Match fit – Leeds United Manager Simon Grayson and football first to beat cancer
PUBLISHED: 02:41 26 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:04 20 February 2013
Chris Titley catches up with a man aiming to bring the glory years back to one of Britain's biggest football clubs
Simon Grayson is a busy man. Before we meet he has attended a function of the League Managers Association, where he was presented with an award for leading Leeds United on a run of wins which equalled a record set by Don Revies legendary team in the 1970s.
Arriving back at the Elland Road stadium, he has to meet up with some sponsors. Later he is taking Leeds to a pre-season friendly away match. And in between it all, he has to fit in this interview with Yorkshire Life.
With such a mad schedule you would forgive the United manager for being tetchy, but he is nothing of the sort. Gracious, friendly, perhaps even a little shy, Simon is happy to talk. Thats partly because our chat is helping to publicise a unique partnership between the football club and Yorkshire Cancer Research (see panel).
Over three years the charity hopes to use the relationship to raise awareness of the disease among men, who tend to go into denial when it comes to their health. Already it has run a testicular cancer clinic outside Elland Road prior to a Leeds match.
Men in general tried to hide things, says Simon. If you can increase awareness of every cancer thats out there so people feel more comfortable discussing it, then we should do it.
Close friends of mine have had cancer over the last few years, and it makes you realise what people have to go through.
The link with Yorkshire Cancer Research is only one of many things that Simon Grayson has changed at Leeds United since being appointed manager just before Christmas 2008. Most importantly he reintroduced a winning mentality to the team.
In May Leeds were promoted to the Championship, following a roller-coaster season which saw them beat all-comers including arch-rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup before hitting a bad patch.
We beat Manchester United in January the first time wed won there since 1981. But the main aim was to get promoted and we eventually got there on the last game of the season. Wed like to have done it a little bit easier and a little bit quicker but we eventually reached our goal.
Nine years ago Leeds United reached the semi-finals of the European Champions League. Weighed down by debt the club quickly tumbled from these dizzy heights, eventually coming to rest in League One, their first exposure to life in footballs third tier.
Simon has taken Leeds out of that division, and now has his eyes on returning them to the ranks of the elite. With the relegation of Hull City the Premiership is now a Yorkshire-free zone, but its where the team belongs, he says.
When you look at the clubs in Yorkshire, Leeds has probably been the most successful. Going back to the Sixties and Seventies with Don Revie, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles all the great players who played for Leeds, England and Scotland they were dominant in the top division and in Europe as well.
Ive signed a three-year contract and I want to try and get us back into the Premiership. The infrastructure in terms of the club, the training ground, the fan base, is all there still. The Championship is a difficult league with some difficult teams but youve got to keep improving.
Simon is Yorkshire through-and-through. Born in Ripon and brought up in Bedale, sport always played a big part in his life. His dad Adrian was head of sport at Bedale Comprehensive School, attended by Simon and his brother Paul, and still runs the North Yorkshire schools cricket team.
Paul became a cricketer, playing first for Yorkshire then for Essex, where hes now head coach. As a young footballer, Simon joined Leeds United, playing alongside fellow apprentices Gary Speed and David Batty.
I learned a lot of good things from the players: the likes of Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister, Vinnie Jones and Mervyn Day, whos just come back as my chief scout, Billy Bremner, the manager who signed me, and Eddie Gray who signed me at 14.
Although he failed to secure a regular first team place at Elland Road the experience stood him in good stead for a successful career with Leicester City and Aston Villa among other clubs.
He left Villa to join Blackburn Rovers, when the proud Yorkshireman moved to a house right on the Yorkshire border with Lancashire. For a few years Id earn the money in Lancashire and spend it in Yorkshire.
Another team on the wrong side of the Pennines, Blackpool, were the first to appoint him manager. Simon took them up to the Championship, then came the offer to manage Leeds.
When Leeds came calling it was as if all my dreams had come true the club that Id supported and started at wanted me to be their manager. I wouldnt have dropped out of the Championship for any other team.
But Leeds United is like no other team. You have to be a special type of player to play for this football club.
Ive not set out deliberately to bring in players that support the club but theres a group of lads here who do and it means a lot to them to put on the white shirt.
Just like every football fan, Simon was very disappointed with Englands poor performance in the World Cup. He has no simple explanation for the failure, but is very definite that there are too many foreign players in our domestic leagues.
It has a knock-on effect on the national squad and the development of our younger players. My sons at Blackburns football academy at the moment, hes only 11. You wonder if theyll get opportunities to get into the first team at Premier League clubs if theres no limit on foreign players coming in.
And what about the ultimate managers job does Simon harbour an ambition to lead the England team to glory some years down the line? He smiles. Im all right for now Ill concentrate on Leeds
Yorkshire Cancer Research
The three-year link-up between Yorkshire Cancer Research and Leeds United represents a football first, in that a major cancer charity is attempting to go through a club to pass on key health messages to a broadly male audience.
For more information about Yorkshire Cancer Research, or to get involved in fund-raising, go to www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk.