When club captain Danny Grainger put pen-to-paper on a Carlisle United contract in the summer of 2014 he fulfilled a lifelong ambition to play for the club he’d supported, but even he couldn’t have imagined that he’d be leading the club through a tough relegation battle, and on to play-off campaigns, big cup games and club records which will make sure he forever takes a place in the club’s history books.
Looking back at his time with the club, he said: “It’s been an up and down five years. When you first come to a club you want to hit the ground running, and I don’t think I did that in my first season.
“A relegation fight in your first season isn’t really what you want. Since then it’s been great, and I’ve made some memories that I always wanted. To lead my hometown club out at Anfield is fantastic, I’ll never forget that.
“Scoring two goals at Exeter away in the last game of the season to help us into the play-offs, the winner against Newport this season, I could go on and on. There’s loads I could talk about.
“I’ve loved it. To play for and captain the club you supported as a kid is something you laugh and dream about really. My mates always tell me to just enjoy it because it was what I always wanted to do.”
But what was it like to be handed the captain’s armband, and then to retain it through two managerial changes and close to 175 games for the club.
“I’ll never forget being made captain of this club for the first time,” he commented. “We played Oxford, and it was just a shock. The manager hadn’t pulled me in or anything, and it was Thir [Paul Thirlwell] who told me.
“He was brilliant with it. I think a lot of people would have been upset, and you have to remember that Thir was a legend himself, so there would have been people looking and wondering why it had been taken away from him. I was more than happy to take it on and Thir was great with me.”
“It’s a job I’ve taken seriously,” he continued. “I’ve taken little things from what I’ve seen other captain’s do. It’s probably been easier for me to captain this club than any other, because this is the club I’ve always wanted to be at.
“To go into the community is no bother at all because I can remember seeing our players do it when I was a kid, and it meant a lot. I wanted to make sure that the kids round here got the same sort of buzz that I did when I was their age.”
Having been through so much, he admitted that his only disappointment is that the hamstring injury will prevent him from taking to the field just one more time.
“It’s disappointing for me not to be playing having made this decision,” he admitted. “I’m really frustrated and gutted that I can’t get one more appearance, or even three more to get to 200!
“It would have been nice to get to 200 but, with the way things have gone in the last couple of weeks, I would have taken just one more. Having said that, and as we spoke about earlier, I’m going away from here with some wonderful memories.
“I’ve already mentioned Anfield, but even games like Hartlepool at home when we won 3-2. I’ve made some great mates here and it would have been nice to finish with 200 appearances, but I’m happy with 197.”
On his history making header against Chesterfield, he told us: “I did get the 5,000th league goal for the club so I’ll stay in the record books for a while yet!
“It’s nice to have little records like that, but it’s the club’s success that’s the main thing. It would be great if the lads can get into the play-offs and it would finish it off nicely if we got promoted. We know it’s an uphill task now but it’s still all to play for. If we get maximum points in our last two games I’m confident that we’ll get into those play-off places.
“I’m just three short of being the top penalty scorer for the club as well, and it would also have been nice to get that record. I’ve always been confident with penalties, I haven’t had many in the last nine months or so, which is frustrating, because I think I could have got another three!
“If it’s there I’ll always take it. It’s a free hit from 12-yards and you should back yourself to score every time. It’s all been great, the penalties and the rest of the goals. I’ve scored a couple of flukes as well as a couple with my right foot, and even that header, which doesn’t happen very often!”
But is there anything he would have done differently over the course of the last 17 years?
“I don’t think you can have regrets with anything you do,” he insisted. “The one thing I would say is that I was slightly negative in the early part of my career.
“I let mistakes bother me, and it’s something I say to younger players now. Mistakes happen and you’ve got to get on with it. That comes with experience, and it’s easy for me to sit here now and say get on with it. I think that negativity in the early part of my career probably slowed me down a little bit.
“Looking back over my career as a whole, it’s something I’m pleased with. When I was younger I would have loved one professional appearance for Carlisle, so I’ve lived my dream.
“I think the fans have realised that. Your relationship with supporters is always very up and down. You can go from scoring the winner in the last minute to giving a poor back pass that leads to a goal that loses you the game the next week. It’s part and parcel of it all.
“I’ll always go out on any pitch, but especially this one, and work as hard as I possibly can. I think I’ve won a few over because of that, but you’re never going to please everybody. Some will say they agree that it’s time for me to call it a day, and others will say I should probably carry on. What everybody knows is that I’ve knocked my pan in for the club, and that’s the main thing for me.”
As for what’s next, whatever it is, it’ll be something which gets nothing less than 100% commitment and dedication.
“I don’t know what’s next yet,” he revealed. “I want to go into coaching, and I’ve got my own academy which is going from strength-to-strength. I want to get into coaching as quickly as I can, and I’d never say never about being back in the technical area here in the future.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with this manager and I really want him to be a success. I speak to him a lot and we’ve got a good relationship, on and off the pitch, and I think it was a good decision by the club to give him another year to prove that he’s the right man for the job, because he’s been brilliant for me since coming in.
“I sat down and had a conversation with the gaffer on Sunday about this decision, over a coffee, and he was superb. He gave me some great advice and told me I’m more than welcome to come down and watch training and things like that next year.
“To be honest, there hasn’t been any sort of conversation about me taking on a role here. I’ve spoken to the gaffer and to David Holdsworth and they both said that they respected my decision, and they’ll look at things further down the line.
“I’ve no idea what the plans are after this season for myself, but the most important thing is that the club goes forward and kicks on. There are a couple of little things I’m looking at, but I’ll be concentrating on my academy to make sure that kicks on in the meantime. It’ll take care of itself after that.”
“Coaching is something that really does interest me,” he confirmed. “When I started my career at Gretna I said that I wanted to play as high as I could, and there’s no difference with that when it comes to coaching.
“I’ve been quite lucky that I’ve worked under some really good managers and coaches, and international managers and all these sorts of things, and I’ve taken little things from there I can use as well.
“Right now, the important thing is that we need to finish this season properly. Hopefully we can finish with a trip to Wembley and a promotion, just as I finish my career. That would be nice.
“I honestly don’t know if I’d be fit for that because this injury has been a weird one. We’ve had a couple of scans on it and there’s been a bit of fluid sitting on a nerve, so that’s given me different feelings to what it actually is.
“I got through a full hour’s training session last week only to break down with 20 seconds to go, so that was frustrating as well. I’m still pushing to be fit as soon as possible. If that’s Yeovil, brilliant, if it’s not, and it is highly unlikely, then it’ll be the play-offs if we can make it there.”
“I’m a Carlisle fan and I want to see the club do as well as it possibly can,” he concluded. “I would love to be sat here this time next season thinking damn, I should have stayed for one more year.
“If we do fall short this season, it’ll be a shame, because I still have great confidence in the lads that they can get the job done. My biggest disappointment is that I joined this club when it was in League Two, and we’re still here. I would dearly love to see us get success.
“Whatever I end up doing next, success for this club is what I want to see more than anything. I’ll move on to something new, of course I will, and I’ve never been able to do anything half-hearted. I’ll be giving my all to whatever the next step is, but I’ll also be watching what happens here closely, and hoping that we get back to where we should be.”
Watch the full 19-minute interview with Danny here: