Three-and-a-half months have elapsed since David Gray wrote himself into Hibs folklore with his dramatic Scottish Cup final winner against Rangers.
Although the focus has turned to a new season and a fresh bid for promotion to the Premiership, the sense of euphoria which has gripped the club ever since the captain’s intervention on May 21 shows no sign of ebbing away.
With one Hampden header, Gray became the unlikely hero of a triumph that will remain prominent in the memory of thousands of people until their dying day. Not one to court the limelight, the 28-year-old admits his new status as a living legend in his home city has taken some getting used to.
“I’ve tried to not let it change me too much,” he said. “I’d like to think I’m very level-headed so I try to go about my business the same way I always do, but obviously I have noticed a change in the response I get in every-day stuff. I get recognised a lot more when I go into shops and things like that. I don’t know how much I got recognised before the cup final, but I certainly get a lot more people coming up to me now than I did before because everybody wants to know the story.
“The reaction’s changed for the better – it’s always nice when people say nice things about you. I think the supporters are definitely warmer towards me since May. I think that’s the case for all the players that were involved, to be honest. The reaction from everyone has been fantastic and you can see that in the crowds we’ve been getting. It’s been great to see how much it means to the fans.”
In the wake of his cup final glory moment, Gray has been the subject of a relentless flow of requests for pictures and autographs, while he also found himself penning the foreword to a book about Hibs’ triumph. “I’ve had a lot of people looking for pictures and things like that,” he said. “I’ve written a foreword for a book, which is something I could never have imagined doing when I came here. It’s hard to take it all in because I don’t see myself as the kind of person would go down that route. I’m just a normal person who wants to enjoy my football. I try not to let it effect me too much and stay concentrated on my football because that’s the most important thing and it’s what I get judged on. I don’t just sit and think about scoring the winner all the time. I have watched it back quite a few times but I am more proud of the fact I was captain the day we won it.”
Exactly two months after making history with only his fifth career goal, Gray, remarkably, conjured another memorable strike that had Hibs fans in raptures when his goal in Copenhagen helped his team take Brondby to penalties.
“The Brondby game was another great experience because I’d never played in Europe before,” he said. “Off the back of winning the cup, it was another high point that continued the feelgood factor. We were disappointed we didn’t win the shootout but it was great to see the response from the fans. I’ve heard a lot of stories and seen videos fans about how much they enjoyed the goal and the trip.”
Having followed up his big-match goals by helping Hibs hit the Championship summit with four wins from four, Gray’s belief levels are, understandably, soaring at present. “I think you’ve always got to be confident when things like that are happening,” he said. “But the main thing that gives me confidence at the minute is that I know I’m playing in a really good side. The manager’s got a tough decision every week because of the strength of squad we’ve got.”
While things are motoring along nicely for Neil Lennon’s team on the park, off-the-field efforts to capitalise on the Scottish Cup triumph and grow the fan base continue at pace. There have been Scottish Cup party nights at Easter Road, while the club are currently in the midst of a Scottish Cup Trophy Tour, in which they are visiting 114 venues around Edinburgh and the surrounding area to spread the word about their momentous victory. Players are in demand at every event they attend, with Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial dinner at the Corn Exchange on Saturday night, which drew 950 people, providing yet another example of the current connection between the club and its re-energised supporters.
“Not just me individually, but the club as a whole have been asked to do more in terms of appearing at events and things like that because everyone wants to be part of it,” said Gray. “It’s been such a long wait to win the Scottish Cup, and I think the club are doing a really good job of trying to embrace with the fans. It’s great because the fans are the most important people in the club and they need to feel involved.”