Danny Grainger says it was an easy decision to return to Workington Reds – and is now aiming to end the club’s wait for promotion.

The former Carlisle United skipper has signed a two-year deal for a second spell at Borough Park.

And Grainger says he had no hesitation in rejoining the club who he managed from 2019-21.

After accepting the challenge of replacing Chris Willcock in the wake of Reds’ failure to gain promotion from NPL West last season, Grainger said: “I’d been to a couple of games during the season but there had been no conversations.

“Then, when the manager left, I had a phonecall the next day to ask if I would be interested coming back – and I said ‘Definitely, as long as it works for both parties’.

“It moved quite quickly after that. It was only 48 hours between the first conversation and agreeing the deal.

Times and Star: Grainger has rejoined Reds after leaving Falkirk in December (photo: Tom Kay)Grainger has rejoined Reds after leaving Falkirk in December (photo: Tom Kay)

“I think it was an easy decision for me. I know the club, know the fans, know the players, the staff, the board, I’m close with Ruddy [Steven Rudd] who’s staying on as assistant again.

“I know what I’m going into. I said a while ago that I wanted to be part of something that’s a project, not just concentrating on the first team. I said I want the reserves, the 18s, the pathway for local lads also to be priorities.

“That’s what I want to try and help create.”

Grainger twice led Workington into the promotion shake-up only to have both campaigns curtailed by Covid-19.

Last summer he then left to take up the assistant job at Falkirk, but left the Scottish League One club in December after manager Paul Sheerin was sacked.

The 35-year-old is delighted to end his wait for his next role in the game and believes successful times are within Workington’s reach.

“When you undeservedly lose your title and promotion [because of Covid], there is a little sense of unfinished business,” he said.

“I want to go there and prove it wasn’t just a one-off. The league has got better each year and it’s going to be a tough division, but I go into any league, whether it’s as a player or coach, and expect to win it. That’s what I expect next season.”

Times and Star: Reds missed out on promotion from NPL West last season (photo: Ben Challis)Reds missed out on promotion from NPL West last season (photo: Ben Challis)

Grainger says returning to Workington suits him on both professional and personal levels.

“For 20 years all I’ve known is football on Saturdays,” he said. “I can’t wait for it and I can’t wait for pre-season.

“It’s been a long six months [out of the game]. It’s been great for me personally being able to spend a lot of time with my family and do things I’ve not been able to do, but this opportunity just works so well for me.

“I’ve still got ambitions, and I have learned a lot in the last year, learning from a great manager and coach [Sheerin] to how he does things.

“I’ll add some of those bits to my side of it. I’ve also had an insight into how to deal with things when they aren’t going great. I’ve been quite lucky in my first two years at Reds in that we didn’t have a lot of setbacks.

“At Falkirk we had quite a few together, and towards the end it got quite hostile. I learned a lot in the six months I was up there.”

Grainger says he has been heartened by the response from Reds supporters to news of his return, and he says harnessing the positivity of the fanbase will be key.

There have been some strong crowds at Borough Park in 2021/22 as Willcock’s side fell just short of promotion, while Grainger recalls some good followings from his own first spell in charge at the club.

“I thought there would be a few a bit more negative with me coming back, having left before the start of last season – but the response has been amazing and I can’t thank them enough,” he said.

“We had a good connection when I was there last time and we want to build it up and make it even stronger.

Times and Star: Grainger says he wants to focus on all aspects of Workington Reds as he targets success (photo: Barbara Abbott)Grainger says he wants to focus on all aspects of Workington Reds as he targets success (photo: Barbara Abbott)

“Fingers crossed we can keep getting the big crowds home and away, keep doing the amazing community work that the guys at the club are doing, and keep going from strength to strength.”

Grainger is starting the process of putting together a squad for 2022/23. Popular midfielder Brad Carroll has moved on, along with Scott Fenwick, Nico Evangelinos and Brad Hubbold, but the manager says planning is in place for new additions.

