Big In­ter­view with Burn­ley’s ris­ing star striker An­dre Gray –

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Matt Bad­cock

REWIND 18 months and An­dre Gray is sit­ting in the lobby of a five-star ho­tel in down­town Amman, Jor­dan. The striker, in the thick of a ti­tle run-in with Lu­ton Town, is on in­ter­na­tional duty with Eng­land C and tak­ing time out to tell this re­porter what’s driv­ing him on.

He opens up about be­com­ing the man of the fam­ily fol­low­ing the death of his step-dad and fa­ther of lit­tle brother Cody.

“He’s three-and-a-half so that’s go­ing to be hard for him,” Gray said back then. “I have to take care of him. He’s not go­ing to have a dad now and no one to teach him men’s things.”

He also ex­plains how he owes mum Jo ev­ery­thing, along with his late grandad and nan who brought him up.

Fast-for­ward to the present day and it’s easy to see Gray has come a long way in a short space of time.

Un­known

He re­turned to Lu­ton to fire them back to the Football League with a sea­son-haul of 30 goals be­fore land­ing a move to the Cham­pi­onship with Brent­ford.

Rel­a­tively un­known, un­proven and still raw, Gray con­tin­ued his re­mark­able rise by crash­ing in 18 goals as Mark War­bur­ton’s Bees caught ev­ery­one by sur­prise to fin­ish in the play-offs.

Cue a scram­ble for his sig­na­ture. Bristol City had bids re­jected, Hull City wanted him too, but it was Burn­ley – fresh from Premier League rel­e­ga­tion – who forked out a club record fee to take him to Turf Moor.

So, what does Cody, now five, think of big bro rip­ping up the Cham­pi­onship?

“He loves it,” Gray laughs. “As you can imag­ine, he’s un­der­stand­ing it even more now – he’s got all the kits. My mum takes him to football. I’m not sure where he plays – I think he’s just run­ning up and down at this stage.

“I can pro­vide for them a lot more now and hope­fully soon I’ll be able to get them out of their house in Wolver­hamp­ton. That’s the main thing.

“I’ve been able to do lit­tle things for them al­ready, but the main aim is get­ting the house.

“They’ve not been up yet. Our timescales are dif­fer­ent with me at football and Cody at school and we’ve only had two home games since I’ve been here, but I’m sure they will soon.”

When they do, they will see one of the most pow­er­ful for­wards in the league run­ning him­self into the ground for his team. Hard work has taken Gray from the muck and net­tles of Non-League to the Cham­pi­onship and a club push­ing for the Premier League.

“It’s funny when you look back,” Gray says. “And I do look back at ev­ery­thing, my Hinck­ley days and my first call-up for Eng­land C. It’s been a mad few years.

“It’s given me a good ground­ing. But I just get on with it. You know you’ve worked hard to do it so it was al­ways go­ing to hap­pen.

Drive

“I tried to tell the young boys at Brent­ford that it’s never a bad thing to go down. If you have to go to the Con­fer­ence North or South then that’s what you have to do. It’s got me to where I am now.

“It’s hap­pened to a lot of the boys in the Premier League, even now at Burn­ley, and it’s not a bad route to go down. There are some long, cold nights but it gives you that drive.”

For those who have fol­lowed Gray’s pro­gres­sion closely, his game has grown no­tice­ably. A player who was equally as ca­pa­ble of smash­ing the ball into the top cor­ner as he was into the score­board high above Lu­ton’s Oak Road End, he’s be­come more ruth­less in front of goal.

“It still hap­pened last year where I missed chances but I scored a lot more than I prob­a­bly would have,” Gray says. “I’m get­ting bet­ter and it will keep com­ing over time.

“I could have easily scored 2530 goals last sea­son if I’d been more clin­i­cal, but it will come. I’ve scored four al­ready this sea­son and hope­fully I can get more than I did last year.

“It took a few games when I first joined Brent­ford. But af­ter get­ting a cou­ple of goals I knew I could score at this level and that ob­vi­ously helps your con­fi­dence. Now com­ing here I know I can do it in the Cham­pi­onship.

“It’s al­ways hard to make the step up the leagues but I’ve got to thank Mark War­bur­ton for that as well. He be­lieved in me, put me in straight­away, kept faith in me and it paid off in the end. “He’s a great man-man­ager. He’s helped me

mas­sively. Ev­ery day he was out there coach­ing us with his as­sis­tant David Weir and giv­ing his all to make us all bet­ter.

“You no­tice if you’re work­ing hard ev­ery day then it comes nat­u­rally and it’s some­thing you end up not think­ing about. Nat­u­ral in­stincts take over.”

Gray’s grounded de­meanour means he’s not fazed when he does miss and he’s not wor­ried about liv­ing up to the pres­sure of his price tag, which Burn­ley say is £6m, or fill­ing the goal void left by Liver­pool-bound Danny Ings.

Pres­sure

Af­ter all, although on a dif­fer­ent scale, he did ex­pe­ri­ence the pres­sure of play­ing in front of a de­mand­ing crowd at Lu­ton, des­per­ate to see their club’s five-year Non-League night­mare end. “It helped be­cause it was early in my

de­vel- op­ment,” says Gray, who has spent the

week in Spain with his team-mates for a train­ing camp.

“Get­ting over that hur­dle at Lu­ton was dif­fi­cult at times. But I got used to it and I know how to deal with that stuff now.

“Even not scor­ing for nine games last sea­son, I know how to go about it men­tally now. You have to know it’s just one of those things.

“Last year I was still learn­ing and I was putting too much pres­sure on my­self when I wasn’t scor­ing. I knew I could score but I wasn’t. I don’t think I’ll go back to that now.”

Gray scored in his first game in front of his new fans against Sheffield Wed­nes­day and grabbed his sec­ond be­fore the in­ter­na­tional break with a smart fin­ish at Rother­ham.

“It was good to get off the mark early, es­pe­cially on my home de­but as well,” Gray says. “It’s a good club. It’s been easy to set­tle.

“The play­ers and fans have wel­comed me and the man­ager Sean Dy­che is great. It was a big hole to fill with Danny Ings leav­ing. If I can do half of what he did at Burn­ley then hope­fully that can help get us up. It doesn’t faze me.

Ex­pec­ta­tions

“I feel like I’ve started well enough. As long as that can keep go­ing it’s good, but the main thing is to get pro­moted.

“It’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the ex­pec­ta­tions at Brent­ford last year, but we haven’t got a team that dif­fer­ent from the one that played in the Premier League. A lot of the boys know how to do it and that should help us.

“It’s mas­sive in this league. They’ve got that ex­pe­ri­ence and they’re al­ways go­ing to help me.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages/ Pin­na­cle

Left: An­dre Gray for Brent­ford and Right: with Eng­land C

PIC­TURE:Ac­tion Im­ages

MAK­ING HIS NAME: An­dre Gray in Lu­ton Town colours PLAY­ING FOR KICKS: Gray cel­e­brates scor­ing on his home de­but for Burn­ley in their 3-1 win against Sheffield Wed­nes­day

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