Starting his playing career at the age of 14 with local club Leeds, Ripon-born full-back Simon Grayson has enjoyed a lengthy career in the game as both a player and manager. Basing his career mainly in the north of England, Grayson has completed an unusual hat-trick: he has both played for and managed three different clubs.
As a player, his career did not exactly take off at Leeds. Having become an apprentice at 16 and signing professional forms in June 1988 at the age of 18, Grayson appeared only twice for the first team. They were exciting times at Elland Road, with the Second Division title won in 1989; shortly after Grayson departed, Leeds became the last club to win the old First Division prior to the advent of the Premier League. Grayson was not an integral part of it, returning to the second tier with Brian Little’s Leicester City for £50,000 on 13 March 1992.
It proved to be an excellent move for Grayson, who went straight into the Leicester first team and helped the club to reach the playoffs in May 1992. Unfortunately, it ended in disappointment, beaten 1-0 by Blackburn at Wembley. In his first full season of 1992-93, they were back in the playoffs, this time going down 4-3 to Swindon in the final. Grayson missed that final, having suffered a series of injuries that season. Leicester were well-placed to win automatic promotion in 1993-94, but a run of two wins in their last twelve games left them in the playoffs again. This time promotion to the Premier League was secured with a 2-1 win over Derby; Grayson was appointed captain for the final, thus becoming the first captain in the club’s history to lift a trophy at Wembley. He also picked up the Player of the Season award for the first time.
Leicester struggled badly in the Premier League, winning just six games as they were relegated straight back to the First Division. The 1995-96 season followed a very familiar pattern as Leicester reached the play-off final for the fourth time in five seasons; this time, a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace took them straight back up again. Leicester turned in a great season in 1996-97, finishing 9th in the Premier League and winning the League Cup at Hillsborough with a 1-0 replay win over Middlesbrough. Grayson was again voted Player of the Season.
Leicester had qualified for Europe, but Grayson would not be there to take part. In the close season, former Leicester boss Brian Little took him to Aston Villa for £1.3 million. Villa had themselves qualified for Europe by finishing fifth in the Premier League, and Grayson made his European debut in the first round match at Bordeaux. He was to make six appearances in the competition as Villa swept past Bordeaux, Athletic Bilbao and Steaua Bucharest before falling to Atletico Madrid on away goals in the quarter-final. League form was not so good, and Little resigned in February with Villa in fifteenth place and just six points above the drop zone. New manager John Gregory inspired an immediate revival as Villa won nine of their last eleven games to qualify for Europe in seventh.
Villa had another good season in 1998-99, beating Stromgodset in the UEFA Cup before going out to Celta Vigo. There was to be disappointment in the league, finishing sixth and missing out on a European place by two points. There was more disappointment for Grayson, who lost his place at the end of February after a run of five defeats in six games and was sold to Blackburn for £750,000 in July 1999.
Blackburn had just been relegated from the Premier League and were expecting a swift return. However, Blackburn won just three of their first fifteen games to languish in eighteenth place. Manager Brian Kidd was sacked, and was eventually replaced by Graeme Souness in March. Blackburn limped to a mid-table finish, but it was immediately clear that Souness did not fancy Grayson. A series of loan spells away from the club was to follow, beginning with a month at First Division rivals Sheffield Wednesday at the start of 2000-01 including a game against Blackburn. Grayson joined First Division side Stockport County in January 2001 for three months and returned to Ewood Park just in time to see Blackburn promoted back to the Premier League in second place. Grayson had not made a single league appearance for them. The 2001-02 season followed a similar course with a two-month loan spell at Second Division Notts County from September. A month a First Division Bradford followed in February 2002, but once again Grayson failed to make a single league appearance for Blackburn, who finished tenth in the Premier League and won the League Cup. It was time to move on, and Grayson signed for Blackpool in July 2002 on a free transfer.
Blackpool had a decent start to 2002-03 and were challenging for a Second Division playoff spot at the beginning of March, but a poor run of just four points from their final twelve games saw them finish in the bottom half. The 2003-04 season also saw a bottom-half finish, although the season ended well with a 2-0 win over Southend in the final of the LDV Vans Trophy at Cardiff. There was a new face in the Bloomfield Road hot seat for the 2004-05 season in the form of former Scotland captain Colin Hendry, who made Grayson captain and eventually moved him into midfield. However, there was to be no dramatic rise up the table. A dreadful start left Blackpool bottom of the newly renamed League One with three points from eight games before an improvement led to a sixteenth-place finish. It was during this season that Hendry encouraged Grayson to start studying for his coaching badges and gave him some responsibility for coaching the reserves.
The 2005-06 season was to prove a pivotal one in Grayson’s career. On 10 November 2005, with Blackpool fourth from bottom of League One, Hendry was sacked with Grayson appointed as caretaker manager. Although employed primarily as a player, he decided to concentrate on the management role he had been given and never played again. He managed to slowly but surely drag the side away from danger that season, with safety assured after a 3-3 home draw with Gillingham.
Having been appointed manager on a permanent basis. Grayson officially announced his retirement from playing at the age of 35. In his playing career, he had notched up a total of 533 appearances, scoring 16 goals from defence.
His first full season in management of 2006-07 proved a memorable one. Grayson made drastic changes to the squad prior to and throughout the season and led Blackpool to a third-place finish despite losing their first three games without scoring a goal. Grayson picked up his first Manager of the Month award in December and also led the side to the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in seventeen years. A fantastic run of seven successive league wins at the end of the season gave the side great momentum for the playoffs, which culminated in a 2-0 win over Yeovil at Wembley and promotion to the Championship. The run of ten straight wins was a new club record.