“I’ll be speaking to the boys that were here last season – the ones we’re keeping and the ones who unfortunately won’t be here with us – and I’ve spoken to the staff who were here last year and trying to make sure they know what’s expected of them,” he said.

“I’ll look to try and add to that as well if I can. There’s a couple of little things I would like to do better than I did in the first two years.

“Then it’s assessing where the squad is and what we need to strengthen. Me and Ruddy have already sat down and targeted the areas we think need strengthening. We’ve compiled our lists and fingers crossed we can get a few of the lads through the door and ready to start in pre-season.”

Workington were firmly in the race last time out only to lose out in an end-of-season anti-climax, Warrington Rylands taking the title and Reds then going down to Marine in the play-offs.

Times and Star: Grainger's former club Carlisle United will visit Borough Park in pre-seasonGrainger's former club Carlisle United will visit Borough Park in pre-season

Next term will be no easier, Grainger says, and Workington must have the right mentality for the challenge. Newly-promoted Macclesfield, who have announced they are going full-time, will be one of several threats to their ambitions.

“There are some good teams in the league – Macclesfield coming in, Skelmersdale, Hanley, the likes of Witton coming down, Runcorn who missed out on the play-offs, Clitheroe…you’re probably looking at ten of us [in the promotion mix], and then you’ll have surprise packages as well,” Grainger said.

“It is going to be a tough league, no doubt about it, but the boys will be told that we’ve got to be up and around that.

“I fully expect us to put a challenge in to win the league. Anybody that doesn’t have that mentality, you’re on a downward spiral already.”

Ensuring Workington Reds make the most of their community is a key plank of Grainger’s plan. He believes harnessing local talent is essential.

“There are different foundations that need to be in place,” he said. “We can’t rely on a squad full of travellers from Manchester and Lancaster.

“It’s ok having a car school here and there but there needs to be a production line, via the reserves and so on.

“The work people like Brian Dawson have done on the community side is brilliant, and we need to keep strengthening and adding to it, making sure there’s the progression and pathway, and we do the community work, going into schools, making sure we’re being seen in the community to boost the appearance of the club.

“It’s also about making sure the matchday experience is enjoyable, that the kids who come down enjoy it and want to come back, whether it’s for the style of football, the catering, you name it…we need to attract people to the ground.”

Times and Star: Macclesfield FC, the phoenix club who play at the Moss Rose - former home of Macclesfield Town - will be in Workington's division next season (photo: PA)Macclesfield FC, the phoenix club who play at the Moss Rose - former home of Macclesfield Town - will be in Workington's division next season (photo: PA)

Grainger also runs the Cumbria Football Academy in Penrith and confirmed that Workington’s players will have use of the facilities for training.

“The boys can come here and feel part of something – it’s our own training base rather than a school field or public park,” he said.

Pre-season, meanwhile, is in the planning, with a friendly against the manager’s former club Carlisle United already confirmed, and other activities on the agenda.

“The boys have been used to things that I’ve done in the past – we’ve had days away where we go into the Lakes, do team building and physical stuff in the afternoon,” he said.

“One of my close friends used to be a footballer and in the Army – Alistair Morrison gives them an old school Army dressing down type thing…

“But it will all be ball orientated. It is tough, there’s expectations, and then there will be the programme of friendlies, and we’re looking strong with that.”

Plans for a new community stadium and facilities in Workington also suggest interesting times could be on the horizon. Grainger said it is a good time to be driving the town’s historic football club to a brighter future.

“That would be so big for the club and the area,” he said of the stadium and sporting village plan. “It would be amazing not just for Workington Reds but the whole town and community.

“It’s hopefully something exciting to look forward to – and in the meantime hopefully we can provide some good times again at Borough Park.”

READ MORE: Carlisle United confirm pre-season friendlies against Penrith, Kendal Town and Workington Reds