Gerry Gray has experienced the thrill very few Canadians athletes have ever had. He once played before 108,000 wildly enthusiastic and highly excitable spectators, the largest crowd ever to see a Canadian team in action- any year, any place, any sport.
Gerry remembers it well and so he should- he emerged as the key figure of this World Cup qualifying clash. It happened on November 16, 1980. Canada was plating the host country, Mexico, in a do-or-die CONCACAF ( North and Central American and Caribbean zone) match at the giant Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. If the high Altitude of Mexico city wasn't enough to put the Canadian team at a disadvantage, the capacity crowd screaming for the soccer scalp of the visitors from the north made things doubly difficult.
Canada tied 1-1 thus eliminating the heavily favored Mexicans from further World Cup Competition. And yes, you guessed it the goal that rippled through the soccer world like an earthquake and enabled Canada to advance past the first round for the first time in history was scored by Gerry Gray.
As the dead ball specialist (for the uninitiated, that means a competent free kick taker), Gerry found the Mexican net from a set play. Unfortunately , for the plucky Canuck team they didn't quite make it past there zone to reach the 1982 World Cup final 16 in Spain. For years later, Canada did qualify for the 1986 quadrennial global showdown in Mexico, and Gray- together with fellow Mississaugan Bruce Wilson- was credited with having played an important role in enabling Canada to reach the finals for the first time in history. However, Canada had the misfortune of being grouped with soccer powers France, Hungary and the Soviet Union and didn't make it out of the first round.
Born in Scotland (he's still a Glasgow Celtic fan) where he picked up soccer savvy the way most Scottish-born lads tend to, Gerry moved to Malton with his family when he was still a youngster. Playing in the Malton minor system, it didn't take long for his building budding talent and skills to attract attention.
He served his international apprenticeship with Canada's youth team and was a valued member of the squad that won the CONCAF zone in Honduras. This earned them a trip to the 1979 FIFA International World Youth Championships in Japan, where the Cinderella team Canada shocked the heavily favored team Portugal before eventually bowing out.
It proved to be a valuable learning experience, leading a successful career both at the domestic and international levels.
Gerry was signed to a professional contract by the Vancouver Whitecaps and spent three seasons between 1980 and 1982 playing with the team in the North American soccer League. A great rookie season with the Whitecaps earned gray his very first International Cup.
He was chosen for 11 Olympic tournament contests, including Canada's most memorable run to the quarter-finals of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where the Canucks were narrowly edged by the power house team from Brazil. Gerry would eventually play in full senior international games, still one of the highest totals for a Canadian.
In addition to his seasons with Vancouver in the NASL Gerry also played for Montreal Manic (helping them to reach the semi-finals), New York Cosmos and the 1984 Super Cup champions Chicago Sting- where his first assignment was to neutralize the Toronto Blizzard's ex- Italian international star Roberto Bettega in the Finals, a job he performed to wide acclaim.
After the demise of the NASL, Gerry spent two seasons with Hamilton Steelers in the Pro Canadian Soccer League and was instrumental in helping his team reach the national finals.
During his time with the indoor soccer league, he played with the Vancouver Whitecaps (where he scored a remarkable29 goals in 32 games between 1980 and 1981), San Francisco Golden Bay, Chicago Sting and Tacoma Stars.
Mississauga first paid tribute to Gray in 1980, naming him Professional Athlete of the Year. In 1995 he became one of three inductees into The Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame- an honored in domestic competitions and in the International arena.