'I'm not helping to pay Cliftonville players' wages says boss Barry Gray
CLIFTONVILLE manager Barry Gray has described rumours of him helping to pay players’ wages as a key reason for the Reds board retaining his services as “pure rubbish” and “absolutely unfounded”.
After losing five games on the trot – including exiting the Irish Cup to Dungannon Swifts – it was anticipated Gray would be sacked this week, especially after a sizeable contingent of the club’s supporters chanted “Out, out, out” at the final whistle of last weekend’s cup defeat at Solitude.
However, after some reflection, the Cliftonville board decided to stick with their man in the hope that he can turn the club’s fortunes around.
A successful businessman, Gray strongly refuted the suggestion that he only held onto his job because of his alleged financial input.
“I think first and foremost, for people to suggest that is massively disrespectful to the board, all the volunteers who give up their time and the club’s sponsors and the people that put money into the club,” he said.
“To think that Cliftonville need me to help them [financially] is pure rubbish and absolutely unfounded. I also wish I had half the money some people think I have.
“It’s absolutely crazy. This kind of thinking is probably coming from my Warrenpoint days and I was on the club’s board. Forget about talking nonsense about me – be respectful to the people that run the place, free of charge, giving their own time… That’s what people should be considering here.
“People need to bear in mind that I’m an employee of the club. That is all. I get my pay cheque every week just like the players do. That’s the way it has to be for me to be here. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Gray, who held talks with Reds officials last night before a scheduled training session, also kicked into touch the idea that the Cliftonville players were no longer playing for their manager.
“Listen, this term ‘lost the dressing room’ is generally batted around by people who know nothing about what a dressing room is,” Gray said.
“This is my changing room. The second I walk into that changing room and I don’t have or demand the respect of the people in it, no manager will stand for that.
“That is not the case and has never been the case at Cliftonville. I credit the players in that regard because they have given me their utmost.
“Don’t get me wrong, if I don’t pick a particular player on a Saturday he’s going to be pissed off with me, just as he would be with any other manager.”
Gray added: “I say to people all the time: ‘Come in and watch us train. Come in and see the buzz in our changing room week in and week out, regardless of what performance the supporters might see on any given Saturday.”
“I will do whatever I can for my players, to the point where some people think I’m crazy. I can safely say the players give me the best that they have but in recent months we haven’t seen enough of that as a team. You might see three or four players delivering but maybe not eight or nine players delivering at the same time.
“We have no issues inside the dressing room that isn’t the normal, day-to-day, manager-player situations. I have to make decisions that some players don’t like but it’s for the team and the club’s benefit. I have no qualms of saying the support I have from the players.”
Gray cited record goalscorer Joe Gormley’s decision to extend his stay at Solitude recently by a further three years.
“I mean, does Joe Gormley want to extend his stay at Cliftonville for three years if he has a problem with the manager? He’s the country’s best striker.
“If Joe wanted to move he would have options galore. He’s playing for a club that he loves but he wouldn’t be here if our dressing room was a horrible place to be.
I can’t be any clearer than that.”
Gray shot to prominence in January 2011 when his Warrenpoint Town side knocked Cliftonville out of the Irish Cup on penalties, which hastened the demise of former Solitude boss Eddie Patterson.
He coached Newry reserves for a period before taking over at Warrenpoint in 2005 where he spent the next 11 years. He guided the Milltown club from the modest ranks of Mid-Ulster Intermediate football to the Irish Premiership before handing the reins over to former Ballymena United striker Matthew Tipton towards the end of 2016.
When Cliftonville manager Gerard Lyttle decided to take up the opportunity of a full-time managerial post at Sligo Rovers in April 2017, Gray was the surprise choice to replace him. It was felt Gray’s wealth of experience with Warrenpoint and his no-nonsense reputation would be a good fit for the north Belfast club. He built on the solid squad he inherited from Lyttle and added the likes of Brian ‘Bam’ Neeson and helped secure the return of the club’s record goalscorer Gormley.
In his first full season – 2018/19 – he delivered European football after a dramatic play-off victory over Glentoran and guided them to an Irish Cup final.
In keeping with Gray’s tumultuous Solitude reign, the Reds breezed to a 2-0 lead against the Glens before being pegged back in the closing stages.
With extra-time beckoning, Gormley popped up with a late winner to claim a Europa League qualification berth and the guaranteed £200,000 windfall.
A week earlier, Coleraine had beaten the Reds 3-1 in the Irish Cup final.
With Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly being paired in attack for the start of the 2018/19 campaign, hopes were high that the north Belfast club could push the likes of Crusaders, Coleraine and Linfield for the title. But a couple of early season defeats, particularly against Warrenpoint and Premiership new boys Newry City, put Gray on the back foot.
After winning three games in a row, the Reds were knocking on the door of third place just before Christmas. But four successive defeats – and the concession of a massive 17 goals – saw them slip to mid-table and put Gray’s position in doubt.
But the Reds board has backed the former Warrenpoint Town manager to turn the corner and push for the coveted European place between now and the end of the season.