That run of victories was extended to twelve as Blackpool won the first two games of the 2007-08 season. Things became a bit tougher after that, and Blackpool hovered around the bottom eight for the majority of the season before finishing nineteenth, just two points above relegated Leicester. Blackpool did reach the fourth round of the League Cup for the first time in 35 years which earned Grayson his first formal contract from the club in December 2007. Blackpool made a reasonable start to the 2008-09 season and were in mid-table when League One Leeds United made a formal approach for their manager in December 2008. Blackpool rejected the approach but Grayson resigned and was confirmed by Leeds the following day. The resulting battle for compensation would not be settled until April the following year.
Back at the club where he started his career, Grayson took over a side that had just lost its last four games in League One and had slipped to ninth place. Having drawn his first game at home to former club Leicester on Boxing Day, form improved dramatically. Leeds won eleven and drew three of their final fifteen games, including winning their last eleven home games, to finish fourth. The promotion dream ended with a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Millwall in the play-off semi-final, but there was to be no mistake the following season. Leeds started with six straight wins, and despite a wobble of four successive defeats in March, finished in second place to secure automatic promotion. It was the second time in four seasons that he had led a side from League One to the Championship. Leeds also reached the fourth round of the FA Cup (including a famous 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford) and the northern final of the Football League Trophy in an excellent season.
The team took a while to establish itself in the Championship and sat sixteenth at the end of October. However, a run of just two defeats in twenty-four games carried Leeds to within two points of an automatic promotion spot. A downturn in form then derailed the promotion drive and Leeds finished seventh, four points short of a playoff spot. Leeds made a good start in 2011-12 and sat fifth towards the end of October after seven games unbeaten. A spell of indifferent form led to Leeds slipping to tenth by the end of January. Although only a win behind the play-off places, Grayson was unexpectedly sacked on 1 February 2012. Leeds went on to finish 14th under replacement Neil Warnock.
With a very good record, Grayson was not likely to be out of work for long and was appointed manager of League One Huddersfield on 20 February 2012. Bizarrely, previous manager Lee Clark had been sacked the previous week with the side sitting in fourth place in the table with just three defeats in thirty games including an unbeaten run of eighteen games from the start of the season. Whatever the reasons for that, Grayson took over a confident side and maintained the playoff challenge to finish in fourth place. An 8-7 win on penalties over Sheffield United at Wembley gave Grayson his third promotion from League One to the Championship in six seasons.
Huddersfield started the 2012-13 season very well and sat sixth in November, just five points behind leaders Crystal Palace. However, a run of twelve games without a win including a 6-1 thumping at Leicester produced a dive down the table; with Huddersfield in eighteenth-place, he was sacked on 24 January 2013.
Again, he was not unemployed for long, appointed manager at League One side Preston on 17 February 2013. Preston were struggling towards the foot of the table, but a run of five wins and five draws from Grayson’s first twelve games ensured safety by a comfortable margin. The 2013-14 season was a vast improvement on 2012-13, with the side getting away to a nine-game unbeaten run. Two defeats were followed by another unbeaten run of eight games to leave Preston fourth in the table at the midway stage. A third unbeaten run of twelve games led to a fifth-place finish, but the promotion challenge ended with a 4-2 play-off semi-final defeat to Rotherham. The side also reached the fourth round of the FA Cup, losing in a replay to Nottingham Forest.
The 2014-15 season proved pretty consistent, with Preston occupying at least a playoff spot for the majority. A run of twelve wins and six draws from eighteen games secured a playoff spot with ease, and this time promotion was secured with a 4-0 win over Swindon at Wembley, courtesy of a Jermaine Beckford hat-trick. Remarkably, it was Preston’s first success in the playoffs in ten attempts. Perhaps more remarkably, it was Grayson’s fourth promotion from League One to the Championship with four different clubs in the space of nine seasons. The side also reached the fifth round of the FA Cup before going down 3-1 at home to Manchester United. The 2015-16 season was relatively unremarkable, with Preston finishing very comfortably in mid-table. Exactly the same thing can be said for the 2016-17 season, with the side finishing in an identical eleventh place with an identical points total (62) despite losing five of their first six games.
After a couple of seasons of consolidation at Deepdale, Grayson resigned on 29 June 2017 to take over at Sunderland, the compensation package believed to be £750,000. The aim was to stabilise the club after relegation from the Premier League, but the club was in an even bigger mess than anyone believed. After remaining unbeaten for the first three games, Sunderland plummeted down the table. At the end of a run of five draws and seven defeats from twelve games, Grayson was sacked on 31 October with the side third from bottom of the Championship.
On 11 February 2018, Grayson was appointed manager of League One Bradford City to the end of the season. Previous manager Stuart McCall had been sacked after a run of five defeats and a draw had seen the side slip from automatic promotion contenders to sixth in League One. There was to be no League One promotion this time. Grayson lost five of his first seven games, and despite a brief revival towards the end of the season, he was unable to revive their promotion bid. After a final position of eleventh, Grayson left Bradford at the end of his contract.
And now the wheel comes full circle back to Blackpool, the club at which Grayson cut his managerial teeth. Simon Grayson has a record that is second to none from a League One perspective, with those four promotions to the Championship with four different clubs. That is the reason why new Blackpool owner Simon Sadler made a beeline for him during the summer and appointed him on a two-year deal. If the degree of financial support is finally there, Grayson’s Blackpool will be a very dangerous proposition this season. They say you should never go back, but can he make it a fifth League One promotion?
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and playoffs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure
“Who Are The League One Managers? No.4: Phil Parkinson (Bolton Wanderers)” will be published tomorrow morning!
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 12, 2019