Simon Grayson: Made in the North

Football is ever-changing. Peaks of success, big wins, the backing of the board, promotions even. But then calamity strikes.

Goals dry up, your defence starts to leak goals, and it’s not the players that bear the battle wounds and scars of the demise, it’s you.

It’s the P45 that ends up on your desk when you arrive at work one morning. It’s the termination of your contract. It’s the end of your time at the club.

Football is full of ups and downs, what goes up must come down.

And it’s for that reason that managers can ill afford to become too enthralled in the game.

You’ve committed a giant killing in the cup, so who’s next?

You’ve been promoted to the Championship, so how will you get to the Premier League?

You’ve been relegated, so how do you bounce back the next season?

Know when to make your move, jump ship or call time completely. It’s a big game of chess and you’re involved in it.

Well, one man who is certainly involved is former Preston North End and Blackpool manager Simon Grayson, who gave students a taste of what it took for him to do his job in an online Q&A session before Easter.

Grayson shared stories of success and tales of woe with the students as he recalled times from his footballing career, both managerial and as a player.

The Ripon-born 50-year old now lives in Lancashire and is currently on a break from barking out instructions on the sidelines having departed from his second spell at Blackpool back in February 2020.

It was at the Tangerines where he gained his breakthrough as a manager, taking the helm at the club in 2005.

It took the boss just two years to execute his plan at the Seasiders, overseeing a winning run of 10 consecutive matches towards the end of the 2006/2007 season, culminating in a play-off final victory over Yeovil Town to gain promotion to the Championship. 

Blackpool beat Yeovil Town 2-0 at Wembley

Reminiscing, Grayson insisted that mentality was key to that run, as well as a piece of bad luck which ultimately ended positively.

“Over Easter, we had two goalkeepers get injured and it left us scrambling for an emergency loan deal.

“We eventually brought in a young Joe Hart from Manchester City, went to Cheltenham and won with him making save after save.

“The Cheltenham manager at the time said we had our doctor to thank for the win because he’d signed off the other two ‘keepers as injured!

“From then on, we just had confidence, momentum and we won football matches. We never believed that we were going to get beat.

“We even went to Wembley with a belief that we would go and win the game against Yeovil and see the job through.”

Throughout both his career as a player and to date as a manager, Grayson has always been in the North of England.

Jokingly, the experienced manager told students that he was waiting on a call from Tottenham Hotspur to replace Jose Mourinho but did insist that there was no specific reason for him sticking to the North.

The 50-year-old said that if the right job offer from down South came, he would hop on the first train down there but considering his career thus far, it may well be the smell of gravy and the landscape of the Lake District keeping him close to his roots.

Grayson did though swap counties when he left Blackpool, returning to his homeland of Yorkshire to manage his boyhood side in Leeds United.

And just as he did at Blackpool, Grayson got Leeds promoted from League One as well as claiming the scalp of Manchester United at Old Trafford with a 1-0 victory in the third round of the FA Cup.

The manager laughed along with students as he told the tale of a scalding look from Sir Alex Ferguson in the veteran’s room after the game.

When asked what type of wine he would like by Ferguson, Grayson replied, ‘you know me, I don’t do anything red, I’ll have a glass of white!’

As expected, the then Leeds boss ended up with a beer instead.

Staying in Yorkshire, Grayson enjoyed League One success again at Huddersfield Town before returning to Lancashire.

An unfavourable decision to the first club he managed – Blackpool – Grayson joined up with their local rivals Preston North End in February 2013. Within a couple of years, North End had followed in the footsteps of their neighbours and been promoted from League One under the stewardship of Simon Grayson,

The Lilywhites ultimately went up with a thrashing of Swindon Town at Wembley in the play-off final, but it might not have ended that way had it not been for Grayson as he explained to the students with a gleeful smile.

“The last game of the season, we went to Colchester and automatic promotion was in our hands. If we’d have won everyone would’ve been happy but we lost 1-0 and finished third.

“We were driving back from the ground to the airport and the bus was so quiet, I knew I had to do something, so I asked the driver to pull over in a lay-by.

“I stood up in front of the players and told them that they had a second opportunity. I reminded them that if they’d finished seventh, they’d have had no chance of promotion but that they still did have a chance.

“I guaranteed them that if they won at Wembley, it’d be the best day of their lives and all the lads took it in.

“After winning, they all said it was the best way to do it!”

That promotion with Preston marked the 4th of Grayson’s career with as many clubs.

After leaving North End, he has gone on to manage Sunderland, Bradford City and made a brief return to Bloomfield Road to take over at Blackpool for the second time in his career.

And whilst he is yet to achieve another promotion to date, he still speaks of his managerial spells since with great fondness.

Much has been made of his departures from all three of the clubs since Preston, but it is evident that Grayson retains the passion and hunger to return to the game.

“I’m proud to have managed nearly 700 games in my career. I’d love to get to 1000 one day.

“Other managers have done, and I hold them in high regard.”