DURING a career that has taken in not only tragedy and joy but also stints at a host of Yorkshire clubs, Neil Redfearn has become a familiar figure to the region’s football fraternity.
Revered in Barnsley as the talismanic midfielder that dragged Barnsley into the Premier League for the first time, the 46-year-old is also fondly remembered in Bradford, Doncaster, Halifax and Scarborough for the commitment and desire that characterised his every deed.
Now, Leeds United are hoping Redfearn can provide a safe pair of hands in the wake of Simon Grayson’s departure after being asked to step into the breach by chairman Ken Bates.
Barring a dramatic turn of events, he will be in the dugout at Bristol City after taking charge of training for the last couple of days and determined to make his mark.
“What happened to Simon did come a bit out of the blue (on Wednesday),” said United’s caretaker manager. “I have been here at Leeds for the three years that Simon was here.
“Him and the other coaches who have left did a terrific job.
“It is a sad day because I have worked with the guy for three years and it is difficult when these things happen.
“But after taking the news in, I then had that night to think about the lads and what I want to do against Bristol City.
“I have watched all the home games this season and I am well aware of what the players are capable of. The key is going to be getting them over it (Grayson’s sacking) pretty quick and getting them ready for Bristol City.
“I have put one or two things in their mind (during training) and obviously I am not going to make wholesale changes. But I need to get them comfortable with what we are doing.
“We have got the talent to go there and get a result, it is just a matter of setting them up right.”
Asked how the players had reacted to the news of Grayson’s departure, Redfearn added: “They are okay but it is difficult because it got dropped on them. But now they have got new ideas and a new voice.
“They have worked hard and all I have worked on is getting them focused (for tomorrow’s match).”
Redfearn says Leeds have no fresh injury problems following the 4-1 defeat that brought an end to Grayson’s reign other than “bruised pride”.
One player who will not be involved tomorrow, however, is Andy O’Brien, the defender having only returned to training yesterday from treatment for depression.
Redfearn, a former team-mate of O’Brien at Valley Parade, said: “He is going to need a little bit of work because he is short of match fitness.
“But it was good to have Andy back because he is a good player. He is familiar with the lads and everyone knows him. Andy also brings experience and he is like having a new signing.”
Redfearn’s playing career started as a teenager with Bolton Wanderers before a move to Lincoln City meant he was in the Imps side at Valley Parade on May 11, 1985, when fire ripped through the main stand.
Fifty-six fans died that day and the harrowing experience went a long way towards forming the character that became such a popular figure throughout his career.
As a manager, he twice took temporary charge of Halifax Town before being appointed at Scarborough in 2005. After a year on the East coast, he moved on to Northwich Victoria and York City as youth team coach before joining the Leeds Academy staff three years ago.
The chance to take charge of the first-team, albeit on a temporary basis, is one Readfearn is relishing.
He said: “I have been handed the caretaker job for the time being and it is important that we put a side together who can get a result at Bristol City.
“I have got to focus on that and make sure the lads are ready. This is a blank canvas for them. I know a few from the reserves and this will give them a chance to get back in.
“I don’t expect to make too many changes at this stage. I was at the Birmingham game and it was surreal. For 45 minutes, we played well, but then the big fella (Nicole Zigic) had a purple patch and it became a difficult night.
“The key now is make sure the lads move on. It is always about your next game.”
Asked about whether he would be interested in the job on a full-time basis, Redfearn replied: “It has all happened very quickly so things are still a bit raw.
“I am focused on the game and want to get a result. I am enjoying myself immensely at Leeds United.
“I have not put myself under any pressure. I am in this position and I want to help this club through. I am capable of making the step up, that goes without saying. But the bottom line is up to the club.
“The decision is out of my hands. From my point of view, I am only interested in the Bristol City game and making sure everything is ready. Whatever happens, I will take in my stride.
“I look in on everything that goes on and you take a big interest in everything because you are part of it. You want it to go well.
“I have been watching from afar and watching things develop but it has dropped in my lap and it is about being ready.
“But it is about the lads, not me. What matters is how you react and pick up the pieces after a shock like this. We have got a big game at Bristol City now. What is important is that we rally round and get a result there.”