Danny Grainger has experienced crisis management at a football club before. Had it not been for Dundee United stepping in to sign him just before the death knell arrived for Gretna, the Hearts full-back could have been forced on to the dung-heap.
Grainger is a farmer’s son from Cumbria and might have returned home to work had he been left with no other playing options when the late Brooks Mileson’s Gretna project was revealed to have been built on sand. Not that Grainger feels any bitterness towards Mileson, who collapsed and died four years ago this month.
Just months earlier the football club he had led into the Scottish Premier League were placed in liquidation, though Grainger had already left during the January transfer window of their last season in a desperate attempt to raise much-needed funds.
Grainger remains confident that he won’t be put up for sale by Hearts for the same reason in January, while he is also optimistic about the Tynecastle club’s survival chances having experienced at first-hand the supporters’ fund-raising rally on Sunday.
“There’s too many people who want to see the club back in the good times,” he said. “So I’d be very surprised to see a club like Hearts go into meltdown the way Gretna did. When Gretna had to dig deep we didn’t have the backing Hearts have, with the fans and all those sort of things. We only had 300-400 loyal fans who wanted to be there every week, so there wasn’t a lot we could do. We just didn’t have the fanbase and that was it.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest guys to come out of the Gretna side of it,” he added. “If it wasn’t for Brooks coming in and putting his money in I’d have probably been working on a farm at home. I owe a lot to him and I haven’t got a bad word to say about him. He came in, he let Gretna live the dream for three or four seasons, we got to a cup final and played in Europe. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Brooks.”
The trouble is that usually the dreaming has to stop. At Hearts, this was underlined in brutal fashion when a winding up order from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs landed on the doorstep at Tynecastle, after non-payment of a tax bill. Now the players are being humbled by the efforts of the supporters to save the club. The fans’ fund-raising achievements might yet need to be supplemented by player departures when the transfer window opens. Grainger has not been given any advance warning that he might be impelled to move on once again.
“I’ve heard nothing and until I’m told that or I hear that then I don’t have to think about it,” he said. “I’m happy where I am, I’m enjoying my football and I’m scoring goals, even if they are deflected ones.”
With three goals in 16 appearances this season, Grainger is three ahead of Ryan McGowan, with whom he is in competition. There are clearly some lighter moments to be found in the midst of a trying period, while Grainger can also seek solace from memories of a certain cup final victory in May. “I don’t have one regret about signing here, not one,” stressed Grainger. “My family is settled, I’m happy, I’ve won a medal I probably wouldn’t have won at another club and I’m delighted where I have come. Like I said, I knew I was going to have to take the rough with the smooth, and I’m more than happy with my decision to sign here.”
After two committed team displays against Inverness and St Mirren, attention now turns to Motherwell this afternoon. The Hears fans are sure to travel to Fir Park in good numbers after another week of sterling effort on behalf of the club. Grainger was present at last Sunday’s fund-raising auction at Tynecastle and he has been inspired by the experience.
“To see all the fans having a good time, smiling, laughing, joking and raising money is a big positive for the club,” he said. “The fans are doing their bit and it’s up to the players to do their bit as well. I think it has brought everyone closer together. We have come together as a club rather than a set of players and a set of fans. At times like this you need to be together and that’s what we’ve done.”
Motherwell’s impressive 5-1 win at Inverness last weekend took them up to fourth in the table and manager Stuart McCall is now looking for his side to improve their home form. “The performances at home have been similar to the away performances, it’s just that we haven’t got the first goal or scored when we have been on top. We know home results have not been good enough and we have got to look to change that.”