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Euro 2016: Phil Gray planning to follow Northern Ireland to Finals

By Stuart McKinley

Published 12/06/2015

WIndsor joy: Phil Gray scored against Romania 21 years ago
WIndsor joy: Phil Gray scored against Romania 21 years ago

Phil Gray is planning a reunion with some of his old mates from the Shankill Road.

The time is next June and the venue, France.

The former Northern Ireland striker, who now lives in Bedfordshire, intends to make the relatively short journey across the English Channel to join the Green and White Army at Euro 2016.

And if the current team can produce a repeat of the 1994 win over Romania at Windsor Park - in which Gray scored - in Saturday night's Euro 2016 qualifier only a terrible stumble will separate Michael O'Neill's men from at least a two-legged play-off for a place in the finals.

"Michael has the team in a great position to qualify and I am really hoping they can do it - and if they do I'll be there," said Gray.

"It's only in France so it's not that far for me.

"I played in France for a while and I know the Northern Ireland fans would have a great time there.

"They would create a brilliant atmosphere and friends from the Shankill Road have been in touch with me asking if I will go. The answer is yes.

"If Northern Ireland are there I'm going."

A win over Romania won't clinch qualification, but Gray and the fans can start to pencil the tournament dates into their diaries in preparation for next summer if Northern Ireland collect three points.

The Romanians have lost on their two previous trips to Windsor Park, 3-2 in a World Cup qualifier back in 1984 and then that 1994 friendly, when Gray netted a rare goal from outside the box in a 2-0 win.

"It was a strange night for me. I scored and then Gheorghe Hagi spat in my face and got sent off," recalled Gray.

"He deserved to go. I tackled him, he got up and had a go at me, I pushed him and then he spat at me.

"I think nowadays he would get a big ban, but I don't think he missed any games after that.

"A few months later he starred at the World Cup when they got to the quarter-finals and that just made our win over them even bigger."

Although Northern Ireland built on that win with some great performances and results in the Euro ' 96 campaign that followed, they fell just short - finishing level on points with the Republic of Ireland, who then lost in a play-off to Holland.

Gray's advice to O'Neill's players it to seize the moment, rather than being left with regrets.

"We had some great games in that campaign. "I remember scoring away to Austria in what was a great win for us, we drew in Portugal when Iain Dowie claimed that he deflected Michael Hughes' free kick into the net - he didn't, but I think he was trying to get the record at that time before Daivd Healy came along.

"I remember a massive feeling of disappointment after missing out because we were so close.

"I was 27 at the time and probably thought that the chance to play in a major tournament would come along again.

"It didn't happen for me and the current players need to grab this opportunity because they may never get another chance as good as this, even the younger players."

Belfast Telegraph

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