In memory of Billy Gray..

It was only back in December that I was reflecting on the FA Cup final in 1959.  I’m too young to have witnessed it in person, but had just watched what was a fantastic game on DVD.  If you didn’t the first time around I’d throughly recommend doing so yourself, it’s a stark reminder of the things about the game that have changed – some for the better, but much for the worst.  That 1959 Forest team were bloody good.

Only one member of that team now survives, Jeff Whitefoot contributed some moving words to the official site in tribute to his old team mate, Billy Gray, who passed away at the age of 83.  He joined Forest from yesterday’s opponents Burnley in 1957, and played 224 times for the Reds, netting 37 goals.  He returned to the club in the 1980s in the capacity of groundsman under no doubt close supervision from Brian Clough!

In the FA Cup run for which he and his teammates are best remembered, he scored five goals – including a vital one when there was an early threat of embarrassment for the Reds at the hands of Tooting & Mitcham.  His goal earned us a replay in the third round when it looked like an early exit was on the cards, and is firmly established in history as one of the most gifted players of his era.

Naturally heartfelt condolences to Billy’s family and friends – which I’m sure you’ll all share in offering.  A real Forest legend from an era that deserves to be remembered both fondly and proudly.  I’ll reiterate, watch that DVD and see how good we were – a fluid, skillful counter-attacking team that utterly dominated the final ’til Roy Dwight suffered a leg-break, leaving Forest with ten men for more than half of the game.

Even then, they still passed it around and tried to counter attack – it really is a joy to watch.

Rest in peace, Billy.

7 Responses

  1. Jeff Whitefoot was a mate of my Dad’s so, quite accidently, I met him and Billy Gray one day when out with my Dad

    Just too young to have seen him play but remember them both and as nice unassuming gents. Oh how times have changed!

    RIP Billy

  2. I seldom post but as I stood in silence on Tuesday, I realized how privileged I am to have followed Forest down the years. I was a pupil at High Pavement in 1959, a rugby playing school with the ethos of turning working class lads into middle class adults. So much so that the Cup Final was banned at first, the scheduled schools sports day was to go ahead regardless. Eventually parent power prevailed and I was able to watch the game on our grainy black and white 14 inch. I remember going out into the street at halftime to share the elation but the street was empty and quiet. The city was eerily quiet. I remember the nail biting. I remember joining thousands on Alfred Street South for the open top bus tour. But it wasn’t an open topped bus, it was a Robin Hood coach with its roof slid open and our heroes perched on the roof.

    I remember the highlights of Tooting and Mitcham and the ball mark on the chest of their defender evidence that it was no penalty. I remember sitting in A&E at the old General Hospital with a broken arm being told by an ambulance driver that we’d beaten Birmingham 5-0 in the second replay. I was there on the Bridgford End cop to see us beat Nat Lofthouse’s Bolton.

    Billy, God bless you, I don’t picture you as easily as some of your colleagues. Stuart Imlach’s darting runs and crosses how about that!) so his son’s book ‘My father and other working class heroes’ is a brilliant Forest read. The midfield of Burkitt, McKinlay and Whitefoot was awesome, Johnny Quigley – my cousin’s teenage heartthrob.

    Charlie Thomson, Bill Whare, Joe McDonald,Jeff Whitefoot, Bobby McKinlay, Jack Burkitt, Roy Dwight, Johnny Quigley, Tommy Wilson,Billy and Stuart Imlach,- your memories will last as long as I do and beyond.

    Finally, Forest, thank you for the thousands of highs over sixty years. I’ll never let the moaners get to me.

  3. I’m originally from Wollaton and remember Billy when he ran the ‘Greengrocer’s’ on Wollaton Road near the junction with Middleton Boulevard.

    I first went to the shop with my Grandad who told me who he was, but I guess that as a young boy, it didn’t really mean much. Over the following years, I was a regular ‘visitor’ collecting as many coins as possible in order to go in and buy a few sweets!

    I do remember that he was always friendly and welcoming and you would never have known that you were talking with an FA Cup Winner!

    RIP BIlly – sorry that I wasn’t there on Tuesday evening to pay my respects. Perhaps promotion back to the Premier League will be a ‘just’ way of saying “thanks”?

  4. I remember watching Billy in his pomp, small, quick and tough in the tackle. He was a lovely man my Dad told me how he always had time for fans?

    Only Mr Whitefoot left. I was at the final (thanks to my Dad) but was only 7……..I’ve seen Forest win so much in my time as a fan for which I’m honoured and privledged.

    RIP Billy thanks for starting the passion.


  5. Billy Gray, what an absolute legend!!!!!!
    I used to work with Billy’s son Paul who had a 5 aside team at Veda. I was asked to play for his team when they were short on players. I met them all there and Pauls dad, Billy Gray, had come to watch. We were playing in the match and Billy was shouting words of wisdom at us telling us what to do and asking if we wanted subbing off for him!! Paul wouldn’t let him play as he was about 76 at the time. Towards the end of the match the shouting from Billy had stopped. The final whistle went and we came off the pitch. Billy had gone!! We found him playing football with a bunch of lads all about early 20’s and he was taking them on as if he was the same age as them. Billy Gray still had it at the age of 76 and did so with a great big smile on his face. He really loved playing the beautiful game

    Thanks for that memory Billy

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