From Eddie to Archie: The Gray family are Leeds’ equivalent to the Kennedys

Archie Gray of Leeds United
Archie Gray has Leeds United in his blood and is shining as the spearhead of the third generation of his family to play for the club - Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

When Chelsea host Leeds in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday, it will be the first time the two clubs have met in the world’s oldest football competition since the 1970 final replay, a game so notorious it long ago became etched on the collective memory as the most ferocious in the trophy’s history. Speaking in 2010 at a dinner to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a match that resembled an all-in wrestling bout, Leeds’s imperious winger Eddie Gray addressed his old adversary, Ron Harris. The uncompromising full-back was man marking Gray that day with the kind of physical commitment that makes Mason Holgate’s recent assault on Kaoru Mitoma look positively hospitable.

“I have something of yours I’d like to return, Ron,” said Gray, who has over the years become a fine public speaker. And he produced from his pocket a boot stud that he passed to his fellow guest. “You left it in my knee.”

But what is really notable about Wednesday’s game is that, 54 years on from an encounter that was less a football match more trench warfare, the Leeds team sheet will still feature a Gray. Archie, Eddie’s great nephew, will be playing, the fourth Gray across three generations to pull on the white shirt.

Eddie McCreadie and Allan Clarke
Leeds take on Chelsea in the FA Cup on Wednesday for the first time since the two met in the notorious final replay in 1970 - Bob Thomas/Getty Images

“For me the Grays to Leeds are like the Kennedys to American Democrats,” says the cultural commentator and lifelong Leeds follower Mark Lawson. “There’s always another one who comes along.”

He has a point: there is no comparable family connection with a single club across the history of English football. There have been sons and fathers – the Lampards, the Astons, the Coles – there have been family dynasties – the Milburn/Charltons – but nothing comes close to matching the Grays and their commitment to Leeds.

“It is absolutely unique,” says the author, magazine editor and Leeds fan James Brown. “I was at a game recently and Andy Gray [Archie’s father, Frank’s son and a former Leeds player himself] was in among the Leeds fans. I watched him celebrating his son scoring for his team. Listen, we’ve all stood on the touchline watching our sons playing. But it wasn’t for the team we played for. Or, even more incredibly, the one our dads played for too. It’s really remarkable.”

All the more so given that Eddie and his brother Frank who began the link aren’t even Leeds natives: they were born in Glasgow. Eddie was brought to the city by Don Revie, who beat a host of other English clubs to sign up the prodigiously talented winger. He made his debut at just 17 in Revie’s side of serial contenders.

“Eddie was completely different from anyone else in that Leeds team,” says the former newspaper columnist and Leeds supporter David Robson, who watched him regularly in his prime. “He was a magic player in a way, because nothing about him suggested how good he was. He didn’t have outlandish speed, he wasn’t a mazy dribbler, he just ghosted. Revie once said of him: ‘When he plays on snow he doesn’t leave any footprints.’”

There is no finer evidence of his ghosting skills than his two goals in a game against Burnley in 1970. The first was a dazzling 30-yard chip, the second a dribble in which, picking up the ball at the corner flag, he bamboozled half a dozen defenders before precisely slotting his finish home. But it is his celebration for both goals that really marks him out. Undemonstrative, uneasy, he looks almost embarrassed by his abilities.

“As a boy, I used to go to the same Catholic church in Leeds as him and Billy Bremner,” recalls Lawson. “After the service I’d always ask for their autographs. Bremner was as you’d expect him to be, confident and in a hurry, quickly scribbling his name. Eddie seemed incredibly shy. He’d always sign, but he wouldn’t look you in the eye as he did so.”

Shy or not, Gray was at his most effective during that 1969-70 season. Drifting down the left wing, supplying perfect crosses for Allan Clarke and Mick Jones to convert, he was the creative source of so much of the Revie team’s success.

“In the 1970 Cup final at Wembley he was simply incredible,” says Robson, who was there to witness the Gray masterclass. “They had David Webb marking him and he simply marmalised him.”

