s another extract from the Guardian piece:
Is it true the Sunderland team stopped on the way home and embarked on an epic booze-up? “Yeah, we did,” he says. “We got on the bus and got a certain way down the M1, pulled in to a hotel where they had stuff lined up for us and we just had a big drink. There were fans in there, we all had family there, and we all drowned our sorrows.”
And is it true shame forced Gray to go “missing” for several days, only to eventually turn up in a state of drunken disrepair at some cricket match or other? “Yeah, that’s true,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t really want to talk to anyone and there were people knocking on the door, so Peter Reid invited me over to his place in Yarm for a few drinks. He told me I’d been brilliant for him and encouraged me to use the next season to put things right, which is great because I needed to hear that.
“So I stayed with him for a couple of days and then myself and a few of the lads travelled to Yorkshire to watch a few friends of ours playing cricket for Durham. We had a few too many drinks and a bit of banter with Darren Gough on the sideline … it was just one of those summers where I let myself go for the first couple of weeks and then knuckled down and got myself fit and raring to go for the next one.”