Born: July 11, 1936;

Died: September 13, 2016

MATT Gray, who has died at the age of 80, was a professional footballer whose best years were spent in the colours of the much-lamented Third Lanark and Manchester City.

He was born in Renfrew in the summer of 1936, and following his schooldays he played junior football with Maryhill. Two years at Lochburn Park followed before a trial match with Stirling Albion in which he scored led to his signing, not for the Annfield club, but for Third Lanark in 1957, making his debut on December 7 at Easter Road, Edinburgh in a 4-0 win for Hibernian.

He worked as an engineer at Babcock & Wilcox and would travel by bus to Paisley Road Toll, then catch a tram to Cathkin Park while he played for Thirds

A stocky well-built inside-forward, six years on the south-side of Glasgow would produce an impressive tally of 130 goals in around 250 appearances in all games during what it is fair to say were eventful, troubled and turbulent times for the ‘Hi Hi’.

Gray played for Third Lanark in the 1959 Scottish Cup semi-final at Ibrox against Aberdeen, a 25,000 crowd witnessing a 1-1 draw but was omitted from the replay at the same venue, won 1-0 by the Dons.

Strong in the air, Gray opened the scoring in the second minute of the 1959-60 League Cup Final at Hampden before 57,994 spectators, prodding the ball home after a Joe McInnes cross had been fumbled by goalkeeper Gordon Marshall only for strong favourites Hearts to come back with two second-half goals. It was the first appearance for Thirds in a major cup final since 1936, and as it turned out would be their one and only league cup final appearance.

A key member of the legendary forward line of Goodfellow, Hilley, Harley, Gray and McInnes, Gray was an ever-present with 34 appearances in the league campaign of season 1960-61 under manager George Young, scoring 19 goals in what was arguably the club’s last outstanding season when third place in the then top division, was secured, netting 100 goals in the process whilst conceding 80. It was Gray who opened the scoring in the final fixture of the campaign, a 6-1 win over Hibernian that achieved the century.

Matt Gray’s prowess in the air was exemplified by the remarkable statistic of 37 headed goals in two years.

This was a golden era for Scottish football in terms of attendances – never more highlighted than on the opening day of the following season when an official attendance of 37,000 packed Cathkin Park for the visit of Rangers, with thousands more gaining admittance through a broken gate.

Third Lanark’s solitary appearance in a competitive continental environment in the Anglo-French Friendship Cup came against Rouen in November 1961 – with Gray featuring in both games - each lost 1-2 with the home leg attracting just 2,500 spectators due to dreadful weather conditions.

The inside-forward notched a hat-trick, including a late equaliser, in a Scottish Cup quarter final tie at Celtic Park in March 1962 before a 42,500 crowd – but Thirds could not build on the success of the previous campaign, finishing in 11th position in the first division.

Financial troubles plagued the club despite the generally healthy attendance figures – and when former director Bill Hiddleston forced his way back onto the board of directors George Young resigned as manager, leading directly to a plunge into the abyss that would reach its ultimate conclusion in 1967.

Matt Gray was one of many players sold – for a then Scottish record transfer fee of £31,001 to Manchester City, the additional pound being added to beat the previous record of team-mate Dave Hilley’s sale to Newcastle United. Gray's final game in the red of Third Lanark had been a 1-1 draw at Cathkin in a Scottish Cup-tie against East Fife on 25 February 1963.

He enjoyed life at Maine Road – the Manchester Derbies and a local scene that saw him socialise with team-mates Mike Summerbee and Franny Lee as well as a certain George Best whilst befriending former World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis.

Gray made his Maine Road debut against Birmingham City on March 2, 1963 and would go on to score 23 goals in 101 appearances for City, including two against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool at Anfield. His final appearance against Arsenal was at Highbury on January 14, 1967.

Boxing Day 1963 is one date remembered to this day when an 8-1 win over Scunthorpe United included a Matt Gray hat-trick including one goal volleyed from his own half directly from the opposition keeper’s clearance.

Gray moved to South Africa where he would play with Port Elizabeth City, Highlands Park and Johannesburg City, winning a League and Cup Double with Port Elizabeth in his first season and receiving a present of a pair of golf shoes from Gary Player when visiting his golf factory.

After two tears and 19 goals he returned to Scotland and in later years lived quietly in Renfrew whilst working for Thistle International Freight at Glasgow Airport.

He was inducted into the first Third Lanark Hall of Fame at a dinner held in May this year.

He died on September 13, 2016 at his home in Brown Street, Renfrew.