There are not many 16-year-olds who can boast of being in the first team squad on 20 occasions in a season but goalkeeper Charlie Grainger is one of them.
Despite being a familiar name to most O’s fans, very few would have seen him in action as he has yet to make his debut for the club. With this in mind, E10 this week sat down with him to find out a bit more about the rookie goalkeeper.
Charlie was signed by the O’s from Norwich in 2009 and is the son of former Birmingham City left-back Martin Grainger and watching his Dad tear down the wing at St Andrews made his mind up from an early age that football was the career path for him.
He told E10: “It was class, I used to watch my Dad every weekend at Birmingham, he was a good player though I was too young to really learn anything from him at the time. But growing up in a football family, that’s all I’ve wanted to do and since then I’ve learnt loads, he’s taught me to stay level-headed and keep my feet on the ground.”
Grainger is still a first year scholar at the club but with Lee Butcher having been sidelined for over a year, Jamie Jones having also missed several games earlier in the season through injury and Ryan Allsop moving to Bournemouth in January, Grainger has been a regular member of the first team squad this season, something he has relished.
“This season has been good, it’s been a great experience to step up and be on the bench every week with the first team, it’s not something that most first year scholars get to do,” he continued.
“The team make you feel welcome, obviously I’m the young lad so I go and make the teas and the food all that but that that’s what you’ve got to do, it’s the same at every club and they do make you feel part of the group, they join you in with the jokes.
“The other Youth Team lads are always asking question like: what’s it like to be with the players? What’s the food like? What’s the hotel like? All things like that.”
Given his involvement with the first team, Grainger has only played seven games for the Youth Team this season, but the youngster believes that has far from hampered his development, particularly by working so closely with O’s number one Jamie Jones.
“I’ve learnt a lot about the pace of the game and what it’s like to be around the pros all the time and I’ve learnt so much from just watching Jamie Jones. I talk to him nearly every day, he’s always helping me learn and improve and just watching him on a Saturday helps me better myself as I see what he does and try and put that into my game.
“I admire his calmness on the pitch, he knows exactly what he’s doing and is so relaxed and in particular I like the way he deals with crosses, it’s something I need to learn a bit more,” he said.
Grainger is happy to admit that his crossing needs work but cites his shot-stopping, distribution and communication skills as his strengths and since arriving from Carrow Road believes he has developed at a rate of knots thanks to the guidance of O’s Youth Development Goalkeeper Coach, Adam Hart, and First Team Goalkeeper Coach Kevin Dearden.
“Adam and Kevin have worked so hard with me and put so much time and effort into me and if it wasn’t for them two, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the first team squad,” said Grainger.
Since breaking into the first team frame, Dearden has become a mentor figure to the young keeper and Grainger is always grateful for his guidance.
“Kev’s a great coach to work with, he’s always pushing me and never lets me do one little thing wrong.
“If I do one thing wrong, he’s on my case which is good and he always wants me to learn and improve and he encourages me to always watch the pros closely. He keeps me on my toes for everything really; my gym work, my college work, training. Him and Adam I owe big time.”
The hard work on the training ground paid dividends when in September 2011, Grainger was called up to an England training camp, something he has attended twice since and will join up with again in the autumn.
“I’ve been on a couple of England training camps, which were decent,” explains Grainger.
“I work with coaches there Martin Thomas and Simon Smith who are both ex-pros and are great coaches. They put that confidence in you because they make you believe that you are good enough to be there.
“It’s nice to play at a smaller club and be recognised especially when you’ve got all lads from Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal there. Some of the lads can be a bit big-time and think they are better than you as they come from a bigger club but my view is that we are all standing there with three lions on our shirt so we’re there together.
“I’m proud of being at Orient, it has given me a better grounding and I’d never have the opportunities like I’ve had here. I’d be the number six or seven goalkeeper at a big club.”
So how far away are the O’s fans from seeing Grainger make the step up from the bench? It seems that the first team involvement has given Charlie an itch for league football that he is desperate to scratch.
“When Jonesy (Jamie Jones) went down injured at Scunthorpe, I was ready to come on, I wanted to come on so badly. He said to me after the game that he was close to coming off and I was thinking: ‘Oh Jay! Why didn’t you just come off?! I wanted to come on!’
“I feel ready for it now though, at the start of the year Ryan Allsop went down at Swindon and I was a bit scared then but now I feel ready to come on and try and have a go,” he said.
“I always go in prepared, you can’t get in the frame of mind where you just think you will be an unused sub. You’ve always got to think you’re going to come on and play. Jonesy could go down after the first minute and I could be straight in and if you’re not in the right frame of mind then you’re not going to perform.
“Next year I want to get some games under my belt hopefully and maybe look at going on loan to a non-league team to get some experience playing with men and also get some experience playing in front of crowds, which is another big difference from Youth Team football.”
Indeed it’s testament to the efforts of the Youth Team that despite the absence of key players like Grainger for most of the season, they are favourites to win their league and Grainger is appreciative of others following his lead and make the step-up to the first team in recent weeks.
“The Youth Team are having a great season, Andy Edwards is the same as all the coaching staff here, he always asks for 100 per cent in everything you do, he has high expectations for everyone at the club and I think that’s why we are where we are because he is a great coach,” he said.
“It’s been nice recently having the likes of Harry Lee and De’Reece Vanderhyde involved in the first team and have a couple of other lads around that know you really well and that you speak to every day.”