A Tribute to Graham Day

By Martin Bull

All of us at the BRFPA were sad to hear that our friend Graham Day passed away on the 8th of February, aged 67.

Graham was a genuinely likeable and humble man who always talked more about what he considered his rudimental football skills than the fact that he actually made an excellent career out of it, and played with or against many of the true world greats of the game. 

“Nah, wasn’t me ref, I was somewhere else”

Classic Graham position to find himself in

After starting in the Bristol Senior League at Hanham Athletic and Bristol St George Graham became a Pirate in 1973 and made his debut in March 1975.  Local lad Graham was often the steely yin to Stuart Taylor’s stately yang, making 148 senior appearances for us and enjoying three summers (1975, 77 & 78) in the USA whilst still a Pirate, playing around 20 matches each time with the newly formed Portland Timbers.  No summer rest for Graham!

Gray was yet another Rovers defender who scored a solitary Gas goal, although in a strange way his lack of opportunity up top was a testament to his mobility, as rather like Steve Yates, he was the centre-back who was trusted to guard the half way line whilst his partner, usually the legendary Taylor, was sent up at set pieces.

His sole strike came in February 1977 against Fulham (the same club he had made his debut against two years previously), and he fully admitted that it flew in off his ear. Ouch!

After the 1979 summer season in America Graham signed for Bath City in September 1979, making 19 appearances before returning back across the Atlantic until 1981.

Compared to these two constants in his life the rest of his career was peripatetic though, wandering to Nailsworth and joining Forest Green Rovers for their famous 1981/82 season, winning the Hellenic League whilst letting in only 20 goals, and holding aloft the FA Vase at Wembley, defeating the brilliantly named Rainworth Miners Welfare 3-0.

Graham (top left) at Wembley in 1982 after winning the FA Vase with FGR

Then he reunited yet again with Don Megson when he signing for AFC Bournemouth on 24th March 1983, the exact same day as George Best.  Graham sadly only played in the Hampshire Cup Final, and even George made only five appearances before his retirement, although he did manage to more than double the home gate on his debut from 4,258 to 9,121.

Mr. Day returned to Twerton Park for the 1983-84 season under Bobby Jones, only to be injured in the opening game. This set the tone for the season and in the final league match against Barnet he suffered a broken leg which sidelined him for the whole of the next campaign. He wouldn’t make another first team appearance for the Romans though, ending with 53 appearances and a single goal overall.

After football Graham worked in Kingswood as a financial adviser for 14 years and later became a publican, running ‘The Globe’ and ‘The Rising Sun’ in Frampton Cotterell and, from 2006, the famous Kingswood pub ‘The Old FlowerPot Inn’.  His sons followed him into local non-league football, with Ryan at clubs such as Forest Green and Longwell Green Sports, and Matthew at Oldland Abbotonians.

Graham (right) at the BRFPA Annual Dinner in 2018, with the now late Joe Davis (left)

At the BRFPA Golf Day in June 2018, Graham, with typical Gray understatement, came over for the evening wind down and after a while produced a shabby plastic bag from under the table and asked if we might want some of his old memorabilia.  It wasn’t much he said…

But from that bag came a solid gold winner’s medal from the 1974/75 Gloucestershire Football Association Senior Challenge Cup, and a solid silver runners up medal from the following season.

If any readers don’t know the history of the ‘Gloucestershire Cup’, whilst it started as a proper cup competition, it then morphed into a straight up annual final between Rovers and City, usually pre season, or occasionally post.  They were big games back in the day, with large crowds and strong squads, and were certainly worthy of gold and silver craftsmanship.

But furthermore, those large hands then pulled out a curious bright orange football top in a cramped and tired frame.  It had a large LA Aztecs logo on it (the Americans never did restrained…) and slowly he explained where it had come from.  Mouths dropped and to be honest it took us a week or so before we realised what we actually held in our hands.

Graham had spent three summers ‘on loan’ in the USA with the Portland Timbers, and joined them permanently in 1979, staying until 1981.  From 1978 they were managed by Don Megson, his ex-Rovers boss, and whilst in America he played with, or against, a few little players you might have heard of, like, err, Pele, Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Carlos Alberto.

After the 1979 North American Soccer League (NASL) season had finished, the LA Aztecs (described as ‘The New York Cosmos of the east coast’; which were incidentally the other club Graham guested for on a tour), organised an Autumn exhibition tour of Europe, primarily to milk their star player, Johan Cruyff, who’d finished the regular season as the League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).

As the tour was at a time when many of their foreign players had already gone off to play elsewhere, the Aztecs found themselves needing to bolster their thin squad.  They negotiated special deals to temporarily bring in players both from European teams and fellow NASL teams, such as Clyde Best and Graham from the Timbers. 

The 1979 LA Aztecs exhibition team, including Graham standing and Cruyff crouching

Graham was earning around £400 a week out there (very decent money) but Cruyff was on $700,000 a year!

Graham joined them at their first stop, Paris, where on 18th September they beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1. They then played six games in Cruyff’s native Holland before moving over to England to play, first,  Birmingham City on 15th October (1-1) and then Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday 17th October 1979.  10,575 supporters turned up to see the Blues win 2-0. 

The shirt was the one that Cruyff wore that night, and it was his final ever appearance for the Aztecs and also his last ever game on English soil.

And Graham was the one who backed him up; the steely yin to the great man’s masterly yang, and was also the number 15 to Cruyff’s famous number 14.

Graham will be sorely missed by friends, fans and family, and we wish he was still with us.

Graham Day R.I.P. (22 November 1953 – 8 February 2021)

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