Any plans for Boxing Day then, Danny? “No doubt a few of my close friends and family will be standing in the Paddock just to give me some abuse for the day,” smiles Danny Grainger, who’ll be with the opposition on December 26: a former Carlisle United captain in the away dugout at Brunton Park.

That intriguing occasion will be just one of many on the calendar for Grainger, who is the new assistant manager of Morecambe. His first role since ending his tenure as Workington Reds boss sees the Cumbrian back in the professional game, as Derek Adams’ No2.

The 2024/25 season will involve at least three occasions, in league and cup, when Grainger will face the club he captained. Will there be any mixed feelings against the Blues? He says not.

“There might be different emotions, but when it comes to that side of it...I don’t like losing a game of tiddlywinks or FIFA to my son. I want to win everything. I don’t like losing in a training game.

“So I’ll be going out there trying to help get the three points for Morecambe come Boxing Day, same as any other game.”

Grainger opted to join the Shrimps after a summer spent considering his options post-Workington. The 37-year-old always maintained he was open-minded about his next role, and this was the case as different opportunities presented themselves.

“I was keen to get back into management, but it had to be right for me. I spoke to three or four clubs, and with three of them, I didn’t get the excitement for it. Another did give me a little bit of a buzz, but it didn’t work out.

“Then all of a sudden, I spoke to Derek about a couple of things – nothing related to this role – and then I was away on holiday, and he called again, and asked me if I’d be interested in being part of the backroom staff he was rebuilding.”

Grainger will be No2 to Derek Adams at MorecambeGrainger will be No2 to Derek Adams at Morecambe (Image: PA)

Adams and Grainger met for coffee and the wheels soon turned. It was, in the end, a coming together of men who had faced one another on the pitch before, and in one memorable game in particular, before developing a rapport in their respective roles since.

Adams was in the Ross County side who were dramatically beaten 3-2 by Grainger and Gretna on the day the Borders club reached the Scottish Premiership in 2007. “He’s played alongside a lot of my close friends too, but it’s not until you have a conversation that you start vividly remembering exactly where and when you’ve faced each other,” Grainger says.

“Since then, I’ve played against his teams in Scotland and England, and then when I went to work at Reds, that was when the relationship got stronger, because I was talking to him a lot more often.

“It’s a massive privilege for me for a manager of his experience to put the trust in me to come and work alongside him. Even just talking to him you can see that he's clear on his ideas, and there's no stone unturned.

“I like being organised, I like being ready. He's very meticulous in his planning, and that's what I'm looking forward to working with.”

It means a return to full-time football for Grainger, whose two spells at Workington came either side of an assistant role at Falkirk. His times at Reds, which last year saw promotion from NPL West before consolidation in NPL Premier, have come in hand with the growth of his Cumbria Football Academy in Penrith.

The success of the latter meant he did not feel the need to rush into his next move. But the pull of the professional game was always strong.

“I think working in this environment is right for me," he says. "When I retired from playing at Carlisle, I always said I wanted to be in full-time football. It’s no different to when I was a player – I want to be the best coach I can be, I want to coach at the highest level possible and I want to be in a demanding environment where people want to do things right.”

Grainger says this without disrespect to Workington, where he enjoyed memorable and successful times.

Grainger left Workington at the end of last season after a successful second spellGrainger left Workington at the end of last season after a successful second spell (Image: Gary McKeating)

“The boys [at Reds] were absolutely tremendous. I couldn't have wished for a better set of boys to coach and work with. But in the end, that wasn't their sole focus. It couldn't be. They had other things in their lives, such as work, whereas the sole focus for these lads [at Morecambe] is being professional footballers, and staying in the professional game and being successful.

“That's the kind of environment I want to work in. I want to be challenged and pushed outside my comfort zone and feel the pressure that, yeah, everything does matter. That's what I'm looking forward to.”

From the outside it appears Grainger has not chosen the easiest gig in League Two, given Morecambe’s well-documented financial issues, and the big squad rebuilding job faced by Adams, who is back for a third spell in charge at the Mazuma Mobile Stadium.

Grainger acknowledges this side of things but also says it will not affect his and Adams’ focus on doing the best job they can.

“In an ideal world everything off the pitch would work perfectly, and yes, things in the past have reared their head. But I spoke to Derek about it and he's reassured me that there's only certain things that we can do,” he says.

“Like I've always said, you control the controllables – and we can't control what's going on off the pitch regarding things like that. That's no different at any football club.

Grainger, the former United skipper, will face the Blues on Boxing Day with his new club in League TwoGrainger, the former United skipper, will face the Blues on Boxing Day with his new club in League Two (Image: Barbara Abbott)

“On the playing side we're building a squad that's going to be ready for the start of the League Two season. That's our main focus and that's what we're looking forward to.

“Every club has its challenges, and that doesn't matter whether that's the richest club in the league or the poorest club in the league, or the clubs with the most players or the [fewest] players.”

Grainger says there seems a “good vibe” around his new club, and a close-knit feeling amongst its staff similar to the one he found during his time at Carlisle, as a player from 2014 to 2019, while he has since coached in United's academy. “Building those connections is important," he says.

“When I go back through my career, whether that was at Hearts, when I had great relationships with everyone behind the scenes, or when I came back to Carlisle with the likes of Andy Hall, Sarah McKnight, Suzanne Kidd, the academy staff…you build strong bonds with people.

“That’s the kind of vibe I’ve had whenever I've been to Morecambe, the sense you're all together. I've been to football clubs where you've won and the home team's been booed off the pitch. But I genuinely can't remember coming off the pitch at Morecambe and feeling a bad reception no matter where they are in the league.”

There are, clearly, 46 league games to focus on, not just two, even for a man who’ll always be so closely associated with Carlisle. Grainger says he does not regard his new role as a stepping stone, simply the next challenge and one he intends to attack wholeheartedly.

“Nothing else matters at the moment,” he says. “I want to be the best assistant manager I can be for Derek and Morecambe Football Club.

“Football’s a very strange game. You never know what's around the corner. But  for me my sole focus now is giving this club absolutely everything I've got. If I do that I know I can walk away one day with my head held high.

“When I left Falkirk, I know I gave absolutely everything to the role, everything to the manager. Any fans who might have said, ‘It was great to see the back of him’...I’ve got no issue with that. Football fans are entitled to their opinion. But I will always look in the mirror knowing I’ve thrown myself into everything I've done.

“In football, you’re not always at clubs for a very long time. The fans and staff are probably going to be there longer than you. So you owe it to them to show the pride in the football club that they deserve.

“That’s what I've always done, and that won’t change at Morecambe.”