Foot In Both Camps: Danny Granville

Danny Granville experienced European glory with Chelsea, as well as spending three seasons at Manchester City. Ahead of tonight’s big game between the two clubs, we caught up with our former defender.

It was exactly 20 years ago today Danny Granville made his Chelsea debut, and just over a year later he would go on to star in our European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph over German side Stuttgart in Stockholm.

An attack-minded left-back, Granville moved to Stamford Bridge from Cambridge United, and after impressing for our reserves he was handed his Blues bow in a London derby against Arsenal, his boyhood club.

‘I came on at half-time and we lost 3-0, although in my defence it was already 2-0 when I came on,’ he laughs. ‘After signing I’d been itching to get going and after playing a couple of reserve games I think it was Eddie Niedzwiecki [the goalkeeper coach at the time] who singled me out and said how well I’d been doing.

‘To be involved against Arsenal was great, they were my team as a kid because I only lived a stone’s throw from Highbury. I remember picking up Ian Wright, who scored in the game, from a corner and he was giving me loads of verbals, but I was at Manchester City with Shaun Wright-Phillips so I got to meet him a few years later and he’s a great guy.

‘After the Arsenal game I played a few more times that season and against Leicester I put in the cross for Mark Hughes to score the winner, which was unbelievable for me because I loved him as a player growing up.

‘Being from London, I had been at Arsenal but got released because they said I was too small. I spent time at Charlton and Tottenham, and then ended up at Cambridge. Doing it that way is sometimes more beneficial because you get more games under your belt and learn your trade, so by the time I was getting interest I had played around 100 matches.’

The step up from Cambridge to Chelsea would have been a significant one regardless, but the Blues, as a club, were on the up and beginning to attract some of the biggest names in world football.

Two of those, Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli, were the men in charge during Granville’s time as a Chelsea player.

‘Ruud was our manager when I joined and he was great with me,’ Granville recalls. ‘I was 21 when I signed and he’d tell me I was a rough diamond that needed polishing, and he’d give me advice on what I needed to improve.

‘He then left and Gianluca took over, and I remember him telling me I needed to try and get beyond the ball more often. I always loved getting forward, I’d see the play building up and then go. I liked to keep the ball ticking over and then try to give it to the likes of Zola.

‘It was an unbelievable time to be at the club with the type of players we had. All the youngsters, people like Jody Morris, Neil Clement and Nick Crittenden, used to come in an hour before all the other boys and do some technical work. Zola, and a couple of others, would also join us because they were so professional. I suppose we were a little bit ahead of our time because of the foreign influence.’

In the summer of 1997 Granville played regularly throughout pre-season, including the Charity Shield against Manchester United (pictured right), his one and only appearance at Wembley. On the eve of the new season, however, the club re-signed Graeme Le Saux, who went straight into the side for our opening game of the campaign at Coventry.

Granville’s first start didn’t come until mid-September, in a Cup Winners’ Cup fixture against Slovan Bratislava, although it’s a night which holds special memories due to the fact he scored his only Chelsea goal in the game.

‘Graeme Le Saux had come in and the club were always going to have to justify the fee, which was a lot of money at the time,’ he says. ‘I played all through pre-season and then they brought him in, they obviously wanted more experience. I was the Under-21 left-back and he was the senior left-back, but people kept telling me I could push him.

‘The goal was instinctive really, the ball came in and I flicked it over the defender’s head and managed to get a good connection on it. I was delighted to score my first goal but the funny thing was, I was raring to go after that and then I didn’t play for about five matches. I couldn’t have felt more confident but that was Ruud’s way, and then when you didn’t expect to play he’d put you in.

‘His squad system worked really well though because everybody played a part. He had a lot of good players who he could trust.’

Granville missed out on a medal when we won the League Cup despite having played in all of the earlier rounds up until the semi-final, but his disappointment was tempered by the fact that when we reached our first European final for 27 years he was handed a place in the starting line-up by Vialli.

 Danny Granville on his big night in Stockholm, back row, second from the right

‘That was unbelievable and it was such a nerve-wracking game,’ Granville remembers. ‘I was told a day or two before the game that I’d be playing and I just remember being so focused for it. To play on that stage, at that time, was great. We were under pressure early on in the game and I made a couple of important interceptions and recovery challenges.

‘Everybody was telling me I was man of the match but Zola obviously got it after coming off the bench and scoring the winner.

‘I had a battered old Volkswagen at the time which all the boys used to call ‘The Beast’ and I had a great opportunity to get a nice new car, but Zola ended up taking it off me, although I think he ended up donating it to charity.

‘I was very proud to be part of it. All my family watched it on the TV because I had a job to do and I didn’t want any distractions, I remember speaking to them after the game and they were telling me Alan Hansen had been full of praise which was really nice to hear. That whole European campaign was fantastic.’

That night in Stockholm proved to be Granville’s final appearance for the club and, after a short spell at Leeds United, he joined Manchester City, a period full of highs and lows, as he explains.

‘Joe Royle signed me and he was brilliant,’ says Granville. ‘While I was there we had two promotions and one relegation, but I loved my time at City. It’s like a goldfish bowl up there, you’re either red or blue.

‘We got promoted in my first season, then the following year we got relegated. I played about the last 15 games that season after going out on loan to Norwich for a few games.

‘There was no doubt we would have gone back up under Joe but for whatever reason they changed it and brought Kevin Keegan in. He was great to start with but when we had a wobble he wanted to change things and it seemed like the right move for me to come back to London and join Crystal Palace. I’m really proud to have played for Chelsea and Man City and I love both clubs.’