Former All Whites and Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has paid tribute to long-time friend and football colleague Russell Gray who died in his sleep in April 2018.
Gray, a long-time employee at the Wellington Phoenix, was an accomplished sportswriter who was also the author of Ricki Herbert’s biography, A New Fire.
Herbert said hearing of the death of a “very special friend” was “very sad, very sad times”.
“Russ was the first guy I employed at the Phoenix. He was huge value to the club, he had an amazing heart for the game, and amazing love of the game.”
Herbert said he had telephoned the semi-retired Gray to consult him, and wound up offering him a job.
“He jumped at the chance and he was still there five and a half years later,” Herbert said.
After retiring, Gray continued to perform occasional work for the Phoenix and had even written the match report for the Phoenix’s most recent match shortly before his death.
He died in his sleep at his home in Wellington.
“All our thoughts are with his wife Barbara and their friends and family,” Ricki Herbert said.
Prior to the Phoenix, Gray was a sports reporter and sports editor at The Dominion – covering a wide range of subjects with football, golf and netball his specialities.
He was with The Dominion for 32 years, from 1970 until 2002, mentoring a generation of young reporters.
He also wrote biographies of Herbert, netballer Irene van Dyk, golfer Michael Campbell, and golf coach Mal Tongue.
Phoenix coach Chris Greenacre said: “He was a very popular member of the Wellington Phoenix and stood for a lot of the things the Phoenix stood for.”
Former Phoenix and All Whites striker Shane Smeltz said: “We shared many chats together in an empty dressing room. I feel privileged to have always been the last one out now Rusty.”
Retired Phoenix star Paul Ifill described Gray as an “absolute gentleman and tireless worker”.