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Kerr Smith: Dundee United phenom takes same path to England as ex-Aston Villa striker Andy Gray

Andy Gray during his time with Dundee United.

Kerr Smith is not the first teenage wonderkid to leave Dundee United for Aston Villa in a big-money deal.

Montrose-born defender Smith is 17 while Andy Gray was 19 when he walked through the gates of Villa Park in September 1975.

Better known now as a footballing pundit, Gray was the hottest young property in Scotland when he burst into the United team.

Gray made his United debut aged 17 in 1973 after signing from Clydebank Strollers and went on to score 47 goals in 95 appearances under Jim McLean.

McLean told him: “I don’t think I can teach you any more.

“In all honesty if I don’t sell you I’m holding you back because you’re too good for this league.”

Dundee United youngster Kerr Smith is following in the footsteps of Andy Gray.

German club Schalke and Rangers enquired about Gray before United agreed a £110,000 deal with Aston Villa.

Not that everyone in the McLean household was happy with the move!

McLean’s son, Gary, then just 10 years old, told his mum Doris: “I can’t believe we’ve just sold Andy. See my dad? He knows nothing about football!”

Although describing him as “demanding, awkward, irascible and suspicious” in his autobiography, Gray described McLean as one of the biggest influences on his career.

Gray played one game for United with stitches after a pint glass was smashed over his head outside Tiffany’s nightclub in the Nethergate.

Andy Gray was a popular player with United fans and Jim McLean’s son. Picture: SNS.

“One Wednesday night me and a few of the boys went out for the evening and ended up in Tiffany’s nightclub in the city centre,” he said.

“I was in the gents washing my hands when a group of three or four blokes – Dundee supporters clearly – walked in and without warning waded into me.

“They gave me a right hiding, but after they’d left I staggered back into the club, rounded up my pals and went after them.

“This time I ended up getting a pint pot smashed over my head.

“With blood gushing from a cut I ended my evening having stitches in the local accident and emergency.”

Gray said McLean was “not a happy man” but he succeeded in persuading him that none of it was his fault.

After that McLean’s main concern was that no-one should find out about the incident.

“Clearly if I was left out of the team there was a chance that local reporters would start asking why and the story would get around,” he said.

Greatest success

For United, the cash from Gray’s transfer in 1975 was used wisely to help strengthen a side that would become trophy winners in the late 70s and early 80s.

In 1977, he became the only player to win the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in the same season with Aston Villa.

He was the subject of a record £1.49 million bid from Wolves and scored the winning goal for them in the 1979 League Cup final.

Gray tasted his greatest success with Everton, scoring in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1984 and winning the title the following season.

He was also capped 20 times by Scotland.

Gray returned to Scotland in 1988 to sign for boyhood heroes Rangers under Graeme Souness and scored five goals in 14 appearances at Ibrox.

Andy Gray in action for Rangers in 1989. Picture: SNS.

“The reception I got at Ibrox from the supporters is something I’ll never forget,” he said.

“But the truly fantastic thing about that season was how much my family enjoyed it.

“They loved every minute of it. For me that was wonderful.

“It was the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake.”

Dens Park double

Gray scored his final two goals for Rangers against old foes Dundee at Dens in May 1989 in a 2-1 win before leaving the club in the summer.

He joined Sky Sports in 1991 and became Ron Atkinson’s assistant at Aston Villa.

He left Villa after one season to work full-time with Sky as a pundit.

Gray returned to Dundee in 2011 for a gala dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of McLean making the short flit from Dens to become United manager.

He never forgot the impact McLean had on his development.

Jim McLean played a huge part in the development of Andy Gray as a player. Picture: SNS.

“Although I was only with him for two years he taught me about the game, how to play centre-forward and the mental side of it,” Gray said.

“He said you should never be satisfied with what you achieve, always strive to achieve more.

“He only taught me good habits.

“They always say your first coach is the most important and he was the biggest influence in my career but all the other managers I played with helped me in certain ways.”

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