QPR’s development side take on former Rangers midfielder Andy Gray’s Corinthian Casuals in the first round of the London Senior Cup on Tuesday evening.
Paul Furlong’s in-form team, who sit top of the PDL2 South Division table, are entering the competition for the first time and face the Isthmian League South Central side at their King George’s Arena stadium in Tolworth, kick-off 7.45pm.
The competition is open to non-League clubs from the Step 5 level and above who are within the M25 jurisdiction, with invitations also extended to Premier League and EFL Under-21s teams.
QPR, former winners Brentford, Leyton Orient, current holders Charlton and AFC Wimbledon all entered this year’s draw with the Bees’ campaign already over after they were beaten 2-0 by Isthmian Premier League side Wingate and Finchley.
Gray was a combative and powerful midfielder who made more than 300 appearances during a career which included spells at Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, QPR and Tottenham in addition to winning a solitary England cap, against Poland in 1991.
He is best known for his two spells at Palace, who he helped to reach the 1990 FA Cup final and to a third-place finish in the old First Division a year later – the Eagles’ best ever top-flight campaign.
However, he is remembered fondly in W12 despite a brief spell that lasted less than six months, thanks to two superb goals that helped QPR come from behind to beat Manchester United 3-2 at Loftus Road.
Gray was signed by Trevor Francis in February 1989 from Villa for £425,000 along with Nigel Spackman, who joined from Glasgow Rangers, when the R’s were struggling at the wrong end of the table.
But along with Andy Sinton, who is now QPR’s club ambassador, Colin Clarke and Peter Reid, who came on board the following month, the team ended the season in a comfortable ninth position.
Gray played a significant role in a team that lost just three of their final 16 games, and his superb solo winning goal against United on a balmy Monday May evening in font of a half-full Loftus Road due to train strike, was one of his last contributions in a Rangers shirt.
“I was signed from Aston Villa and the way it came about was quite unusual,” he told West London Sport.
“Rangers were struggling at the time and we were playing them over Christmas at Villa Park and during the middle of the match, Trevor, who was player-manager, came up to me and said: ‘Do you want to come home to London’?
“I said ‘yeah’ and a few weeks later I was a QPR player and that is how he signed me. How mad is that?”
Gray had a reputation as a player unafraid to voice his opinions to team-mates and managers during his career, but insists that was not the reason for his return to Palace in the summer of 1989 for £500,000.
“It’s a unique club, Queens Park Rangers, the support is very loyal but to be honest it was a funny period for me there,” he said.
“It was just a scenario where the fit wasn’t right. We could have made it work, but they bought me for £425,000, sold me for £500,000 and stayed up in the First Division, so it was a case of job done, all parties were happy and I went back to Palace.
“There was no fall out, it was one of those things, I was brought in to keep them up and they saw a 75-grand profit, which is probably about half a million in today’s terms, so it was a case of job done.
“The clubs were the ones in control of the players then, not like it is today where the players have all the power.”
It was at Palace that Gray earned his England call-up before he moved to Spurs after a falling out with Palace boss Steve Coppell and his assistant Alan Smith.
“I wouldn’t say I was difficult, but I was a bit different and in football circles, that doesn’t always go down well,” he said.
“But recently Steve and Alan have both come down to watch my Casuals team and it was great to see them and it was Graham Taylor, my old boss at Villa who gave me my England debut, so I can’t have been that bad.”
Gray joined Spurs for £900,000 in 1992, which proved to be an unhappy spell – with one of his rare highlights being the winning goal against QPR in a 2-1 win at Loftus Road in a game best remembered for a controversial display from referee Gurnham Singh that caused uproar among the home fans.
Upon his retirement, Gray worked as a player agent for more than 20 years before quitting after becoming disillusioned with the money side of the game.
“We were having players being poached from us by other agents delivering false promises and getting in to their ears about how much they could earn,” he said.
“I am always honest with players about what they can do and what level they can play at, but often they don’t want to listen so it became very frustrating.”
“It was never about money for me, I just loved the game and still do.”
Founded in 1882, Corinthian Casuals, are one of the oldest non-League clubs in the country and even to this day remain a strictly amateur set-up, with players only paid only travel expenses.
Having started his career at Casuals after being released as a teenager by Palace, Gray said the chance to be a manager with a vision of developing young players was too good to turn down.
“It is difficult as we are up against sides who pay up to two grand a week so I am outfoxed there straightaway,” he explained.
“My intention was to find players who missed the boat either at pro level or never got a chance at a higher level, to come to a structure where there is a manager who has got links in the game, so if you are half decent I can pick up the phone and make a call.
“I just want to build a team where players can go to the next level. I’m not getting paid, so I don’t care about getting sacked.
“That is my ethos, but the way non-League is now that players are moving just to earn an extra £20 instead of thinking ‘I’ve got a chance of being a professional’, which is mad really.
“But there are players out there and my journey to becoming a pro player is still possible.”
Gray admits his young team will have their work cut out against Furlong’s side and said he will be using the game to try and persuade Rangers to allow some of their young players join him on loan.
“I am looking to see if I can get some boys down on loan at our place,” he said.
“I have said to my players that if they (QPR) turn up and play at their best then it will be hard to beat them.
“But if they think they can turn up and think we will just roll over, well they may then get a surprise.”
Tickets for the game are available on the door priced at £12, for adults, £8 for senior citizens and £1 for children under 12.