Grayson plots another FA Cup giant-killing
Arsenal visit provides Preston boss with chance to repeat United upset, writes Jim White
Arsenal visit Deepdale on Saturday evening, and for Preston North End's manager, the prospect of another FA Cup giant-killing stirs some cherished memories.
It was seven years on Tuesday that Simon Grayson took his old club Leeds United, then of League One, to Old Trafford and toppled Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the third round thanks to Jermaine Beckford's 19th- minute goal.
"I'll always remember the conversation with Sir Alex after the game," Grayson recalls. "He said to me across quite a crowded room. 'Dae ye ken pressure?' I didn't understand what he meant at first but he was asking if I know or understand pressure.
"So I said, 'Well, obviously being a manager I do' and he says, 'No, pressure now is for you to go and get promoted because I've got money on you to win the league!' I said, 'Well you better lend me some players then!'"
Ferguson had offered Grayson a post-match glass of red wine. Grayson, a twinkle in his eye, joked that he only drank white by virtue of his Leeds allegiance. "I thought that was a good one to throw in there," he says mischievously.
It will be white versus red again this weekend when Preston, 11th in the Championship, take on Arsenal and Grayson hopes the outcome will be the same. For a boyhood Leeds fan who went on to play for and manage the club, usurping that Old Trafford experience will be hard but he has unfinished business with Arsenal.
Twice in successive years they narrowly beat his Leeds team in the Cup third round - only a 90th-minute penalty from Cesc Fabregas at the Emirates Stadium in January 2011 prevented Grayson from claiming another huge scalp. As such, he is hoping it will be third time lucky with Preston.
"I don't think winning at Old Trafford as a Leeds fan and Leeds manager can be replaced but beating Arsenal would be right up there because they're one of the best teams in the country," he says.
"That United game is in the past now. I want to be talked about on Saturday having had another big result. There are not many better feelings than a big cup upset when everybody is writing you off.
"I've gone close against Arsenal before. We were one up until late on when Fabregas scored that penalty before they beat us in the replay at Elland Road and we drew them the following year in the Cup too when Thierry Henry scored late in the game on his Arsenal comeback."
Read more: Sanchez sulk puts rivals on high alert
Beckford, Leeds' hero against United, should also be leading the line for Preston against Arsenal. But the striker will miss the match through suspension after being sent off against his former club on St Stephen's Day for kicking an opponent in his first game back after serving a three-match ban for a red card for fighting his Preston team-mate and Dubliner Eoin Doyle, during their game against Sheffield Wednesday.
"The second incident was more annoying because I thought he would have learnt his lesson," Grayson says.
"He'd only been on the pitch three minutes as a substitute. He was apologetic again the next day, but I'd had the same apologies from the time before. He's got a lot riding on the rest of his time here now.
"I've told him he's got a point to prove because he's out of contract in the summer. He's got bridges to build with supporters again because they felt let down. So hopefully we're going to see a pumped-up Jermaine Beckford when he's back but playing with his head rather than his heart."
Grayson was hurt by Beckford's scrap with Doyle because he has prided himself on forging such close-knit dressing rooms, the importance of which he learnt as a dependable defender playing for Martin O'Neill at Leicester City, under whom he won the League Cup in 1997.
But the speed and manner with which he dealt with the matter spoke volumes for his man-management, values and decency. Beckford and Doyle were fined and forced to issue apologies, and the Preston supporters who made the trip to Sheffield had the cost of their tickets reimbursed.
So was it rather tense between Beckford and Doyle the following week?
"We went out and trained on the Monday morning and they're on the same team again," Grayson says. "Footballers have got a very high sense of sarcasm. In one of the first training sessions one didn't pass to the other and it was like, 'Oh, we're going again, are we!' It's forgotten, they've got on with it."
Doyle has been joined by at the club by compatriots Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan following their moves from Dundalk and with Aiden McGeady, Greg Cunningham and Alan Browne in the squad there is a growing green scene at Deepdale.
Former Ireland manager Mick McCarthy is the Championship's longest-serving manager but Grayson sits second behind him and will celebrate four years in charge at Preston next month.
He rejected the chance to take over at Hull City and Burnley in the Premier League while at Leeds and spurned an offer to succeed Paul Lambert at Blackburn Rovers in the summer.
There was also an invitation to return to Leeds under owner Massimo Cellino. If the story is true, Grayson was offered the job by Cellino and texted him the next day to say he was still deliberating only to receive a message back from the volatile Italian asking who the mystery sender was and suggesting that he must have the wrong number.
"I've had opportunities to go to other clubs while I've been here but loyalty is a two-way thing," Grayson said. "The owner (Trevor Hemmings) has shown me loyalty at times and I think I have in turn. We lost five of our opening six Championship games this season and I think if I'd been at some other clubs I'd have been looking over my shoulder."
One need only spend half an hour in his company to appreciate why he is so popular with players. There is a very human side to Grayson, and in March he will host a gala dinner in Leeds and in June lead a bike ride from London to Amsterdam to raise funds for Prostate Cancer UK after the death of his friend, Steve Garbett, from the disease in 2014.
"I want them to be treated like I wanted to be treated as player," he said.
"At Blackburn, I was bombed out for more or less two years. I went out on loan to six clubs because if I'd made one appearance they'd have owed Aston Villa another £250,000. I didn't get to know that until I left. So I don't want players to be put to one side, bombed out, because it happened to me and I didn't enjoy it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)