On this day in 1993, Sunderland’s new striker Phil Gray was counting his lucky stars that he was both alive and back playing football, as he returned to action for both club and country.
The new signing from Luton Town had been one of the players involved in that infamous car crash during pre-season, and he said:
They took a lot of glass out of my eye and sewed back my eyelid. I could not see at first and thought I had lost the sight of one eye. My vision was blurry for a week.
Fortunately, the only after-effect I have now is ingrowing eyelashes!
Gray, who spoke to the Roker Rapport Podcast last month, had also been involved in a horrific hit-and-run accident while a youngster at Tottenham Hotspur:
Among other things, a bit of bone broke off my pelvis. I was out for a long time and at one time thought I was never going to play football again. It certainly hampered my career at Spurs. After those two accidents, I’m just grateful to be alive, never mind playing. They say these things come in threes. Let’s hope not!
Gray had scored his first goal for Sunderland in the 2-1 Coca Cola Cup win at top flight Leeds United the Tuesday before, and he was banking on that being the springboard for a successful goal scoring season for Terry Butcher’s side.
Gray notched with a two yard tap in, and said:
I scored 19 last season [for Luton] and none of them were close range efforts like that one. I hope it’s the first of many. I believe Don Goodman and I are beginning to develop an understanding, and I hope it will pay off with a lot more goals.
The following game, however, didn’t go to play, as his stuttering Sunderland career stuttered some more as he was red carded in an away draw at Watford.
Once he hit his stride, however, he was a stellar signing – that season he scored 17 in 47 appearances, and formed an effective partnership with Goodman, who notched 16 himself.
The team, however, failed to shine; Butcher losing his job after a home defeat to a Brett Angell inspired Southed left us in 20th position; Mick Buxton steadying the ship to finish a respectable 12th.
As for Gray, he scored 41 in 134 games for Sunderland, before departing on a free – amid a contract wrangle – in 1996.