As David Gray basks in the Majorcan sunshine, his beaming parents are still getting to grips with their new-found status as local celebrities.
At this time last week, Elaine and Peter Gray were merely the mother and father of a relatively unheralded Hibs captain. Ever since their boy scored the stoppage-time goal against Rangers last Saturday that ended his club’s infamous 114-year wait for Scottish Cup glory, however, this humble Roslin couple have had to get used to widespread adulation.
“I’m the proudest mum in the world, I really am,” said Elaine, as she and her husband invited the Evening News into their home to reflect on their “modest wee laddie” becoming a Hibs legend. “My dream was just to see him lift a cup – any cup – but for him to do it like that, it was amazing. When I saw that it was him running away celebrating after the goal, I was like ‘that’s my laddie’, and I just started roaring and greeting like a bairn. Me and Peter and the rest of the family just cuddled each other. Once he lifted the cup, he passed it on and came and gave us a cuddle. It was the best moment ever.”
The Grays have been treated like royalty in their hometown of Roslin and further afield. “Just in the village itself, it’s been amazing,” said Elaine. “9am on Sunday, I got a knock at the door and it was a woman from along the street, who’s a Hibby, and she just wanted to give me a cuddle. Then I took Ella, my granddaughter, to school [Roslin primary], and a lady came up with a bouquet of flowers for me. It was the same school David went to and Ella’s teacher had told the whole school about what David had done and what it meant.
“I went out to the fishmonger in the street and he gave me a cuddle and said ‘Mrs Gray, that was absolutely amazing’. I got a lot of fish, and he said no charge. He just wanted me to take a picture of David away and get it signed for him. I was in the garden centre and somebody who I hardly knew came up to me and said ‘your boy’s a legend’. A Hearts supporter up the road came with a bottle of champagne for us. We took my dad to the Original Hotel on Monday and they gave us a drink. The owners said the place was jumping on Saturday and that the champagne was flowing. Most of the pub were Hearts supporters but they were just delighted for David.
“David’s sister, Karen, got a text on Wednesday from her friend saying that one of her other friends – who none of us know – had a baby on Sunday and had given it the middle name ‘Gray’ in honour of David. That’s just incredible. When we were in Leith Links on Sunday watching the end of the open-top bus parade, it was amazing to think that all of these scenes were because my boy had scored that goal. People were looking at us, going ‘that’s David’s family’. We felt like celebrities.”
Peter, who works for a hydraulic engineering company in Loanhead, added: “It’s still not sunk in yet. I’ve had people at work coming up to me saying ‘your laddie’s a hero’. The boy who runs the canteen at my work told me I’ll eat for free for the rest of my life. He said he was going to get a tattoo of David.”
Despite being on the books of Manchester United as a youngster, Gray has, until last weekend, kept a relatively low profile in his homeland. An unstinting dedication to his profession has ensured he has always kept himself off the front pages of newspapers – until the past week, that is. At the end of a physically and mentally demanding season, those closest to the Hibs skipper were delighted to see him enjoy his moment in the limelight before heading to Spain on holiday with his fiancée Hayley and daughter Ivy.
“He doesn’t court the celebrity footballer lifestyle, so it was unusual for him to be out in town, finding himself the main man and having everybody wanting to get photos with him,” said Elaine. “He’s barely been home. He was out both nights after the game – he stayed at John McGinn’s flat on Saturday night, I think they all did – and then he was away on holiday on Tuesday. I don’t think it’s sunk in for him yet.”
Peter knew how much cup glory meant to his son when he told him afterwards that he’d allowed himself to imagine scoring the winner. “He’s a modest lad who never likes to get too far ahead of himself, but he admitted to me afterwards that him and Liam Fontaine were discussing what it would be like to score the winner, and the fairytale came true,” said Peter. “I see all his matches through Gray eyes so I always know where he is on the pitch. I knew straight away that he had scored. As soon as the delivery came in, I thought ‘aye, he’s getting to that’. Then the tears started to flow.”
