Gray eager to show true colours after languishing in shade

Why Birmingham's midfield misfit is waiting for the window of opportunity to deliver

Julian Gray is not exactly sitting by the telephone. It's just that either this month, or in the summer, he expects to be leaving Birmingham City. "I'm hoping something can be done in January because I just want to be playing football," the gifted left-winger, whose three-year contract expires at the end of the season, admits. "I feel I have to kick on. I'm 27 and it's my prime time. I had two seasons in the Premiership and think I did well, so it's where I want to be. I've got the belief but need to be at a club where I can reach that maximum."

Gray thought that club would be Birmingham, but the manager, Steve Bruce, who signed him from Crystal Palace, does not now appear to share that belief. Gray has made just six appearances this season for the Championship leaders. "I don't know why," he says. "But pre-season I wasn't featuring. David Dunn was fit, the manager signed Gary McSheffrey and I didn't even make the bench. I could see I wasn't in the plans." Although Gray takes the view that "every experience makes you stronger", it was still a shock.

"There's no point harping on about bad things," he says. "I look at my situation and think, 'Right, I can either accept it or do something about it'. Every day I go into training and do my best. It may be that I have to move, it may be that I will get an opportunity here. But I can't see that happening at the moment. Maybe I need a fresh start again."

As a professional footballer Gray knows he is in a privileged position, but there are understandable frustrations, and times like the January transfer window provide opportunities to change that. With his technical ability and pace it is no surprise that a number of Premiership clubs are believed to be considering making an offer. "I'll leave that for others [his business manager, Chris Nathaniel, and the club] to sort out," he says. "But I'm naturally a positive person. With my ability and inner strength I can come through this too."

Gray nearly left last summer, along with 15 other Birmingham players, following relegation. Fees were agreed with Charlton Athletic - that fell through because Birmingham wanted Marcus Bent too - and Palace. But Gray, understandably, did not want to return to Selhurst Park, which he had left, in acrimonious circumstances, to move to the West Midlands in the first place.

"How I look at life is that I always want to do better," Gray says, and there is a common theme in his career, the pursuit of self-improvement. It started at Arsenal. Aged nine, he watched from the sidelines as his older brother, Trevor, trained as part of the club's youth system. Soon the scouts were looking at Julian too and he was drafted in and working his way through.

In 1998, by which time Trevor had been released, Arsène Wenger offered Julian a two-year contract. He accepted but, eventually, grew frustrated. "At the time they had [Marc] Overmars, Ashley Cole, Freddie Ljungberg and Thierry Henry was also playing on the left," Gray recalls. "And then there was talk of Robert Pires coming. I'd made my debut but I didn't see any chance for me. I wanted first-team football and I chose to go to Palace."

It was not a step back, it was a step forward. Gray was signed by Steve Coppell, but two weeks later the manager was sacked by the new chairman, Simon Jordan. After a while Gray did establish himself, but Palace struggled. A series of managers came and went and Gray decided that he had to move on himself.

"I wanted to play in the Premiership," he says. A stand-off with Jordan ensued. At one time Gray, having refused a new deal, was not allowed to train at all. Offers from Blackburn Rovers, Charlton and Leeds United came to nothing as Palace demanded a greater fee.

The supporters grew hostile, believing he had turned his back on them. "They'd been told that I said I was too good for the club," Gray says. "But that wasn't true." After a long hiatus, and a loan spell at Cardiff, he was brought back into the team. "I was booed but, after 10 minutes, hit the crossbar and then set up a goal," Gray says. He was flying again and, with the arrival of Iain Dowie, so were Palace. Promotion was achieved via the play-offs but Gray had not changed his mind. He still wanted to go. "Birmingham gave me the opportunity. I needed that fresh start," he says, and he took it.

One game, in particular, stands out in his first season in the Premiership. "We played Man United at home," Gray recalls. "I played left-back and marked Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game. I got man of the match and that was maybe when some people started talking about playing for England. They could see I had something."

Among them was Bruce, who declared: "Julian can be anything he wants." But, like Palace, Birmingham began to struggle. Relegation was staved off, but the following year they went down. Gray was back in the Championship but not in the team.

Does he feel he has under-achieved? "People say, 'That person's got potential but he's not done anything'," Gray says. "But it's not just about the individual. We're in a sport that's a team thing, and everyone needs that potential to be drawn out of them." Gray feels he can do his part. He just needs someone to help him reach that "maximum".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions