Ray Graydon was born on July 21st , 1947 in Bristol. He had an interesting playing career as a dashing right winger who scored plenty of goals before embarking on a coaching and managerial career with two promotions at Walsall. He started out at humble beginnings trying to make a name for himself in his native Bristol but that will to succeed was evident from an early age.
"I'm a Bristol lad born and bred and I was a Bristol Rovers supporter. I left school and applied to work in a shoe shop opposite the ground. The guy gave me details as to what was needed in that job and said 'I'm interested in you.' I replied do you work Saturdays? 'Why?' he asked.
I play football on a Saturday. If I can't have Saturdays off I can't work for you. I was taken on by Rovers as a two year apprentice and had to catch two buses two nights a week not getting home till ten o'clock. I was one of twelve apprentices and the only one going to college one day a week. I was told after a year that I wasn't good enough and they would have to let me go. My attitude was that I wasn't going to give in. I also worked in a warehouse and for a company called Colston Electrical for a year and a bit. I played for a team called Hambrook FC. A letter arrived from Rovers saying they wanted another look at me. I was also asked if I wanted to play for England Youth. I made two appearances for them against Scotland and Wales. By the age of 17 I played for the first team in a game at Swansea."
For Rovers Ray played 133 games and scored 33 goals, some of his Rovers appearances were against Walsall. Then came a chance to join a bigger club, in July 1971. "One summers night there was a knock on my door and was told, 'Someone is interested in you. Who do you think it is?' Man United? Spurs maybe? 'No Aston Villa.!' They're in the Third Division aren't they? I asked my dad what he thought of it. I told him I had a chance to play for Aston Villa and I thought I'd run it past you first. His reply was 'Get your arse up the motorway!' I went to Villa and found it very difficult in a way, the players were very well known and I wasn't very well known. Ron Wylie spent a lot of time with me. It was then that Chris Nicholl and I became friends and he and I had something in common as we were not very well known players - but we could be as good as any of them. Chris and I stayed at training for hours and hours working at it. We were interested in watching how coaches and managers worked and how they managed players. We had some FA stuff, some information from them and I passed my coaching badge at 25. I was so interested in players and what they would say and do. I kept my eye on coaching and what they had to offer and I went to Lilleshall a lot."
"Meanwhile on the field I was delighted what I did. I could score goals and Ron Wylie was encouraging me, I would be on the edge of the box and I would run to the middle and collect left wing crosses. I was given the right to get in to score and I was quite quick. It was fantastic. I had two promotions, we went 3rd - 2nd - 1st Division and won two Football League Cup finals." Ray scored the only goal of the game against Norwich in 1975, following up from his penalty that was initially saved by keeper Kevin Keelan and he also played against Everton in the 1977 final in the second replay in an exciting 3-2 win after extra time - the game in which Chris Nicholl scored that wonder goal.
"I then had a spell at Coventry for about 18 months but was hampered by a calf injury in my time there. I had a call to go and play in America - something I really wanted to do and joined Washington Diplomats. Later that year I returned to the Midlands and joined Oxford United. I went there as a player and was asked to get involved as a coach, something I was very keen to do and they had some very good coaches there working alongside Maurice Evans and Jim Smith, really great people to be working with. I went from the youth coach, to looking after the reserves and then working with first team players."
"We produced some great players like Billy Hamilton, Peter Rhodes - Brown and Martin Foyle etc and things really took off down there again it was almost identical to Villa. We went from 3rd - 2nd - 1st Division and had the one League Cup final win. It was marvellous for a small club like Oxford United winning things as Maxwell took charge of the club. Maurice Evans decided to leave and I was told, 'Ray, we want you to stay.' But I said I'm not sure it fits in with me, I'm going to go. Next port of call was Watford. Within a couple of days my wife asked me what are you doing. Steve Harrison, the Watford manager said he needed a coach. I was youth team coach there and we won the FA Youth Cup final against Manchester City 2-1 in 1989. We had David James in goal. I was later asked by John Rudge to work with him at Port Vale in 1997-8 till the end of the season. He said come and liven it up for us. We did stay up. Lucky man again!
"John Rudge asked me what I want to do. I said I'd like a say in what players stay and go and speak to the directors on matters. He said sounds to me like you want to be a manager! There was a call from Paul Taylor at Walsall asking if I'd like a chat. He said we would like to speak to you. I had already had an interview with Walsall in 1989 when John Barnwell got the job. Jeff Bonser was on the scene and I was told, 'Ray you were not taken then, you should have been.' So - happy go Walsall! You know what happened next!"
On Ray's arrival at Walsall he came in to a threadbare squad and set about finding recruitments. The likes of Andy Rammell, Darren Wrack, Neil Pointon, Jason Brissett, Richard Green were added with others arriving throughout the season.
On his first promotion winning season Ray said, "It was great for a lesser team getting there. Individuals playing as a team and what they could give. It worked better than I hoped for. Later on I thought how draining that was. A lot of work went into it. Kevin Keegan gave me praise at the Fulham home game . I went to a LMA dinner and sat quietly at a table and someone came up to me and congratulated me, shook my hand. It was Alex Ferguson."
1999-2000 proved to be a difficult season but Ray pointed out the reaction from the fans at its close made a long lasting impression on him. "The final game at Ipswich, I remember the sun was out, the crowd were still shouting for us at the end. We may have lost but the supporters were still wanting to support us, clapping and shouting as I walked over to them. There was a tear in my eye - yes I cried. I turned away and thought I will do everything I can for you next season."
Like all of us, Ray has some superb memories from the Play Off Final win against Reading at he end of the following season and said of that fantastic game , "It was tough. Unbelievably tough. My players gave me everything they could - and a bit more. That showed the things I wanted. It meant everything to me then. We were the underdog team. We had so many impact players who knew their jobs. People have come up to me since and said, Ray, you gave my dad the best day ever, and he's dead now."
" At the final whistle my son Stuart ran down the players tunnel, I don't know how he managed that with the security, but he blagged it and joined us in the press room. May 27th happens to be my wife Sue's birthday and I had no time for her really during the day but after the game I called her into a small room by the dressing room and handed over an envelope that had her birthday card and inside it were flight tickets to see our daughter, Rachel, who had been travelling for about a year. We put our arms around each other and cried."
"Some of my players asked me if they could make their own way home. I said on this occasion you can go home anyway you like! I was desperate for a beer. We were looking to stop somewhere on the way out. But it was a Sunday and we were in Wales! We did have a bit of a sing song on the coach on the way home though! I finally arrived home at my house in Bloxwich and I hadn't eaten anything. I was sitting on the bed and my wife Sue asked me, 'Are you okay? Do you want anything?' A bacon sandwich I replied. It was the best bacon sandwich ever!"
On his three and a half years in charge Ray reflected, "I loved every minute of my time at Walsall. Jeff Bonser, Paul Taylor, the staff, the players, the fans, everyone was all brilliant to me. After Walsall I became manager of Bristol Rovers but that was not so good. I didn't get it from people and players there and it wasn't for me. After a couple of years I left. There was a short spell at Leicester City as first team coach and I later worked for the LMA."
Ray has been back at Bescot on several occasions and is always so popular and well received. It was fantastic what he achieved for our club and is rightly referred to as 'Sir Ray'. The legendary figure will always be remembered by those of us lucky enough to have been supporters of Walsall Football Club at that time.
Ray has a message for Walsall supporters..
"Please pass on my best wishes to the supporters of Walsall FC, they were a big part in all the success we were able to reach."
There's only one Ray Graydon.