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Wray is a tough act to follow
JEREMY Wray has fought his last fire.
After 18 months, a promotion, a relegation, three managers and a Wembley final, the man who brought Paolo Di Canio to our forgotten Wiltshire town has been replaced as chairman.
During his year-and-a-half at the County Ground helm, however, Wray was not just a chairman. He was an administrator, a translator, a prophet, press officer, mediator and firefighter.
Now, sitting at a desk in his first-floor office in Ramsbury, he’s been forced to leave it all behind.
Yesterday, as reported by the Advertiser earlier in the day, Wray was removed from the top job at SN1 under the strict instruction of primary investor Andrew Black.
Black seemingly wanted to have in place a man, in Wray’s own words, who could “chair a board” in the directions the Betfair co-founder deemed fit.
It is a decision that has shocked many fans, who have grown to admire and adore Wray for his role in bringing success and style to a club where once the threat of extinction was very real.
Having initially been a part of the consortium led by Andrew Fitton which arrived at Town in 2008 to save the Robins from going under, Wray assumed the role of interim chairman in April last year when Fitton resigned after Swindon’s relegation to League Two.
Quickly, he set about transforming the club, bringing in Di Canio and making wholesale changes to the playing staff.
Championship football in three years was outlined and step one was achieved with minimal fuss.
But, with a push at double promotion looking a prospect of some substance, Wray has been stood down from his position and former diplomat Sir William Patey put in his place.
In a candid and characteristically open interview with the Advertiser on the afternoon of his replacement, the ex-County Ground supremo said being forced out of office was not easy to take. But he asserted that Black, with whom he shares a friendship of some 30 years, was well entitled to make the change.
“The very first time I heard, Andrew Black phoned me personally,” he said. “It was about 10 days ago. He said he’d been thinking about it and he wanted to make a change as chairman.
“(I felt) surprise and disappointment initially, but he made it clear what he wanted to do and ultimately he is the major shareholder of this club.
“I know he likes to stay in the background and I respect that but people should recognise that he has put a huge amount of money into this club and he has his own views of how it should move forward.
“In this particular instance I didn’t agree but he’s focused on that. He feels that Sir William brings in a range of talents that I don’t have and I accept that many of those are true.
“I’ve met Sir William and he’s a thoroughly nice guy and I’ve got no worries that Swindon will progress well under him.”
Wray’s brother Ed was Black’s co-founder of the online betting exchange Betfair and the pair have been close for the best part of three decades, while Black himself has ploughed millions of pounds into Swindon in a bid to help them reach the second tier.
It is no surprise, then, that Wray steered away from attacking his mate’s decision.
“Today I wouldn’t say is the high spot of the 30-year friendship, there’s no doubt about that. You’re very lucky if you have a handful of friends in your life that you’ve known that long and I would like to think that when this settles down, as it will do and probably as soon as we’ve got a good result against Scunthorpe, I’m the first person to realise people move on and people will be going ‘Jeremy who?’ after that.
“That’s good and I think at that stage the relationship with Andrew will be fine. I certainly don’t bear any grudges.”
In his brief time in charge, Wray has extinguished the flames of many a Di Canio-infused controversy.
Yet with extraordinary flexibility and flawless temperament, Wray has kept his manager – and with him the fans and sometimes the media – sane.
So what does he feel is his recipe for success?
“If there’s one thing I want to be remembered for in my short time and space in charge it’s that the board has that openness and honesty,” he said.
“You don’t have to go through every detail of every board meeting and report it into the press, but people like to know what the strategy is, that you’re sticking with it, that you’re coherent, that if an issue blows up you’re firm on where you stand with it. Obviously we’ve had several incidents directly related to Paolo and his management style.
“At each stage we’ve had to have a look and think where we stand on it and make sure everything’s done properly, but we’ve been open with it.”
Wray was offered a role back on the board after being replaced, but chose not to accept, instead leaving the club for good.
He leaves behind a legacy of impressive note for a man whose association with the club is relatively brief.
However, he insisted it would not have been right to stay on.
“The offer was there to stay on and work with Sir William and carry on and I just thought that was wrong.
“I think if you’re making that change to step back down and work with him it’s better if you give him a free run at it.”
So what now for a man whose life and work – albeit unpaid – has been dedicated to the game for 18 months?
Well, don’t be surprised to see him slipping through the turnstiles soon.
“I’ll probably go and try to find some Town End tickets for Aston Villa.
“I think it’s only right that you give it a period of time. I’d love to go on Saturday and I don’t know what I’ll do, I’m dreading being dragged along to a shop by my wife, but I don’t think it’s right to be there on the first game after a hiatus like this.
“Sir William has been open with me and was genuine when he said that I can come back at any time. I’m a fan now, and until we sell out every week there’ll be a seat that’s available somewhere that I can take.”