Chelsea’s manager David Sexton recognised the danger and in the replay ordered Harris to nullify the threat. It was carnage. But then it was carnage all over the pitch. As the Chelsea great Alan Hudson, rather relieved to be watching from the Old Trafford stands that evening, recalls.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, they were absolutely kicking lumps out of each other,” he recalls. “All over the pitch it was going on. Jack Charlton on Ossie [Peter Osgood], made you wince. Ian Hutchison, two years earlier playing in non league and here he was beating Leeds players up. Fantastic really.”

Chelsea's Peter Osgood is block tackled by Leeds United defender Jack Charlton
Leeds' Jack Charlton stops Chelsea's Peter Osgood in his tracks - Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

In the mayhem, Gray was soon crocked by Harris, his knee giving way. It was probably no coincidence that, with Leeds’s chief creative threat hobbling, Chelsea went on to win the game. Gray’s knee bore lasting testimony to the defeat: he missed large swathes of the next couple of seasons (though he did get to play with his brother Frank at full-back behind him on more than 20 occasions). So sporadic were his appearances in that time that when Brian Clough took over from Revie in 1974 he told Gray: “If you were a racehorse I’d have you shot.”

But Gray, much to the delight of the Leeds fans, lasted far longer at Elland Road than Clough, staying on until 1983, making, despite the injury, more than 450 appearances.

After retirement, Gray remained loyal to Leeds, working in the youth academy, bringing on young players like Harry Kewell, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate. His own son Stuart, who tragically died recently of a rare form of cancer, was a Gray rarity: he didn’t play for Leeds, but for Celtic. Frank’s lad Andy, however, made 30 appearances for the first team to keep up the family tradition.

And Eddie was always there, stepping in twice as manager, working latterly as a club ambassador, increasingly the last link to the grand old days.

Eddie Gray mural
The city of Leeds pays its respects to its favourite adopted son - George Wood/Getty Images

“During lockdown four of the legendary Revie team died,” says Brown. “Eddie offers about the only ongoing connection to that brilliant period. He’s from a magical time, with which most Leeds fans have no direct memory. He is by far the most popular figure in the club. Everyone at Leeds loves him.”

And then, on Dec 21 2021, the next generation of Gray appeared on the scene. Marcelo Bielsa picked Archie, then a 15-year-old schoolboy who had been regularly training with the first team, to sit on the bench in a Premier League game against Arsenal. He didn’t get a run out. But on Aug 6 2023, he made his debut for the family firm. Following the tradition of early Gray starters, he was just 17 years and five months old.

“He doesn’t look like Eddie when he plays,” says Brown of Archie (though his goal against Leicester recently suggests he has some of his great uncle’s spectral side step). “He’s tall, rangy. He reminds me of Gary McAllister, with that really tight turning circle that can throw a player. He’s played a few passes recently, like the one against Plymouth in the last round of the Cup, that make you think he’s the real deal.”

With his father, grandad and great uncle watching from the stands, every match is a family affair for Archie. In a recent club television interview conducted by Eddie, the young full-back admits that he was aware from a young age of the family history.

“I always had to live up to it,” he says.

Not that he regarded it as pressure. It was clear the older Grays were delighted by the next generation’s progress. Well, in every way but one. Born and raised south of the border, if he is to have one, Archie’s international future would be for England.

“You’re English, you can’t help that,” says Eddie in their interview. “But I’d have loved to see you in the dark blue of Scotland.”

But never mind international football, for the Leeds fans fearful that he might be sold on in the way so many of their youthful assets have been in the years since Revie ruled, comes good news. Archie has real incentive to stay. His greatest unfulfilled ambition, he says, is to play in the Leeds first team with his younger brother Harry, who many reckon could prove to be the finest Gray yet.

“History suggests that normally dynasties decline down the generations,” says Lawson. “There’s definitely diminishing returns with the Kennedys, for instance. The current Robert is an embarrassment. But Archie – and, if he is as good as everyone says, Harry – look as though they are absolutely maintaining the family tradition. It’s fantastic to see.”

Telegraph match report
Football correspondent Donald Saunders was at Old Trafford for the Telegraph in 1970 for the replay - The Telegraph
Michael Oliver
On the 50th anniversary of the 'Battle of Old Trafford' Michael Oliver refereed the game again for the Telegraph and was a little less lax than Eric Jennings in 1970 - The Telegraph

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.