Andre Gray talks through his Shrews academy experience and life after Town.
Andre Gray is one of the most successful players to have come through the Town academy. The Wolverhampton-born striker came through the ranks with the Shrews in the early 2000’s and then spent a number of years playing his football in the Non-League system.
The former Burnley and Brentford man now plies his trade with Watford in the Premier League and has been a continuous and consistent key man at the top of the Hornets front line.
Despite being released from Wolves as a youngster, Andre’s focus was to enjoy his football and make it back into the professional game. His chance came with the Shrews Andre feels his time with Town was a highlight in his career and looks back on his time in Shropshire fondly.
“I went on trial with Shrewsbury when I was in school with my friend at the time. I think it was around under-15’s. I signed for that year and then I managed to get a scholarship later on.
“When I left Wolves I was just playing Sunday league football for a while. My P.E teacher had links with the Shrewsbury scouts and people like that, he was the one who pushed for me, and my friend Leon, to get a trial there.
“We were both practising all the time back home and we just got our chance there and we managed to take it. Leaving Wolves was disappointing but I think it was more of a disappointment because I was young. It is hard to take rejection when you’re that age.
“After that I just wanted to go and enjoy playing my football. I went and played Sunday league and it just took off from there.
“It was good for me to move to Shrewsbury and make that step. It was good for me to do a bit of growing up. We stayed in halls there at Walford College and it was probably one of the best times in my life.
“You learn a lot and have to fend for yourself a lot of the time. It was a chance to get my head down and concentrate on the football. We were training everyday, so it was like being a professional.
“It was perfect for us all. With the gym and all living together it was fun at the same time.
“I loved my time in the Town academy and it was one of the best times that I have had in football. I was genuinely good fun and a lot of hard work. That was part of it, along with the education as well so it was a great time.
“The two years I spent there as a scholar is a memory that I will never forget. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had in my career. It’s something that will always stick with me.
“I would have liked to have established myself into the first-team, but that was down to me and my own downfall – no one else’s.
“I took a lot away from that time. Our coach was hard on us and there was a lot of hard work. It was beneficial and I think having that installed in you was very good.
“The education side of it was good as well. You are learning at the same time as learning the core roots of football.
“It was a nerve-wracking day finding out if you had a deal. Everyone knew what day you were going to find out and it was very nerve-wracking. I never expected a deal, it was more of a hope that I’d get one.
“To find out I got the deal was great, it was a great day for me. To actually say that you’ve made it at the time and have a professional contract was great.
“It’s a lot easier when you are at a lower league level to get your chance. The higher you go in the league the more difficult it is. They have money to invest and buy players.
“It’s not as easy as that lower down, as we were in League Two at the time. The opportunities do come around, so I think that’s the main reason Town players get a chance.
“An academy can be massive for a club like Shrewsbury. They had great facilities at the time - considering where they were. It was massively beneficial for me and as everyone has seen, a lot of players started there and have gone on to do well.
“I don’t speak to many people from the club as much as I used to. I still speak to Jon Taylor and Connor Goldson. I speak to mostly the boys that were on the scholarship with me.”
Despite now playing in the Premier League, Andre’s journey to the top tier of English football didn’t come without its trials and tribulations – as the striker was released from Town in 2010.
The forward went on to play for a number of Non-League clubs before reaching the Football League. Andre feels that experience was vital in helping him develop as a person and allowed him to devote himself fully to his craft.
“Going into Non-League was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time,” said Andre. “I needed it and it was a reality check and a wake up call.
“It’s a life of luxury when you’re playing full time. When you move back to part-time reality really sets in. I feel like that moulded me as a player and helped me get to where I am today.
“I think it was a reality check and it kicked me into gear. I knew I had to go that extra mile if I wanted to get back to where I started. My goal was to get back into the Football League and keep going from there.
“The step up from Luton to Brentford was difficult but I think getting a full pre-season was the main thing for me. I struggled for the first few weeks quite a lot with adapting to the pace of the game and the difference in fitness levels.
“As time went on I felt like I started to adapt well. All of the coaches helped me a lot and helped me to develop. I just tried to take it all in my stride and not think about it all that much.
“I didn’t ever expect to reach the Premier League, especially when I left Shrewsbury. When you’re in Non-League it’s hard to look that far ahead. There are a lot of stages you have to go through to get there.
“Luckily for me, I made a big jump from Luton to the Championship and that sped up the process. If I’d have stayed there in League Two and League One the chance might have faded away. I worked hard when I was at Luton and luckily Brentford took a chance on me.
“My advice to a young Town player now would be to use your spare time and push yourself. Whether that’s in the gym or doing ball work. Just put down the PlayStation and work hard – it does make a difference.”