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DANNY GRAINGER: Popular club captain calls time on playing career

Long-serving skipper to retire from playing football at end of season

26 April 2019

463 appearances with 47 goals in all competitions north and south of the border is an impressive and fitting footnote to a career which has spanned 17 senior seasons, eight clubs, numerous promotion and relegation battles and a major Scottish cup final, to name but a few highlights, and also leaves plenty of fond memories as the man the dressing room dubbed as ‘Mr Carlisle’ announces his emotional retirement from the playing side of the professional game.

One of Cumbria’s very own favourites wrote himself into the club history books on 28 October 2017 when his strike against Chesterfield – a rare header from a Nicky Adams corner – notched the club’s 5,000th football league goal.

But that’s only part of the story.

His arrival at Brunton Park in the summer of 2014 ended almost 18-months of flirting and rumours and was, in his own words ‘always the dream’ as he pulled on the shirt of the club he’d supported as a boy to take to the field of play.

His unrivalled passion led to him being named club captain for the first time against Oxford United on 25 October 2014 – more on that later – just three months into his first season with the Blues, and that honour became permanent for the away game at Newport the following January. And it’s remained that way ever since.

34 of his 47 goals have been bagged with United, with his spectacular and stunning winner against Newport earning him the Sky Bet League Two goal of the month accolade for November. A month later he added the player of the month trophy to his catalogue of achievements having helped to drive the team to fourth in the table off the back of a six-match winning streak.

A set-piece specialist, his 13 league penalty goals [18 in all competitions for United in total] have left him tied with another club legend, Chris Balderstone, in the all-time league penalty scoring charts. Only Mike McCartney bagged more with his 17 league spot kick finishes.

With almost a third of his playing career having been spent at his boyhood club it came as little surprise that more than a few tears had to be choked back as we sat down with him to talk about his life-changing decision.

On how it will feel to walk out to say a fond goodbye to the fans at Brunton Park for what could be the final time on Saturday, he said: “Emotional! It’ll be tough, it really will, but ... it’s the right time.

“I’ve always said that I wanted to finish my career here. Being on year-to-year contracts, and knowing I only had a year left, it was one where you always go into each season thinking it could be your last one.

“It hasn’t been a rash decision, or anything like that, it’s been something that’s been coming. I just feel that, moving forward, the club needs some fresh blood and a fresh start. The manager has sort of said himself that there’ll be changes in the summer, so it felt like the right time for me to step away from the club.

“The knock-on effect is that me finishing at this club is me finishing my career.”

With football having been such a big part of his life, way back to when he was with United’s centre of excellence as a 13-year old, it was never going to be an easy decision to hang up the boots.

“Like I say, it’s on your mind, but I started to seriously talk about it with my family probably around eight weeks ago, and the hamstring injury reaffirmed the decision,” he explained. “Speaking to Heather, I knew I’d been taking things home too much, so that was the time it needed to be talked about.

“Heather, Oliver and Maisie have become everything to me, and we’ve been through so much together, and most of it’s because they’ve kept me on an even keel.

“They’ve put up with my moods if we’ve lost and they’ve been able to enjoy some of the good things that the game has brought our way as well. Everything has been about me while I’ve been playing football, so I think it’s important for them to have their own little bubble now as well.”

Also in the background, through the highs and lows, has been his mum, dad and sisters, and more than a few good friends who have also been able to chip in with advice and support at times when it was most needed.

“Through my whole career my mam and dad [Hilary and Les] and my sisters [Lisa and Kerry] have been behind me all the way,” he commented. “Highs and lows, they’ve been there to listen and support, and I can’t put into words how important that’s been.

“I’m also lucky that I’ve had Gav Skelton to fall back on, from when I was a very young age. He’s been a massive, massive influence on my career. He was there from day one and, even now, he’s someone I speak to a lot for advice on a number of things.

“In the dressing room over the years there have been too many people to mention. The likes of Jamie Devitt, Luke Joyce, Gary Liddle … I shouldn’t have started listing them because I’ll miss people out, and that’s now what it’s about.

“The lads I’ve played with know who they are and I can’t thank them all enough for helping to make it such a fantastic career to look back on. Here at Carlisle there’s also been Dolly. He’s been there to let steam off with through injuries and things like that, and he’s another who has been a real mainstay for me.”

Talking to a man who has become such a part of the fabric of the club about the help he feels he’s had along the way brings a focus on the fact that the job he’s done without even thinking about it for so long is a chapter that is now coming to a close, with a new future yet to be forged.

“I’ve come to terms that I’ve made the decision to leave Carlisle United and see what the future holds,” he said. “More than likely I’m going to finish playing, and then I’ll see what happens moving forward. I’ve had five great years here and absolutely loved it, but I really do think it’s time that I take a step away.

“Unless Manchester United come in with a £300k a week offer this will be my retirement from professional football. I’ve had 17 years of full-time football which have included some great times and some down times.

“It’s been a massive decision to make. I’ve spoken to many people, team mates past and present, friends and family. It’s been a tough decision. My wife Heather has been great, and she’s asked me 100 times if I’m sure it’s the right decision, but we both think it is.

“I’ve spoken to my parents as well and they both think it’s the right time. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but we all feel like it’s the right time to step away.”

“There are many different reasons for me making this decision now,” he continued. “Like I said earlier, I’ve started to take things home that I haven’t before, mostly frustration with the little injuries I’ve had this season.

“I’ve always been one to spit my dummy out after we’ve lost a game, and Heather and the kids have been alright with that, but the niggly injuries have really frustrated me this year. I’ve taken those frustrations home and taken it out on my family, and that was a big factor for me.

“I sat down with the gaffer last week and we talked about the way I play being very on the edge, so when you lose that little bit of edginess it’s time to call it a day. I’ve always said, and I said to the manager, I wanted to finish too soon rather than too late, because I don’t want to fall out with football.

“I love it, I’ve got my academy and I want to go into coaching, so I don’t want to sit and resent the game for a year. I want to keep the drive to be successful at whatever I do next, and that was another reason.

“I always knew that I’d go from starting every week to stopping playing quite quickly, because I couldn’t sit and warm the bench, I would do everyone’s head in, especially Dolly’s! After speaking with a lot of people I know this is the right decision.”

Watch the full 19-minute interview with Danny here:

We’ll have more on the official website from Danny Grainger later today as he looks back on what has been an enjoyable career in the game.

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