From Wembley to Lord's for Pelsall man
Paul Grainger has achieved every footballer's dream by playing at Wembley. Now he is chasing every cricketer's dream – walking out at Lord's.
Grainger was part of the Telford United side that beat Maccesfield 1-0 in the 1989 FA Trophy final under the Twin Towers.
But while his footballing days may be confined to the memory banks, the former midfield terrier is hoping for another day to remember at the Home of Cricket.
Grainger is a key figure in the Pelsall cricket team chasing glory in the National Village Knockout.
Some impressive performances have seen Pelsall progress to a clash with South Wales side Bronwydd on Sunday and left them just two games from Lord's.
And Grainger is daring to dream, saying: "I can't think of anybody that has played football at Wembley and cricket at Lord's, so it would be nice to get there.
"We have got a chance, we are playing pretty well on Sundays. If I was lucky enough to get to Lord's, I think it would probably be on a par with playing at Wembley, especially at my age.
"I might never get the chance or get this close again. I have been to watch a few games at Lord's and one of my cousins is a MCC member there.
"I have had a tour around the place and been in the Long Room and the dressing rooms. But I would really like to walk through the Long Room with my pads on going out to bat. That would be brilliant."
The opening batsman from Bloxwich is a well-known figure across the local sporting landscape.
He started playing cricket at Walsall as an eight-year-old, before football took over after he signed as an apprentice by Villa.
A spell at Wolves followed before he went down the non-league route – and with great success.
As well as Wembley glory with Telford, he also won the Conference title with Kidderminster in 1994.
He enjoyed numerous FA Cup upsets with Harriers and the Bucks, and also had a brief stint as skipper at Stafford Rangers.
But cricket has always played a huge part in Grainger's life and he's relishing every second he spends on the field, after being coaxed into playing on for another season.
He said: "I started playing at Walsall when I was eigh. But when I signed for Villa at 16, I couldn't commit as much to the cricket.
"I didn't really play a lot of cricket for a couple of years, then when I got released by the Villa when I was 18, I went and joined Pelsall.
"For some unknown reason, I got asked to go and play in their first team. I have been there ever since and used to play for half a season or so, until the football commitments kicked in.
"I was going to pack it up at the end of last season, after we won the Staffs Clubs and got promoted to the Birmingham League.
"But the skipper, Danny Pennell, talked me in to carrying on. I got a few runs last season so I thought I would carry on.
"I am 47 now, but don't put that in the the paper! I don't know how long I will carry on playing for, probably until the enjoyment goes. But at the moment I am enjoying it.
"We have a good laugh at Pelsall. The craic and the spirit is really good. We have days out together and everyone seems to get on really well - the firsts, seconds and the thirds.
"The camaraderie is similar to when I was playing football at Telford."
By all accounts, Grainger has mentioned his Wembley exploits once or twice to the Pelsall lads and the part-time off-spinner would love the chance to spin a yarn or two about playing at Lord's.
He joked: "I may have mentioned playing at Wembley on the odd occasion. But it was fantastic to play there.
"I also went with Wolves in 1988 when they reached the Sherpa Van final. I never made a first-team appearance for Wolves, but I was part of the squad that day.
"Graham Turner took me to Wolves and he was the manager when I was at Villa. So you could say he signed me twice, and released me twice!
"But I have got no regrets. I spent a spell on loan with Telford when I was at Wolves and then joined them permanently. Stan Storton was the manager then and I had a great time.
"We won at Wembley and enjoyed some good runs in the FA Cup. It was brilliant.
"I was there for three years and then I went to Kidderminster and had a brilliant time there as well.
"We won the Conference and beat Birmingham and Preston in the FA Cup before losing 1-0 at home to West Ham in the fifth round.
"But I snapped my cruciate ligament in 1995 when I was at Kidderminster. It knackered me up really. I didn't really get back from that, to be honest.
"I had a season at Stafford Rangers and when I was 30 I basically wrapped up playing football and went back to play cricket regularly at Pelsall.
"It has been great playing here. The club has gone from strength to strength in the last few years.
"We have got the celebrity side, Lashings, coming down in August. It would be good to face some of those West Indian quick bowlers.
While he remains as competitive as ever on the field, Grainger is also keen to chew the fat over a drink after the match – something he thinks is sadly missing in this day and age.
He said: "Club cricket is a lot more serious now with the overseas pros and people getting paid to play.
"Teams don't stop and have a drink with each other now either. Everywhere we go, we stay after the game and have a couple of drinks. But that's probably down to me, because I am old-school.
"We make a point of that. The other sides don't seem to stop at Pelsall and have a drink. They just play, have a shower and go home.
"You don't get to know the lads you are playing against, which is a shame."
As he prepares for a step into the unknown on Sunday, Grainger will stick to his old-school principles
He said: "We want to win in Wales on Sunday. We don't know anything about them but, at this stage of the competition, it's going to be a tough game.
"But win or lose we will be staying for a drink. And if we win, we could be staying all night!"
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