Tattooed body parts, declarations of undying love and an ambush in a quiet street in Majorca. This is the story of a Scottish Cup-winning goal hero.
David Gray endured an interruption to his fairytale after being booked shortly after his header clinched the cup for Hibs in May. But having been suspended for last month’s fourth-round victory over Bonnyrigg Rose, the skipper returns to action in the competition against Hearts at Tynecastle tomorrow.
So the obvious question to ask is how has life changed for him in the nine months since he headed home Liam Henderson’s corner to seal a 3-2 win over Rangers?
One of the first repercussions, aside from being swallowed up by fans and team-mates in the ‘David Gray’ corner at Hampden, proved a drawback to his hopes of starting Hibs’ defence of the trophy.
A booking for leaving the pitch, as referee Steven McLean applied the rules to the nth degree, meant Gray was sidelined for the 8-1 win over Bonnyrigg.
Hibs return to Tynecastle once more tomorrow – they have played more Scottish Cup ties there than at Easter Road in the last two seasons – with Gray eager to get back involved.
His one-match suspension, now served, was a minor frustration given what else was gained in those dramatic dying moments at Hampden.
“It was difficult watching [the Bonnyrigg game] at Tynecastle, especially when you feel a wee bit hard done by,” Gray noted yesterday. “But if I had the same decision to make again, I think I’d have done the same thing again. I had to take it on the chin.”
At least the referee had the good grace to apologise. “Aye, pretty much,” said Gray. “He said to me, ‘You know I need to do this, I’m sorry about it.’ I said to him, ‘no problem, mate.’”
It probably hadn’t sunk in then. But nothing was ever going to be the same again for Gray. Amid such delirium, he certainly wasn’t aware of the significance of a second booking in the campaign.
“To be honest I didn’t even know the rules,” he said. “It wasn’t until I came back this season that I realised it carried over, the two yellow cards.”
But this, in the wider context, was a trifling matter. With his face now inked on the calf of at least one Hibs die-hard, immortality was worth a booking. “I don’t know how I feel about that,” he admitted, with reference to tattoo parlours offering such ‘David Gray’ specials. “It’s quite strange to be honest.”
He was more than slightly shaken when just a few days after his Hampden heroics, Gray was jumped on while away on holiday. Normally every tourist’s nightmare, the defender was relieved to learn it was an exiled Hibby, who, having missed the final, was keen to get in on the action.
Gray and his wife Hayley, who was heavily pregnant at the time, flew out to Majorca just a few days after the final, with their then only child, Ivy. “I wanted to take myself away from all the hype,” he explained.
Hayley was especially keen to take her husband away, reasoning that she’d barely see the hero of the hour otherwise. But their peace and tranquillity was soon shattered.
“We were walking through this wee quiet street when this big drunk Scotsman ran up and jumped on my back,” recalled Gray. “I got quite a fright, I was pushing a pram at the time. I’m thinking, ‘what’s going on here?’”
Such heart-stopping moments in the Balearics are just one way in which things are different for him now. “I obviously get a lot more attention,” he said. “And it’s nice to hear stories, have people coming up to you and saying ‘my dad has been going to Hibs games for years and he never thought he’d see the day…’
“All that is very humbling from my point of view. But I think I’ll appreciate it more once I finish my career, when I have time to reflect on it and think back to it.
“At the moment I am more focused on trying to do the next thing, and on Sunday that means trying to get through to the next round.” All good things must come to an end. But, Hibees pray, not just yet – and not at the home of their fiercest rivals, where Hibs came back from the death last year to secure a 2-2 draw at the same stage. Many felt that this comeback provided them with the impetus to go on and finally win the trophy.
The bid to retain the cup is the tricky task inherited by new manager Neil Lennon, who replaced Alan Stubbs last summer. With Lennon absent because he was attending a funeral yesterday, assistant Garry Parker handled media chores.
Parker admitted both he and Lennon feel a weight of responsibility. “They won it last year,” he said. “We don’t want to be the ones to give it away.”