Behind the banter and emotion of League Cup final reunion night at the weekend…..some interesting food for thought.
Did Wolves think Andy Gray was capable of doing something he wasn’t capable of when, in 1979, they briefly made him British football’s most expensive player?
Did the Barnwell-Barker think-tank misjudge the strengths of the Scottish international star who they hoisted out of Aston Villa and unveiled on the Molineux pitch early in September, 1979?
“We didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Andy,” Barnwell’s assistant Richie Barker revealed to the gathering at Brierley Hill’s Copthorne Hotel on Friday.
And there was an interesting interruption when Gray, also by now up on stage with compere Paul Franks, suggested Wolves had signed the wrong man with their £1,469,000 if they wanted someone to win towering headers at the far post. “Excuse me but we thought that’s just what you could do!” Barker retorted, to some amusement.
It must be stressed, almost 34 years on, that the exchanges were light-hearted, with the no 2 adding: “John Barnwell used to say: ‘Get Andy away from the ball. He wanted him in the inside-right or inside-left position and wanted Kenny Hibbitt or Willie Carr to put it in there.”
Gray, who had cost Villa a then club record £110,000 when he joined them from Dundee United in 1975, clearly believes his attributes were better suited to the team in another way.
The gist of his reasonign was: “I was used to darting to the front post or the middle of the goal. But they told me to go to the back post and head it back across goal.
“I told them I could get 25 or 30 goals a season at the front post but that if they wanted someone to go to the back stick and score a lot, they needed someone else.”
‘Differences’ or not, Gray made a favourable impact at Molineux. Six months before his invaluable tap-in winner against Nottingham Forest at Wembley, he netted in each of his first three League matches for the club – against Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal (2) no less.
All told, he scored 45 goals in 162 competitive games for Wolves, who were painfully in need of cash when they sold him to Everton for £250,000 in the autumn of 1983.
While at Goodison, he added to his two League Cups (the first won with Villa) by picking up League Championship, FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup medals.
Wonder whether Richie, now 73, ever got hold of the stats as to where his goals came from!