Remembering George Bray
Today is a very special day, it’s Remembrance Day and one that takes on even more significance this year coming 100 years since the end of the First World War.
On that very 1918 day in Oswaldtwistle in East Lancashire, very much Blackburn Rovers territory, a baby was born who would go on to write his name all over the history of Burnley Football Club.
George Bray was born into a footballing family and his older brother Jack went on to play for Manchester City and England, but George played for his local team Great Harwood Town until Burnley came knocking in 1937 to sign the 18-year-old.
Sometimes you hear the phrase ‘He was a great servant’ and that phrase could have been written for George who was involved with our club in every decade from the 1930s right up until the 1990s, that’s seven different decades he was with us as player, coach and finally kit manager.
It was a year later when he made his debut, coming on 1st October 1938 in a home game against Luton just a few weeks before his 20th birthday. He kept his place the following week, in fact he kept his place until 1951, making over 250 league and cup appearances despite losing seven years of his career when football was suspended during World War II.
We were a Second Division club when he made that debut but, at left-half, was a member of the Iron Curtain defence under Cliff Britton that won promotion in 1947 in a season when we also reached the FA Cup Final, and then helped establish us as a First Division club over the next three seasons.
When George was born, we had a famous half back line at Burnley, namely Halley, Boyle and Watson, but many judges of the time rated Attwell, Brown and Bray every bit as good. Other than an injury in the 1949/50 season, he’d hardly missed a game since making his debut, but by then time was catching up with him and on 29th September 1951, at Stoke, he made his final first team appearance although he continued for the remainder of the season as a reserve team player before finally hanging up his boots.
If anyone thought George Bray and Burnley Football Club would then part company, they were very much mistaken. He remained at the club on the non-playing side, initially as A team trainer and then carrying out the same duties with the reserves and finally the first team. Not only that, his position also meant he was the one responsible for treating any injuries on the pitch when the only piece of medical equipment was the magic sponge, a sponge kept in a bucket of cold water alongside the dug out, which seemed to sort out every possible injury.
He’d played for and worked alongside any number of Burnley managers. He was close to Harry Potts but not so Jimmy Adamson who dispensed with his services in the 1970s. Many former players spoke at the time of it being a sad day for the club, the end of an era for a player and trainer who they described as the hardest of taskmasters yet one of the fairest.
He went to work at the hospital for a time but once Adamson left the club, it opened the door for him to return in a new capacity, becoming our kit manager, a position he went on to hold until he finally retired during Jimmy Mullen’s time as manager.
My mum and dad knew him well but it was in the late 1970s when I first met him and I spent many a time with him and Arthur Bellamy in his little room in the cricket field stand, being entertained by the two of them.
You could always have a laugh with George, but woe betide if you dared to criticise the club so fiercely loyal was he, although he was not himself frightened of having his say and he certainly never got carried away. One year, after an FA Youth Cup win, I said to him that we had some promising looking young players. He laughed, told me none of them were good enough to make it, and, do you know, he was absolutely right.
In the summer of 1980, I was down at Gawthorpe watching a pre-season friendly for the younger players. It was, if memory serves me correctly, against Padiham Wanderers. With around a quarter of an hour to go, we threw on some of the new recruits and one 16-year-old grabbed my attention immediately. “Who’s this? He looks good George,” I said. He would never go over the top with praise and replied: “He’s not bad.” The player in question was a young Trevor Steven.
As Burnley plummeted towards the bottom of the Fourth Division and then struggled to get out of it, probably something neither of us thought would ever happen, I remember once having a long chat with him. He promised me that we would rise again and become a top flight club, adding that he might not be around to see it. “No way,” I told him. “Nah then,” he replied. “I’ve teld thi’, we will,” and somehow he almost made you believe him.
He was sat in the dug out alongside Mullen on that night at York as the climb started but retired soon afterwards. George became quite ill in his later years, suffering from dementia, and the last time I saw him he was arriving for a game at the Turf and struggling to know who anyone was.
The sad news of his passing came on 13th February 2002. Players, coaches, managers, directors past and present were at the funeral of this fantastic one club man. By then we were up there and in with a good chance of promotion, sadly failing in the second half of the season. For a time I thought we might just have done it for him.
But seven years later, his beloved Burnley Football Club finally got back to where he promised me they would, and I know, if he was able to look down right now, how proud he would be of our club and its achievements. An uncompromising defensive wing half, he’d have loved that defensive display at Leicester yesterday.
I can’t believe there will ever be anyone quite like him again at our football club when he was for so long a permanent fixture and a very important one at that. Burnley Football Club were so very fortunate to have the services of George Bray for all those years and I was privileged to have got to know him so well.
“Nah then. I’ve teld they we will.” Words I have never forgotten George. You were right all along weren’t you?Follow UpTheClarets:
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