‘There’s nothing to beat winning a fiercely-fought derby in last minute’

Simon Grayson celebrates with the League One Play-Off Trophy during the npower League One, Playoff Final at Wembley Stadium in 2012
Simon Grayson celebrates with the League One Play-Off Trophy during the npower League One, Playoff Final at Wembley Stadium in 2012
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Tomorrow will see three all-Yorkshire tussles in the Championship. Richard Sutcliffe talks to Simon Grayson about derby encounters.

SIMON GRAYSON knows a thing or two about derbies.

As a teenager, his Leeds United first team debut came against Huddersfield Town. Later, he was involved in a host of Titanic Midlands derbies when sporting the colours of Leicester City and Aston Villa.

It is since moving into management, however, that the extreme passions aroused by derby football have tended to dominate his career. Not many managers, for instance, have taken charge of both clubs on either side of an intense rivalry. Grayson has done it twice.

As if that is not enough to underline the 44-year’old’s derby credentials, he also savoured the joy of winning promotion in one of only two all-Yorkshire play-off finals at Wembley.

“I love derby games,” former Huddersfield Town and Leeds United manager Grayson told the Yorkshire Post ahead of a weekend dominated by derby football.

“As a player, I was involved in some good ones but it is probably as a manager that the most memorable derbies have taken place. Obviously, Wembley stands out when Huddersfield beat Sheffield United in the (2012 League One) play-off final.

“There was so much at stake that day but it being a Yorkshire derby did bring an extra edge. The Huddersfield fans will always have that one over Sheffield United, just as Doncaster fans always have the bragging rights over Leeds.

“Whatever happens between the two clubs, Doncaster will always have that play-off final win over Leeds (in 2008). Their fans will never forget that day and I am sure it meant that little bit more because it was against a team from just up the road.

“That is why derbies are so special. They mean so much to the fans and that makes the games so intense.”

Grayson’s two former clubs meet at Elland Road tomorrow in one of the three all-Yorkshire encounters, the others being Barnsley hosting Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough travelling to Doncaster Rovers.

He will be busy elsewhere as the Preston North End manager looks to steer his side to victory at home to Notts County. Despite that, Grayson admits the fans attending the trio of all-White Rose games could be in for a treat.

“When people talk about derby games they usually mention Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester,” said Grayson, who, as North End manager, masterminded a Capital One Cup victory over bitter rivals – and his former club – Blackpool on a stormy night back in August that ended with police on horseback having to keep the two sets of fans apart.

“But, to me, games such as the Lancashire or Yorkshire derbies have that little bit more hatred. I would definitely put Blackburn v Burnley right up there alongside the more recognised derbies. I have friends who support Burnley and they won’t have blue in his house because they are Blackburn colours.

“Preston and Blackpool is intense, too. There was a lot made about my past links with Blackpool when we met earlier this season. Afterwards, I was also criticised for celebrating too wildly when the winner went in.

“But I would do exactly the same again. I am passionate about wanting my team to win. If Huddersfield had beaten Leeds when I was manager, I would have been exactly the same. That is what derbies are all about, those special moments.”

Taking charge of Preston after a spell at Bloomfield Road mirrored how Grayson thought nothing about accepting Dean Hoyle’s offer to become Town manager just a few weeks after leaving Leeds.

“Maybe I just want to be liked by both sides,” laughed Grayson when asked about crossing a derby divide. “Seriously, though, it wasn’t something that bothered me or put me off.

“After I was appointed, a couple of Huddersfield fans were a bit negative at the start. They thought I shouldn’t be allowed to manage Huddersfield because I had grown up as a Leeds fan. My Leeds past might also get a mention after we’d lost a game. But I just saw it as a cheap shot.

“Mind, even now I get called a ‘Leeds so and so’ regardless of where we are playing so I can’t say it bothered me.

“The bottom line is that this job is all about winning matches. We did that at Huddersfield and, obviously, won promotion. I always say that I didn’t support Blackpool but I took them up and could not have been prouder.

“Same with Huddersfield and it will be the same if we can get up at Preston.

“It was why I celebrated so wildly when Preston beat Blackpool. We are all in football to enjoy moments like that – winning a fiercely-fought derby in the last minute. Nothing beats it.”