Big Interview: Simon’s happy to be on his bike

Grayson will cycle from Leyton Orient to Amsterdam
Grayson will cycle from Leyton Orient to Amsterdam
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An idea, formed over a pint at the saddest of occasions for Simon Grayson, is fast becoming reality for the Preston North End manager.

In three months’ time, Grayson will be pedalling hard in a charity bike ride from London to Amsterdam.

Being saddle sore and having aching limbs is all in a good cause, the event seeing the Football League team up with Men United – Prostate Cancer UK’s fund-raising movement.

This is the third annual ride from Leyton Orient’s ground to Ajax’s Amsterdam ArenA, last year’s event raising more than £200,000.

For Grayson, the untimely death of a close friend is his inspiration, the reason he will be sat on a static bike in his garage for hours on end – and cycling the country lanes of Lancashire – in order to get in shape for the June event.

In September last year, his long-time mate Stephen Garbett passed away after a decade’s battle with prostate cancer.

In his memory, Grayson wants to do something positive to raise money for research into fighting the disease and raise awareness of it.

He will not be alone on the ride, with 250-300 riders representing all Football League clubs taking part.

Grayson will have company from North End in the shape of two members of Deepdale’s staff – groundsman Pete Ashworth and electrician Mick Townsend.

Stephen Garbett’s son Dave is riding too, the two-day event certain to be emotionally, as well as physically, draining.

We talk in Grayson’s office at PNE’s Springfields training ground, the planning for this afternoon’s game with Crewe briefly put on hold.

“It was at my friend’s wake where the idea of taking part in the charity bike ride came from,” Grayson told the Evening Post.

“We had been at the funeral and were having a chat about a few things when I suggested this might be something a few of us could do.

“After a couple of beers it probably sounded a good idea!

“But I just felt it was something positive which could come out of a sad event.

“Steve’s lad is doing it and three of his close friends.

“Five of my mates from Bedale in Yorkshire, where I’m from – they knew Steve through me – are doing it, then there is the team from Preston North End.

“There is our groundsman Pete, the stadium electrician Mick and also Tom Bowker from Bowker BMW.

“My cousin is doing it so there will be about 14 of us in our group.

“It is all for a good cause, raising money and awareness in a positive way.

“We set off from Orient’s ground on Friday, June 12, and ride to Harwich in Essex ,which is meant to be the grind part of the ride.

“From Harwich we take the ferry over to Rotterdam and then allegedly we have the easy part of cycling on the flat to Amsterdam – I’ll let you know afterwards if it was easy.

“It is very well organised with the safest routes picked to ride on – the M25 knowing my luck – while your bikes and gear are looked after when you are not riding.

“Pete Ashworth did it last year and he did mention that one or two riders still managed to get themselves lost a little bit after taking wrong turnings. I’ll be staying close to our main group – if we get lost we can get lost together!

“There will be people from the different Football League clubs taking part, and there are some from TalkSport radio.

“It is two days, June 12 and 13, and I think I’ll spend three weeks in Amsterdam recovering!

“One or two of my coaching staff have offered to meet me over there and join in with the celebrations – no doubt I’d be buying the drinks.”

Grayson, in charge of North End since February 2013, is preparing to put in the miles on the bike as well work in the gym in order to make a proper go of the ride.

“I have been doing a bit in the gym on the static bike to start with, just to get my basic fitness levels up,” said the 45-year-old.

“The medical department here have given me a plan of the work which needs to be done and the mileage I should be doing over the next couple of months.

“I’m looking forward to it, this is an opportunity to get a little bit fitter and also get out there in the fresh air.

“If I don’t put in the work it will obviously be one hell of a slog, which is something I want to avoid.

“At my age it is important to keep your fitness levels good anyway, so the charity ride is an opportunity to help that.

“I’m fortunate that our physio Matt Jackson is a keen cyclist himself. He is going to take me out on some rides. We’re going to get out into some of the villages around Preston, areas which I haven’t seen in my time at the club.

“I’ll be going around the Clitheroe area where I live too.

“It all has to be fit in around the training, the games and the work we do at North End.

“That is the priority, nothing will take my focus from what we are trying to do here.

“The training will be done around that, on days off and once training has finished.

“We had Monday of this week off and I found myself sat in the garage at home on the static bike during the evening.

“After 20 minutes I was bored stiff, trying to watch the Ipad for something to take my mind off it.

“When I got to 35 minutes I thought that mentally I was over the worst of it and I managed to get through to an hour, which I was pleased with.

“As the weather gets better it will be nice to get out into the fresh air.

“It will be a nice way to unwind on a Sunday after what has hopefully been a good win on the Saturday.”

The bike ride is not the only charity event which Grayson has been involved in for Prostate Cancer UK.

Last month he played in a all-stars football game in home town Bedale, North Yorkshire.

