A LITTLE history lesson for those who have only jumped on board the Blackpool bandwagon in the last couple of years.
There used to be quite an important chap at the club by the name of Simon Grayson.
And if Ian Holloway is revered for the job he’s done in these parts, then Grayson can’t be far behind.
He joined the club from Blackburn Rovers in 2002, when Steve McMahon was in charge and no one had heard of Latvian investors or such a thing as an east stand.
As a player he did well, always reliable and popular with the fans for giving his all.
When McMahon went in 2004, Grayson stepped in as caretaker boss for one game. Then, after Colin Hendry had been and gone, he was again the man to whom Karl Oyston turned to try to steady the ship.
As decisions go it wasn’t a bad one.
Grayson kept Blackpool up by hook and by crook in 2006, then embarked on a rebuilding process during the summer, bringing in Ian Evatt, Shaun Barker, Andy Morrell, Ben Burgess and Claus Jorgensen.
It worked a treat and 12 months on the club was promoted to the Championship in style – winning their last 10 games in succession, culminating in a memorable victory over Yeovil at Wembley in the League One play-off final.
Grayson had succeeded where Sam Allardyce, Gary Megson, Sam Ellis and Nigel Worthington had failed, taking the Seasiders back to the top two tiers of English football for the first time in 29 years.
Continuing to work on a low budget, Grayson kept the club up the following season and was doing nicely in the 2008-09 season when, a couple of days before Christmas, Leeds sacked Gary McAllister and made it clear Grayson was their preferred choice as next manager.
Despite the fact that Leeds were in the division below, Grayson couldn’t resist the temptation of taking charge at the club he supported as a lad and the place where he started his footballing career.
He resigned from his post at Blackpool and headed across the Pennines.
There was a little bitterness at the time, ‘how could he leave us in the lurch?’ the reaction of some Pool fans. But the overwhelming majority simply thanked Grayson for what he’d done and wished him good luck.
It worked out pretty well for all concerned. After Tony Parkes and Steve Thompson had done some sterling work to keep the Seasiders up, Ian Holloway entered stage right and guided the club to the promised land.
Grayson, meanwhile, led Leeds to the Championship, where they are flourishing.
Tonight is the first time Grayson, 41, has faced his former employees since walking out almost three years ago – and, needless to say, he is looking forward to it.
“It was one of the first fixtures I looked for when they came out, seeing when we would be playing at Elland Road and Bloomfield Road,” admitted Grayson.
“It does hold a little bit of extra emotion and meaning for myself, because of my links with the club.
“I can look back with immense pride at what we achieved at Blackpool.
“It was my first job and it was a great grooming for me. I am ever so grateful that Blackpool gave me that opportunity, firstly to be a player there, then to be player-coach, and finally manager.
“I learned such a lot while I was there and obviously achieved a few things with the team, which included a fantastic day at Wembley when we won the play-off final and got into the Championship with 10 straight wins.
“So I have an immense fondness for the football club and some terrific memories throughout my time.”
Asked how tough it was to transform the fortunes of a club which had struggled so badly under Hendry and later-stages of the McMahon era, Grayson – who became boss in November 2005 – said: “It is never easy when you take over a team which is near the bottom and confidence is low.
“And when you go from being a player to the manager it is even harder, I think, because one minute you are playing with friends, training with them every day, and suddenly you have to be the manager and make tough decisions.
“I had to learn quickly and I think I did. I felt I settled in fast and I felt comfortable in what I was doing.
“You have to make ruthless decisions and that’s what I did to get respect and make it clear what I wanted to do.
“I learned day by day, but I had great help from Tony Parkes and then Steve Thompson, but first and foremost Tony to help me out.
“It was an immense learning experience for me and a great opportunity.”
There’s a school of thought that Grayson took the Tangerines as far as he could and was right to go when he did.
Grayson disagrees, though he does admit he doubts he’d have been able to match Ian Holloway’s achievements.
“I still felt I could do something at Blackpool in terms of taking them further up the Championship,” he said.
“But I didn’t think, given the size of budget and crowds and other permutations, that I could take them to the Premier League – and what Ollie did was an immense achievement at Blackpool Football Club.”
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