Elaine and Peter took great pride at seeing David progress from Loanhead Boys Club, to Hearts Boys Club, to Hearts Initiative and then on to the mighty Manchester United, where he was on the books from the age of 16 to 22. He made one appearance for the English giants in a League Cup tie at Crewe in October 2006 and looked destined for first-team stardom under Sir Alex Ferguson until cruciate damage knocked him off course and consigned him to several years in England’s lower leagues before his move to Hibs two years ago. “He’s always played football since he was a tot, from morning till night,” said Elaine. “Before Saturday, the highlight of his career for me was the day he signed for Manchester United although it was also a sad day because he was leaving home.”
Peter, who played for Penicuik Juniors and Whitehill Welfare, explained how the Manchester United move arose. “When he was eight, I took David to Loanhead Boys Club and I was friendly with a boy called John Thorburn, from Penicuik. I’d played junior with him and he was the scout for Coventry at the time. He said, ‘if your laddie doesn’t make it as a footballer, he’ll make it as a sprinter because he’s that fast. I’ll be keeping my eye on him’. He ended up becoming the Man United scout who helped take David down there.
“Back then he was a winger, but I’d drummed it into him from a very young age that ‘as long you go in hard, you’ll not get hurt’. So for a winger to actually be able to tackle as well as run and cross a ball made him appealing to clubs at a young age.
“We were starstruck when we got an inkling Man United were interested, but we were more interested in trying to keep his feet on the ground and make sure he got a good education. He stayed at Beeslack High School until he was 16 and then he went to school two days a week in Manchester. That was a big part of us allowing him to go down, that he’d have to finish his education. When he went down the road, I lost my best mate because I had a great life taking him to his training two nights a week and then his games at the weekend. It was a real wrench.
“He stayed with a fantastic family down in Manchester – Marion and John really looked after him. He calls her his other mother! If he was struggling, they’d phone us and say ‘it’s time to come down and see him’. That’s the hard part of having a young footballer away from home.”
The emotional hardship almost paid off, however. “He was ahead of the likes of Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson and we thought he had a good chance,” said Peter. “There was a lot of talk that Fergie saw him as destined to take over from Gary Neville. But then he went to Antwerp on loan and he did his cruciate ligament. That was a major blow. I think United then thought he wasn’t going to get back to what he was, so they signed the two Brazilians, Fabio and Rafael, who moved ahead of him. They offered him another year’s contract but he felt he needed to get out and play regularly so he went to Preston.”
After stints with Preston, Stevenage and Burton Albion, Gray looked to return to Scotland to be with Hayley and Ivy. His move to Hibs two years ago was aided by a ringing endorsement from Gibson, who knew Alan Stubbs from their time together at Everton. Peter used last Saturday’s Scottish Cup party at Easter Road to thank the Hibs head coach for giving his son a platform to flourish on home soil.
“The party afterwards at Easter Road was fantastic,” said Peter. “Everybody mixed together. The club were brilliant with all the families – they really looked after us. John Doolan, Alan Stubbs and Leeann Dempster all spoke to us and said how proud and happy they were that it was David who scored the winner because he’d done such a good job as a captain. That meant a lot.
“I actually thanked Alan for bringing David back up to Scotland and giving him a chance. Until then he’d been trying to get away from managers who didn’t really appreciate him, but Alan took a chance on him after talking to Darron Gibson. He asked him if David was the same sort of social animal that Darron was, but he said ‘no, he’s a total professional, you won’t go wrong with him’. Since then, Stubbsy’s actually phoned Darron up and thanked him for recommending him.”
Elaine and Peter attend all of David’s matches home and away, although it invariably proves a stressful business. “I cringe watching him when he goes into tackles,” said Elaine. “When he went down injured in the final, I was shouting ‘get up, get up.’ Peter was saying ‘he’s fine, he’s fine’. I worry about him getting injured or hearing any of the fans shouting at him. Hopefully, I’ll not have to worry about that for a while after Saturday though!”
The only disappointment for the Gray family was the fact Elaine’s 87-year-old father George was unable to make it to Hampden due to ill health. “David was desperate for him to be there, but it would have been too long a day for him,” said Elaine. “He stayed at home and watched it on television but I was on the phone to him throughout the game talking to him about what was happening. He was emotional at the end.”