On March 30, Grayson is hosting a fans’ forum in the Invincibles Lounge at Deepdale, which will be a chance for North End supporters to quiz him and his staff, as well as some well-known former PNE players.

Grayson said: “We had the match in Bedale featuring a few celebrities – former England cricketer Steve Harmison, Bryn Law from Sky Sports, Dean Windass, Craig Hignett, my brother Paul.

“At one point there were five Graysons on the pitch – myself, my brother, my dad, Paul’s lad who is 18 and my son Joe who is 15.

“That was a nice touch, it had never been done before and might not be done again because at his age, my dad should not be going on the pitch!

“Mind you, I was feeling my age after playing the full game.

“We held an auction after the game as part of the event.

“There is other fund-raising stuff coming up.

“I’m doing a fans’ forum in Leeds a week on Sunday, the day after the Barnsley game, and then we have the forum at Deepdale later this month.

“I have a target in mind with regard to what I want to raise, while raising awareness is just as important.

“One of the statistics which I have seen is that one in four men will either suffer from prostate cancer or will know someone who has had it.

“That is an incredible number of people and I have chosen a charity which has personally affected me.

“I’ve done work for other charities – my mum has suffered from multiple sclerosis for 30 years and I organised a golf day to raise funds for that last year.

“There are loads of great charities out there which do so much good work to help people suffering from illnesses and conditions.

“This one is close to my heart and hopefully I can do something to raise awareness of the work they do.

“I’ve got a ‘justgiving’ page which people have already been donating generously to.

“Even if someone gives just £1 or a fiver, it all helps.

“I think we are up around the £5,000 mark, so things are going nicely.

“My friends in Bedale had a sportsmans’ dinner recently which has put another £700 to £800 into the pot.

“Awareness is an important factor too.

“A lot of managers and sportsmen now wear the Prostate Cancer UK ‘Man of Men’ pin badge at sporting events.

“At first, people probably were not aware what the badge stood for but I think they are now.”

Grayson’s friendship with Steve ‘Garby’ Garbett went back to when he was a teenager.

Over the years, Steve supported him as a player and then when he went into management.

Said Grayson: “When I was at Leeds, I started doing my coaching badges aged 17 on a Sunday morning.

“Steve was on the same course as me and I met him through that.

“As it happens, he lived just around the corner from where I bought my first house.

“We hit it off and remained friends for just under 30 years.

“Steve saw a lot of football, good and bad, in following my career.

“He played at Brighton for a little while and played for the England ‘C’ team, which was at non-league level.

“Steve scouted a little bit for England’s younger age groups and had a good knowledge of the game.

“I never used to ask for his advice but he gave it me anyway!

“He was someone who I knew I could bounce things off and he would tell me stuff too.

“It is good to hear a different voice sometimes, get a slightly different view of things.

“Steve gave me that and was a very good friend for such a long time.”

One evening when Grayson will have to leave the bike at home is Monday, March 30, when he hosts the fans’ forum at Deepdale.

Tickets, which cost £10, are on sale at the club’s ticket office – they are selling fast – and the Lilywhites boss predicts a good night.

To use a football cliché, it will be an evening of two halves.

In the first half, Grayson will have the company on the top table of Glynn Snodin, John Dreyer and Alan Kelly to answer questions from the audience.

Then he will be joined for the second half by North End blasts from the past – Mark Lawrenson, Paul McKenna, Kevin Kilbane and Sean Gregan.

“I’m looking forward to the evening, it should be an entertaining event for everyone who comes down,” said Grayson.

“People can ask the staff and myself questions and then we bring in the PNE legends.

“Within 24 hours of our general manager Ben Rhodes making the phone calls, Lawro, Kevin, Greegs and Kenna had all got back to say they were coming.

“They all enjoyed their time here and the supporters will have enjoyed what they did on the pitch.

“It is nice for them to be part of it all and I’m very grateful to them.

“We’ll have the bar open, raffle a few things off and have a good chat about football.”

And then Grayson will be back getting in shape on his bike.

Director of fundraising at Prostate Cancer UK, Mark Bishop, said: “This is our third annual London to Amsterdam challeneg and it’s shaping up to be our best yet with our friends representing the Football League clubs once again getting behind is.

“It’s an enjoyable event and it really resonates when we have people on the ride that have been directly affected by this deadly disease.

“To have Dave and Simon riding in honour of ‘Garby’ sends out an incredibly powerful message and will help raise awareness and funds to help save men’s lives.

“Everyone on the start line at Leyton Orient will represent Men United, people joining the same team to fight a common opposition – prostate cancer.”

To support Simon on the bike ride, go to www.justgiving.com/Simon-Grayson2015.

More information about taking part in this year’s bike ride, visit prostatecanceruk.org/amsterdam.