Role-model Gray on the road to redemption with Clarets
Andre Gray carries the physical and mental torment of his past with him every day.
A knife wound, engraved on the left hand side of his face, is a permanent reminder of the memories that the 25-year-old would love to leave behind.
And the re-emergence of historic postings, published to the masses by a second party in the aftermath of his first ever Premier League goal, ensured that the deeper, underlying disfigurements are just as difficult to shift.
The Clarets striker, addressing the media in a refreshingly honest and eloquent interview, delivered with complete integrity, revisited his haunting youth, almost as a cathartic release, in an attempt to put a lid on those unquestionably disturbing misdemeanors once and for all.
“It’s my life at the end of the day, things I’ve got to deal with,” he said. “It’s going to be out there for the rest of my life and I’ve got to live with that.”
Gray, by his own admission, was naive, impressionable and ignorant to various facets of the world back then, uneducated in the social streams of life, but he’s desperate to show that he’s moved in an attempt to prevent those blemishes from tarnishing his reputation.
The Wolverhampton-born forward was playing part-time, in the depths of the non-league pyramid with Hinckley Town, sheltered from the scrutiny, when living a turbulent lifestyle.
But everything is polarised in the Premier League and, having already progressed through the ladder with Luton Town and Brentford, all the controversy and commotion soon caught up with him.
Gray was punished retrospectively in relation to those homophobic comments, charged with misconduct by the Football Association, but the past hasn’t shaped his future and, in hope of becoming a role-model for fans and aspiring athletes, he’s on the road to redemption.
“It was frustrating more than anything,” he said. “I am a role model now, to young people, they see what I am now. It’s frustrating that it gets brought up to look like its the present when it’s the past. It’s five years now, it was a long time ago. I was a completely different person.
“People look up to me now I’m playing for Burnley, and to see that and the way it was portrayed was obviously difficult, especially when you want to explain that it was a long time ago.”
Gray has since distanced himself from social media, paid his dues, and attended the education programme ordered by the Football Association.
He’s now spoken out about his background, a difficult upbringing, his involvement in gang culture, and the platform that the sport provided to help set him free.
Gray said: “People come from all sorts of backgrounds. Where I am from certain things were not exposed to me. Thankfully football set me free from those kind of things. You meet people and you see other sides of life, the way people live differently.
“It opens your eyes in terms of sexuality and religion and everything. You realise that everyone is the same at the end of the day. The way I was brought up, and how I was as a youngster was completely different to that.”
He added: “It was a gradual progression. The thing with getting into trouble was slowly coming round to accepting I had to sort myself out. I started doing well with Hinckley and seeing people in that league getting moves gave me the belief that I could go on and get a good club and play full time football.
“And obviously this happened to my face, where I got stabbed, and that was probably the biggest wake up call. I realised I had to settle down now and get my head straight.
“I’ve just got stronger as I have gone on and certain things have happened to me personally. Ive had to get on with it.
“My mum’s brought me up, but she can’t teach a son man things, it’s not in her nature to do that, and it’s hard for a woman to try and raise a man, so I’ve had to practically raise myself, but with her support.
“It’s difficult when you’ve got people against you in your own family, it does make it harder, but you’ve got to get through it.
“I’m sure people who have met me in the last two or three years will know who I really am. A lot of people have defended me because they know I am not that kind of person.”
A superb winner against Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on Boxing Day followed by a hat-trick against Sunderland on New Year’s Eve has slowly started to put football back at the forefront of the agenda.
However, Gray admits that the process has been enlightening and has certainly aided his transformation. Speaking about his one-day compulsory course at Wembley, he said: “It was really interesting. I felt I could open up about things and get my point across.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to word it at times, especially when you are put on the spot, but it was good to hear their point of view on discrimination and stuff. They were very understanding and it helped me a lot to understand where people come from.
“I’ve been exposed to more now, about people’s beliefs, religion and sexuality and so on. It was good to hear other people’s point of view and to get my point across as well. We learned a lot from each other.”