Eden-based Danny Grainger has spoken of his high hopes for Workington AFC after penning a new deal to stay as first team boss until the summer of 2023.
Grainger and his assistant, Steven Rudd, have been rewarded with two-and-a-half year contracts after a successful spell in joint charge which began in June, 2019.
The pair guided Workington to the summit of Northern Premier League North West Division during 2019-20 but saw their best laid promotion plans cruelly left in tatters by COVID-19, in March last year, when the season was declared null and void with Grainger’s men leading the way.
A delayed 2020-21 campaign began in September but is now on ice amid the latest coronavirus lockdown with the Reds lying third in the league table having played just nine games.
And, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his post-lockdown road map on Monday, Workington and other non-league sides — including Penrith AFC lower down the pyramid — once again find themselves at a crossroads.
Clubs have been asked to complete a survey to express a preferred way forward, but the threat of another null and void season looms large.
“It’s just a waiting game and we’re in the lap of the gods,” Grainger, of Lazonby, told the Herald.
“We’ve spoken to the league and the league have said once Boris has put his road map out we can start looking and we’ll be able to have a bit more clarity when that comes out.” If the season cannot carry on, he would prefer to see the two unfinished campaigns combined and settled on a points-per-game-basis.
Asked to put the unprecedented last 12 months into words, the 34-year-old former Carlisle United skipper, who joined Workington after calling time on an impressive playing career north and south of the border, admitted: “I can’t if I’m honest. It’s something that none of us have ever experienced. Just so many different emotions: frustration, understanding, anger; absolutely everything. It’s been hard, really tough.”
With time on his hands, Grainger has had the job of home schooling his two children while wife Heather is at work.
And although all coaching activities with his Penrith-based Cumbria Football Academy are temporarily on hold, he has kept in touch with youngsters through regular online sessions which have included expert input and advice from special guests.
“We’ve been trying to do it as much as we can,” he said. “This week we’re on with one-on-one chats with them, just to see how they’re feeling. Not just with football, but in general. It’s been a very strange year for them.”
The same was true with his Workington first team squad, who include Eden-based and ex-Penrith AFC players. “It’s just been calls, chats and text messages, making sure everyone’s OK,” said Grainger.
“We’ve put challenges out there for them, fitness wise. It’s kind of hard to demand it from them when we’ve no end in sight. We’ve just tried to play it by ear and keeping it as upbeat as we can.”
So what has he missed most while non-league football is in enforced hibernation? “I just absolutely love coaching,” he revealed. “Putting my ideas in place, whether that’s with my under-nines or with Workington Reds first team.
“I love seeing people develop as young footballers and as people inside the game. It’s something that I can honestly say I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I am at the moment.”
Grainger has sought to further educate himself with webinars and sounding out ex-players and managers as he waits for the restart.
And there has been the boost of his new contract. “It’s just nice to get it done. It’s something we’ve spoken about for a while,” he said.
“It was vital that I got my assistant to stay with me as well, which I did, and now we can start planning and looking forward. We had a plan when we first went in and two years down the line it wasn’t to be in this division.
“Unfortunately everything that’s gone on has slowed us down a bit but as a manager I’m still very young, I’m only 34. I’m happy where I am. I’m in charge of a great club. It ticks a lot of boxes for me.
“Everybody knows I’m very ambitious and I do want to climb the ladder at some point but I’m not going to go at the first opportunity. I want to do it when it’s right, and when I’ve finished what I’ve started here.”
Workington chairman Dave Bowden hailed the new deals for Grainger and Rudd, telling the club’s website: “We’re absolutely delighted.
“It’s obviously something important, in terms of looking forward, that we got Danny and Steven sorted out. We’re very pleased about it.”