Hereford Hero #30 – Neil Grayson

Here at Talking Bull we continue to build up our career archive detailing former Hereford players, and in this article we take a look back at someone who gained the status as a Meadow End cult hero – despite only featuring for Hereford for a short spell.

HEREFORD HERO.

NEIL GRAYSON.

The impact striker Neil Grayson should have made at Hereford will never really be known. Sadly, the Bulls’ precarious financial position meant the Meadow End faithful did not get to enjoy this totally committed forward for too long, following the club’s relegation from the Football League in 1997.

His all-action style was much loved by football fans across the country, if he was wearing your own club colours that is. However, such were his committed performances he often became public enemy number one if he led the line against you in opposition. Often described as “hard as nails” his abrasive “no nonsense” attitude resulted in many bruising encounters, and yet the quality of many of his goals belied his public persona.

Neil was born in York (1 November 1964) and began playing football locally for Rowntree Mackintosh then in the Northern Counties – East League, and after scoring 27 goals in 44 appearances he was quickly snapped up by Doncaster Rovers who offered him a professional contract in March 1990.

He initially found life tough, and after spells at Chesterfield and Gateshead, settled best at Boston United where he bagged 31 goals in 80 games. This prompted a return to the Football League with Northampton Town. A very successful period followed as the target man scored 32 goals in 120 games, including the Cobblers fastest ever hat-trick in just 5 minutes against Hartlepool, and he led the line as Northampton won the Third Division play-off’s in the 1996/97 season at Wembley.

Ron Jukes, the then Hereford scout, earmarked the marksman as a player who could spearhead a bid to immediately return the Bulls to the Football League. He even persuaded Graham Turner to back this up, as a £20,000 transfer fee was needed, albeit in instalments over an 18-month period!

His never-say-die attitude ensured he quickly became a fans favourite, scoring his first Bulls goal in a 1-1 draw at Hednesford Town on 18 August 1997. His debut had come at Edgar Street two days beforehand in the never-to-be-forgotten 1-2 defeat by Welling on Hereford’s return to non-league football.

Conference goals flowed with further strikes against Farnborough, Cheltenham (2), Leek, Northwich, and two more against Kettering. However, the Bulls were on the FA Cup trail too, and after dispatching Sittingbourne in a 4th Qualifying Round replay, Hereford had set up a “revenge” clash with Brighton in the 1st Round, only six months after the fateful day that had seen Hereford draw 1-1 with the Albion ending the Bulls first league era.

Tensions were high and when Worcester referee Gerald Ashby pointed to the spot after Richard Walker had brought down Craig Maskell, Brighton had another opportunity to inflict pain on the home fans inside a 5,787 crowd at Edgar Street. However, Andy DeBont made a brilliant save keeping out a well-placed Paul McDonald spot-kick. That moment seemed to inspire Hereford.

The Bulls took the lead on 56 minutes. Murray Fishlock and Jamie Pitman provided the ammunition with Neil Grayson pulling the trigger, calmly slotting home for his first ever goal in the FA Cup – at the age of 33. But a Stuart Storer volley sneaked home through a crowded box for an equaliser.

Thankfully, Hereford had a hero in their midst, and after Ian Foster had been bundled over in the penalty area, a textbook Neil Grayson spot-kick secured his second goal of the game.

Next up, Colchester United, in a tough looking 2nd Round tie at Layer Road. It was Grayson again who proved to be the match-winner getting on the end of a superbly worked free-kick. After Chris Hargreaves had been felled just outside the area, Gavin Mahon slipped the ball to Brain McGorry to flick up for Grayson to drill home from close range.

Grayson was to play is part in the 3rd Round but a packed Edgar Street crowd of 7,473 witnessed a disappointing 3-0 reverse at the hands of Tranmere Rovers, and within three months Cheltenham Town had captured the Hereford talisman for a £15,000 fee.

Neil had scored 16 goals in 31 appearances for Hereford before the move. Sadly, the Cheltenham manager Steve Cotterill was all too aware of the ongoing financial meltdown at Edgar Street, with Turner claiming the Robins boss knew the exact dates of Hereford’s quarterly bills – timing his bids for Bulls players to perfection! If Hereford had been able to hold onto the likes of Grayson maybe it would have been the Bulls and not Cheltenham who were to celebrate promotion one season later.

Grayson was instrumental in Cheltenham’s rise, scoring a spectacular goal against Morecambe, and the winner against Rushden & Diamonds in a Conference championship showdown. He was to remain at Whaddon Road until 2002, chalking up 179 appearances, scoring 52 goals.

Neil was named as an all-time cult hero at both Northampton and Cheltenham in a FourFourTwo magazine poll.

Next came two years at Forest Green Rovers, and four more at Stafford Rangers during which time Grayson haunted Hereford, frequently scoring against his old club. The striker played over 170 times for Stafford, notably scoring in the 2006 Conference North play-off final against Droyslden.

Grayson was so physically fit he was able to achieve his ambition of playing until the age of 50!

Since leaving Stafford he played for Carlton Town, Heanor Town, Blackwell Miners Welfare, Oadby Town, Sutton Town and Glapwell. Indeed, Neil was to score one and provide the assist for another on his 50th birthday against Welbeck Welfare on 1st November 2014.

His goal – a first time shot from the edge of the area which flew into the top corner of the net – was followed by a front flip in celebration. Maybe not as acrobatic as the full somersault he used to display, but it was a maneouvre not many could have managed at his age.

Grayson finally retired in June 2015, “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years and the camaraderie was something special. I’ve loved playing, it’s all I ever wanted to do. There’s nothing like it to be honest, there’s no better feeling”.

“I’ve always been known as a hard-worker and I continued to play whenever my legs were up to it. In my last season I played centre-half a couple of times, and I played in goal in eight games. I couldn’t quite keep a clean sheet, but we won seven and drew one!”

Grayson was capped four times, scoring three goals, for the England ‘C’ non-league side between 1998 and 1999. Here was a true legend, and it’s a real shame Hereford could not hold onto him at what became a critical time for the club.

By Keith Hall

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