My Favourite Villan: David Harrison on Andy Gray
The most striking thing I first noticed when I met Andy Gray for the first time was his size.
When you saw him on the pitch out-leaping big defenders, out-muscling the hard men of the seventies and eighties, he looked a giant of a centre forward.
In his "civvies" he was far less imposing.
He was 5ft 9 in tall, lean and wiry but by no means a towering figure.
He was, however, a massive character, bristling with aggression, bubbling with good humour and overflowing with opinion.
His personality, verve, bravery and fiercely driven attitude were the key components of a striker whose style made him a favourite with Villa fans from the day he joined the club from Dundee United in October, 1975 as a 20 year-old.
His 25 league goals in his first full season earned him the PFA Young Player and Players' Player of the year awards - a feat which remained unmatched until Cristiano Ronaldo did it 30 years later.
I got to know Andy well when I ghosted his weekly column in the Sports Argus.
He was always a joy to deal with and offered strong, insightful views, of the type which were later to give him a leading role as a Sky Sports pundit.
Or rather he was a joy to deal with when I could get hold of him.
Even in those days, Andy was a mercurial figure.
He lived life to the full and, long before the days of mobile phone, it was hard to track him down at his home.
But it was easier to locate him in person.
He could usually been found around the city, holding court in a pub or wine bar with his circle of friends.
He was not a great drinker but thrived on good company, fun and the attention of pretty women.
Photographers knew there was a good story whenever Gray was in town and once he was snapped walking across Corporation Street in bare feet.
Ron Saunders went ballistic and I always felt that was one of the moments when he decided the striker would have to be moved on.
The Villa manager preferred his players to stay on the sports pages.
Further front page publicity followed when Andy opened his own nightclub The Holy City Zoo at Hockley.
Your average footballer would have a sports shop or maybe a pub but the Villa man wanted something more convivial and entertaining.
The Zoo became a popular haunt for many players in the region as well as any visiting celebrities to Birmingham.
I recall swapping yarns one night with Andy and the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, and the American singing group The Three Degrees attracted a lot of male attention on another famous occasion.
Football reporters would make it a regular stopping off point too.
You could generally find a player or two to catch up with recent gossip - or, in Andy's case, to complete his Argus column.
But it was his growing profile as a celebrity, which, I believe, eventually caused his departure from Villa and Ron Saunders sold him to Wolves for a then British record of just under £1.5m in September 1979.
He left behind a trail of outstanding memories at Villa Park but remained an Argus columnist.
And he was just as difficult to track down in Wolverhampton.
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