Darren Fletcher recalls the arrival of another Midlothian lad at Old Trafford as the Manchester United technical director looks ahead to David Gray's testimonial on Sunday

Manchester United technical director Darren Fletcher joked that convincing a squad of former Old Trafford players to head north for David Gray's testimonial match was an easy sell - because it meant a 'few days up in Edinburgh and a bit of golf'.

The ex-Scotland internationalist is one of a number of former Red Devils getting their boots back on for this weekend's encounter to mark the Hibs assistant manager's service since joining the club as a player in the summer of 2014. Fletcher, 39, will be joined by a clutch of well-known English-based footballers to have spent time at United during their careers including Wes Brown, Darron Gibson, Danny Drinkwater, Phil Bardsley, and Danny Simpson. 

Darren meets David

Speaking ahead of the testimonial, Fletcher recalled the excitement of another son of Midlothian arriving at Sir Matt Busby Way in the mid-noughties.

“David was four years younger than me so I remember him coming to the club. I’m from Mayfield and he’s from Roslin, so we don’t live too far away from each other back home - four or five miles - and the scout that brought Davie to the club was the same scout who brought me to the club so there’s that instant connection," Fletcher said as he recalled their shared time in Manchester.

"I actually met him a few times before he signed, when he was on trial, so I got to know him. We actually stayed in the same digs - when I left, he came in - so we had a connection through the family as well. I used to look out for a lot of the young lads but especially when it was a young Scottish lad, I'd pay more attention. It was always him, Darron Gibson, and Jonny Evans - the three amigos! They were always together."

'Hampered by injuries'

Fletcher recalls keeping an eye on the younger Gray's career, which he admits was pockmarked by injuries.

"Like all young players you watch their progress, you want to see them reach the level you think they can reach. David’s career was probably hampered by injuries and probably to the detriment of how brave and tough he is, he’d play through injury," Fletcher explained. 

Gray left Old Trafford in 2010, signing permanently for Preston North End after loan spells with Royal Antwerp in Belgium, Crewe Alexandra, and Plymouth Argyle. He then went on to turn out for Stevenage and Burton Albion before returning to his homeland with Hibs, becoming Alan Stubbs' first signing. 

'A fantastic home at Hibs'

"Davie would go into tackles that no one else would and probably found himself on the receiving end of some bad injuries along the way but he showed amazing strength of character to keep playing," Fletcher added. "I think he found a fantastic home at Hibs - joining them when they were in the Championship, getting promoted back to the Premiership, and scoring the winning goal in the cup final against Rangers. He’s a Hibs legend and that’s why he’s having a testimonial game."

Organising these matches is never straightforward, especially not on a Sunday in the middle of an international break that falls during the school holidays, but Fletcher insisted that along with Darron Gibson, the two of them had managed to make it work - mostly because there were so many footballers with a United connection who wanted to do it for Gray.

'Everyone wanted to come together for Davie'

“We tried to get a team of players who had played around David’s era and who had played for the first team, and also lads who didn’t make first-team appearances but know David. It’s not easy organising these games but all the players who are willing to participate have been fantastic - they really want to go and contribute on Davie’s behalf because of what a great guy he is, and also to throw on the United shirt again - a lot of the boys are older now and maybe have kids who didn’t see them wear a Manchester United strip so that, plus a few days up in Edinburgh and a bit of golf meant it was an easy sell! But the biggest factor was everyone wanting to come together for Davie and give him some support."

Fletcher hung up his boots in 2019 after short stints with West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City to round of his career, but he is looking forward to getting back on the pitch on Sunday in what he has predicted will be a competitive match.

“I’m really looking forward to the whole experience. I think Davie should get a great turnout - I’d encourage people to buy tickets and come to the game. There are lots of Hibs legends returning, it’s going to be great to play with a lot of the United boys again. Everyone is so excited. It’s for a great cause, it’s for Davie, but we know as soon as we get on the pitch it’s going to be competitive.”

'Fantastic' loan for Fish

Fletcher also spoke about Will Fish, who is a handful of games into his second loan spell at Easter Road having made an impact during the second half of last season .

“It’s been fantastic; a really good loan experience. A little bit slow in the beginning, but I think that was part of the plan from both Hibs and Manchester United," the Old Trafford technical director explained. "Because of the situation with Ryan Porteous Will had to bide his time but he got to know the city, the club, and the style of play, and from Christmas onwards got into the team and has been a mainstay and a revelation since."

There was some consternation from sections of the Hibs support that a second loan spell for the 20-year-old might be under threat when he was whisked away on United's pre-season programme under the watchful eye of Erik ten Hag. But the centre-back did return and after overcoming a shaky start to his second spell at Easter Road, has started putting in the sorts of performances that earned him plaudits last season.

“Part of the reason why we decided to send Will back for another season was because we felt like he was progressing really well; he got a number of games, and we felt like he deserved a chance to play some more," Fletcher continued. "Hibs had qualified for Europe and we felt that his story here wasn’t finished yet. It's still an important part of his development which is going really well and still going to plan. Credit to Will, and credit to Hibs, because it’s been a really good relationship."

Tickets for the testimonial game, which kicks off at 2pm on Sunday October 15, are on sale here>>