January 3, 2013 by Made In Brum
When young full-back Mitch Hancox received a booking for a full-blooded tackle on Burnley’s Kieran Trippier last month, Blues fans were reminded of another left-back with a similar hairstyle, who is remembered fondly for his passionate performances in a blue shirt. This week, The Ex-Files looks at the career of free-kick specialist, and Birmingham City legend, Martin Grainger.
Born in 1972, Grainger began his career at Colchester United, making his debut in 1992. He was part of the U’s squad that won the Football Conference (Now known as the Blue Square Premier), and went on to play 46 games for the club, scoring 7 goals and earning himself a £60k move to Brentford in October 1993. Grainger was a first-team regular in his time at Griffin Park, and made 101 league appearances over three years.
It was whilst playing for Brentford that the left-back gained something of a reputation for his fiery temperament, picking up several red cards. One in particular started a full scale brawl in May 1994, after Grainger made a series of “tough” tackles on various members of the Huddersfield team. He did, however, manage score 12 goals for the club, an unusually high amount for a number 3, mainly down to his ability from dead ball situations. Grainger became renowned as one of the best free-kick and penalty takers in Division Two, and this reputation prompted Barry Fry to make Grainger his final Blues signing in March 1996.
Under Trevor Francis’ new regime at St. Andrews, Grainger became the first choice left back for the 1996/97 season, making 25 appearances in all competitions. He picked up his first red card in February, after a lunging tackle on Bolton striker John McGinlay in the penalty area. Grainger deemed to have played the ball, but Uriah Rennie gave the penalty and in turn, the player his marching orders, condemning Blues to a 2-1 defeat. However, his return from suspension saw an improvement in the team’s form, as March saw Blues snap a stretch of five games without a victory. The team ended the season positively, losing only once in the final eleven games, and Grainger found a little goalscoring form, scoring 3 goals in 4 games, against Crystal Palace, Barnsley and Oldham Athletic. Martin played another 107 games over the next three years, and was voted Player of the Season for 1999/00. Looking back at the Matchday programmes from that year reveals that he was also given the honour of having his face tattooed on a particularly excited Bluenose’s chest, with ‘Player of the Year 1999/2000’ written underneath.
Grainger’s performances were even more impressive in the 2000/01 season, and he earned a place in the PFA First Division Team of the Year, which incidentally contained other former Birmingham players Maik Taylor, Steve Finnan, David Dunn, and current manager Lee Clark. The left back played 47 games that season, scoring 8 goals, but this season might be better remembered for a chance that Grainger missed, rather than scored. The 2001 League Cup Final is a game that still stings in the memory for Blues fans, as the team battled to a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, despite strong claims for a penalty being denied by David Elleray when Andrew Johnson was mauled in the box by Stephen Henchoz. The match went to penalties, of which Grainger was given the first, and the left back was unable to convert his effort. Liverpool went on to win the shootout, and Grainger was visibly distraught, once again endearing himself to the fans as a player who truly cared about the club.
2001/02 saw the appointment of Steve Bruce as manager, and an improvement in Blues’ fortunes. The team finished 5th, and went on to win the play-off final against Norwich, this time experiencing a little more good fortune from the penalty spot. Grainger made another 47 appearances that year, scoring 4 goals, and played a crucial role in the club’s promotion to the Premier League.
The next two years saw Grainger struggle with injuries, and he only made another 14 appearances, dropping down the pecking order behind January signing Jamie Clapham. He spent a month on loan at Coventry City to try and regain fitness in February 2004, where he made 7 appearances, before an injury crisis at St. Andrews saw him recalled. Grainger’s final game for Birmingham came on 18th March 2004, and was a particularly memorable one, as he curled a trademark freekick around the wall to give Blues the lead against Manchester United. He was, however, clearly playing through injury, and had to be withdrawn at half time, but it was a fitting way for the Blues legend to sign off, and will long stay in the memory of the fans.
Aged 32, Grainger retired from football at the end of 2004, after being unable to recover from a series of knee problems, and went on to become a VIP Chauffeur in Hertfordshire. In 2008, he was appointed manager of non-league outfit Cheshunt FC, but his tenure lasted only two days, after his mysterious departure due to family reasons. More recently, as part of a Blues team including Paul Devlin, Jeff Kenna, and Tommy Mooney, Grainger won the 2010 Masters Football Tournament, organised by Sky Sports for former players over the age of 35.
During his time in the Second City, Martin Grainger cemented his status as a Blues legend, and is still a popular figure in the area now. Most Blues fans wouldn’t hesitate to include him in their ‘All Time XI’, and despite the sad circumstances of his retirement, it was fitting that he should go out with such a bang against a team like Manchester United.
Full Name: Martin Robert Grainger
Date of Birth: 23 August 1972 (age 40)
Position: Left Back
By Gregg Collett