WITHOUT the breaks afforded to him by the late Brooks Mileson’s fairytale stint as owner of Gretna, Danny Grainger, by his own admission, would probably be working on a farm and playing part-time football in the local leagues in Cumbria.
Since his career took off at Raydale Park, where he was one of the few players to complete the elevation from Third Division part-timer to full-time SPL player, he has gone on to become one of the most established left-backs in Scotland with Hearts, as well as the proud owner of a Scottish Cup winner’s medal.
Of course, it has been far from plain sailing since he left the relative sanctuary of St Johnstone to move to Tynecastle in summer 2011. Last season he had to deal with the uncertainty of regular late wage payments, while things have become even more grave for the club financially over the past month, with fans rallying frantically to help save the club they love and Grainger and his team-mates deferring their wages for a month to aid their paymasters.
“I don’t have one regret about signing here, not one,” he said. “My family are 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. I knew I’d have to take the rough with the smooth, and I’m more than happy with my decision to sign here.” Grainger was given the chance to escape Gretna’s financial implosion when he joined Dundee United in January 2008, just months before the Borders team eventually died. He may have been removed from the crossfire, but he followed the saga at close quarters as his friends remained embroiled in it. Despite Hearts’ current precarious plight, Grainger has no desire to leave in the next transfer window and, having seen the support the club has received over the past few weeks, he is adamant his current club won’t go the way of his former.
Asked if Hearts will survive, he replied: “Yeah, because of the fanbase, the size of the club. There’s too many people who want to see the club back in the good times. 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, 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 was lucky because I went to Dundee United in the January just before it happened. My best mate, Gavin Skelton, went through it, and I was speaking to him most days. He was telling me the ins and outs of it and I don’t want to experience it here. You know when you sign for Hearts that the financial side of it can be a bit testing at times, but you’ve just got to get on with it.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest guys to come out of Gretna. If it wasn’t for Brooks coming in and putting his money in I’d have probably been working on a farm at home and playing part-time football. I owe a lot to him and I haven’t got a bad word to say about him.”
While Gretna will always have a place in his heart, Grainger has immersed himself in all things Hearts over the past year and a half. The 26-year-old Cumbrian is playing for a bigger club than he could have dreamed of when he joined Gretna as a schoolboy a decade ago and the show of togetherness from the fans and players amid the troubles of the past few weeks has merely heightened his desire to pull on the maroon jersey for years to come.
“The turnout for the cup final showed us how big a fan base the club has got, but when you see the amount of money the fans have raised in such a short space of time, it’s just overwhelming to see how big the club really is,” continued Grainger. “It’s easy for fans to turn out in numbers for a cup final, but it says a lot about them that they’ve come out in big numbers for a home game against St Mirren when the team’s not doing so well.
“The backing we’ve had from the fans has been a major positive. We don’t need any extra motivation to play for a club like Hearts, but it’s been massive to see the fans getting round us.
“I was at the Fans Rally at Tynecastle last Sunday and to see all the fans having a good time, smiling, laughing, joking and raising money is a big positive for the club. The fans are doing their bit and it’s up to the players to do our bit as well. I think [the battle to save Hearts] 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.”