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Born on this day is former Sunderland fullback and winger, Michael Gray. The local lad came through the club’s academy and went on to play over 300 times in red and white.

Gray made his debut at 18 years old, in 1992. The lads won 1-0 in an away win at Derby County with Don Goodman scoring the only goal and Gray coming on as a sub. He was in and out of the first team, playing in various roles such as striker, left winger and left back. It wasn’t until the 1995/96 season, Gray really began to cement his position in the side, playing anywhere on the left.

After Sunderland were promoted as Champions, Gray scored the club’s first ever Premier League goal in a 4-1 win at Nottingham Forest. Despite Gray featuring regularly in the side, we were relegated in our first season in the Premier League. A year later, Gray made headlines for the wrong reasons. After the 4-4 draw with Charlton in the play-off final, the winger missed the decisive penalty in the shootout. Unfortunately, the infamous penalty was the thing that most people remember about Gray, and he’s never been allowed to forget it.

The following season, Sunderland stormed the second tier and finished first, with Gray a crucial figure. He was so impressive that despite playing outside of the top flight, he earned an England call up under Kevin Keegan. He made his debut as a substitute against Hungary where the Three Lions drew 1-1. He went on to feature as a sub again against Sweden, before starting in a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria.

Despite not making the England team for Euro 2000, he helped his boyhood club to a 7th place finish in their first season in the top flight, before repeating the feat a year later. However, Sunderland struggled in the 2001/02 season and so did Gray. He was constantly linked with a move away from Wearside, and was not in Mick McCarthy’s good books. He was stripped of the captaincy and fined after Sunderland’s relegation in 2003 for turning up to training in a Ferrari. McCarthy was outraged that Gray could be so insensitive when staff’s jobs were at risk. He was sent on a short-term loan to Celtic, and left Sunderland permanently in January when he joined Blackburn Rovers on a free transfer.

Gray later went on to have two loan spells at Leeds United. In his second, United were relegated to the third tier. After a stint at Wolverhampton Wanderers, the attack-minded fullback joined Sheffield Wednesday but when the Owls were relegated to League One, Gray announced his retirement from the game.

Now, Micky often appears as a pundit for various news outlets, and always keeps in touch with his boyhood club. He clearly loved his time at Sunderland, and often has many positive words to say about the fans and people of the city.

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