John Gregory is back as an employee in Sussex, as the new manager of Crawley Town. I doubt any Brighton & Hove Albion fans will have anything positive to say about his exploits as a manager, following the bitter saga over the signing of Gareth Barry.
Nevertheless, Gregory served the Albion with distinction as a player in defence and, occasionally, in midfield. In Match Weekly (18 July 1981), he expressed warmth for the side he was leaving:
QPR’s new £300,000 signing John Gregory told this week of his pain at leaving First Division Brighton.
“It was a wrench – I found it difficult to turn my back on the lads at Brighton,” admitted the former Aston Villa and Northampton defender.
“I enjoyed two years at the Goldstone Ground and made many friends, but the prospect of a new challenge with Rangers appealed to me.”
And as John prepared to pack his bags for London he tipped his former team-mates for a bright First Division future.
“The team has yet to reach their full potential but when they do Brighton will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Lest we forget, before he left Brighton, he plundered a couple of goals for the Seagulls in the famous 3-0 thrashing of relegated Crystal Palace in April 1981, which helped enormously in the club retaining its top flight status:
The article in Match continues:
Moving from Brighton was a shock for John. “I know Alan Mullery turned down a bid – but a couple of days after he resigned chairman Mike Bamber accepted OPR’s offer.
“I hadn’t asked for a move so the news that I was to be allowed to go was quite a surprise,” he added.
In joining Rangers John is meeting up with one of his boyhood heroes – former Spurs player Terry Venables.
“I used to watch from the terraces at White Hart Lane and my favourite players were Terry and Alan Mullery – it’s ironic that I should end up playing for both of them. Terry’s an ambitious manager and he’s determined to get QPR beck where they belong – in the First Division. The fact he’s spent so much money on now players shows how determined he is – I’m very excited about the prospect of playing for them.
“I don’t know much about the Second Division although I see that I’ll be visiting a few old haunts. When I played for Northampton I went to such places as Rotherham and Grimsby – and I’ll be back again next season.”
John isn’t so concerned about taking a drop from the First Division to the Second. “Rangers are a First Division set up and I’m sure we’ll be back soon.”
He’ll also be re-united with his former Aston Villa team-mate, goalkeeper John Burridge.
“We’ve been on the phone to each other a couple of times since the move and I’m really looking forward to seeing him again,” said John, who made 59 full League appearances for Villa.
This season is an experimental one for the Loftus Road club because they become the first team in the Football League to play their home games on artificial turf.
“I’m told it’s very similar to playing on grass but come February or March I’m sure it’ll give us an advantage because it won’t suffer the effects of the weather.
“Another plus is that we’ll be able to train on all season and that’s got to be a bonus,” said John.
By the end of Gregory’s first season at QPR, 1981/82, the side reached the FA Cup Final against Spurs, and the utility man hit the woodwork at Wembley. It took until the following season before the Loftus Road side clinched promotion to Division One. The prospect of playing against his old side at Brighton did not materialise as the Seagulls were relegated. However, Gregory was re-united briefly with Alan Mullery who was QPR boss for a traumatic six months in 1984. There was even talk of trying to bring Gregory back to the Albion during the Chris Cattlin era in the mid-1980s, but the club could not afford him.
Gregory then became a hot topic of conversation for Seagulls fans when he became Aston Villa manager. Although Gareth Barry was signed by previous boss Brian Little, he made his League debut under Gregory. Gregory incensed followers of the Albion when he said that Dick Knight ‘wouldn’t know Gareth Barry if he stood on Brighton beach in a blue and white striped shirt, a ball under his arm and a seagull on his head.’ He later added:
“We got absolutely robbed at the time by Brighton. He was substitute for Brighton youth team once. Suddenly Bryan Jones, the youth development officer at Villa, took him from there and he came to us. We tried to agree compensation and we couldn’t. When I put him in the first team his valuation went through the roof. Brighton were very shrewd and they knew the longer they left it the more they’d make because Barry was doing so well.
“Also at the start of the season he got called up by Glenn Hoddle to train with the England squad and that put his valuation up even more. We’d already paid £100,000 at the time and we ended up paying £1 million for him. That sounds cheap now when you see what he’s achieved, but it should’ve been a lot less.”
With the current news of Nelson Mandela’s death ringing in people’s ears, many people are taking to social media to praise the way the former president of South Africa walked the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. Now that Brighton is a thriving club once more, safely into its new stadium, I wonder how many Brighton fans would be willing to seek reconciliation with John Gregory. Who could be open to forgive him for his comments about Aston Villa’s attempt to prise Gareth Barry from cash-strapped Albion without compensation all those years ago?