Tough times in the past as Danny savours Hearts move

DANNY GRAINGER is politely asked to get off the pitch as Hearts' stadium manager approaches. Ten years since his career almost stopped in its mudtracks when his family's farm was closed down, Tynecastle is the proverbial field of dreams for the defender.

He is posing for photographers attending his official unveiling as a Hearts player when he steps on to the grass, which is off limits whilst undergoing some TLC after an exhausting season. Behind the smiles and flashbulbs, there lies arguably Scotland's most grateful and humble footballer.

The opportunity to sample European competition with Hearts is just desserts for Grainger, who suffered banishment to his family's Cumbrian farm at the height of the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak. Aged 14, he could not play football for eight months and feared for his future. The work to rebuild not only his career but his family's lives and livelihood makes the move from St Johnstone to Hearts feel all the more rewarding.

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For nine weeks at the height of the crisis, Grainger, his parents Hilary and Les plus sisters Kerry and Lisa could not leave their land at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith. Food deliveries were left at the end of their drive, school was forbidden and socialising was banned as the government battled to contain the spread of foot and mouth. Grainger watched in devastation as around 250 cows and 500 sheep were sent to slaughter from the farming community which had been his life.

Football, he admits, was the last thing on his mind as smoke from fires burning livestock carcasses filled the air. The league he played in, the Kent Valley League, was abandoned as efforts to prevent the disease spreading reached frantic proportions. Only the faith of Queen of the South saved Grainger's career from being stifled in its infancy amid a nationwide epidemic.

"For nine weeks we just couldn't leave the farm. Growing up, the place was part of my life," he recalled. "It was going to be either the farm or football when I left school because it was my dad's and my grandad's livelihoods. It just got wiped out in a morning and it was devastating. Everything just seemed to stop for me at that point, but to be honest football was the last thing on my mind. I was more bothered about my family and my dad's livelihood.

"We were confined to the farm, not allowed to leave the premises to stop the spread of the infection. We had to really stick together as a family to get through it. People were delivering shopping to the end of our longing and we were going out to pick it up. It was weird. A part of my life that I'd rather forget but one that you can't really get away from.

"They shut down the league I was playing in for a year. I was training and playing the odd game for Queen of the South at the time and they were so good, taking me back and giving me another chance when I finally did get off the farm.

"I went the best part of eight months without playing a competitive match. It felt like such a long time. Once I got off the farm I could go to the park for a kickabout with my mates and I used to do that to have a laugh and cheer myself up. But the local league was stopped completely.

"I was coming to the end of my school time and thinking about part-time football with Queen of the South and the farm was going to be my other job. So it wasn't just the football side of it, we had to think about surviving and not having an income for a few months. All of that was running through my mind.

"My whole family was devastated that their livelihoods were getting wiped out so fast. But we've recovered and, if you look back, it was probably a blessing in disguise for us all."

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The Graingers' farm was rebuilt from scratch and went on to thrive once more. Much like Danny's career, which properly took off when he rejected a contract offer from Queen of the South in favour of Gretna. From there he joined Dundee United and then St Johnstone before being lured to Tynecastle on a two-year contract last week.

"I didn't believe I could get to this, to be honest," he continued. "I just set myself a target of getting to the first-team at Gretna. Once I established myself as an SPL player there, I got my break and moved to Dundee United. From there I just kept trying to challenge myself.

"It didn't work out at Dundee United but when I went to St Johnstone everything was rosy. I was playing every week and things were going good. Now I feel I need a new challenge to push myself as much as I can."

Grainger's motivation to succeed clearly stems from past experiences. When everything you have is destroyed almost in an instant, you appreciate everything else thereafter. Ten years after the most harrowing experience of his life, there is no chance of Danny Grainger taking Hearts for granted.