Preston North End kick-off their 128th EFL season at Reading on Saturday and for manager Simon Grayson it is his 30th campaign.
“This is my 30th consecutive season as a player or a manager that I have started a season and I want to keep that record going for many more years yet,” he said as he looked forward to the Championship opener at Reading. “I am excited at the prospect of what could happen at the football club and what we have in front of us; the challenges we are going to meet, the new managers we are going to come up against, but ultimately doing the best for this football club and taking it forward. That’s what you have to keep doing, year in, year out. We have done it every year since we have been here and if we can beat what we did last year then we will certainly have had another good year. We will keep looking to improve and be looking to till be here in a year’s time taking this club forward.
“The most realistic aim to start with is to guarantee our place in this division. That is not being pessimistic, but we have not got the budget of many clubs and we have to start by retaining our status. We said the same thing last year and anything beyond that we will be happy with. We haven’t set aims of where we want to finish, we just want to do as well as we can do and give a good account of ourselves, week in, week out, and see where it takes us.
“There is no pressure except that we put on ourselves and we want to win as many games as possible.
“We won’t set unrealistic targets. In League One we had one aim, to get promoted, and we fulfilled that, but in the Championship it is difficult to know how you are going to do, but we have to make sure we do everything that is possible to have a successful season and that could mean anything in terms of finishing position; the overall picture is doing the best you can as a group and as individuals.”
The gaffer takes a squad down to Berkshire with many different selections dilemmas to mull over before officially handing over the team sheet to the referee at 1.45pm on Saturday afternoon and he is delighted with the level of competition in the squad.
“This year we have some good competition,” he continued. “You always have to keep improving with every window that you go into; keeping adding to the squad, but not getting away from the fact of how well the squad did last year, both on and off the pitch. We are pleased with what we have got, we have got to keep improving and working hard and doing all the things we did well last year.
“It is going to be really competitive this season. It will be tough; some of the money the teams are spending at the moment, it is as if it is the Premier League, the likes of Villa, Newcastle and Norwich are doing some big deals, but football isn’t played on paper, it is about having the right attitude in what you do when you cross that line onto the green grass.
“We are under no illusions as to how tough it is going to be, but we will enjoy ourselves, go through some ups and downs – as every season brings to any football club – and keep working hard and if we do that, then you can’t ask any more of yourself. If the players weren’t giving 100 per cent every game we would have reason to complain, but if they give their all, we can have no complaints. We realise there is a challenge in front of us, but going to the likes of St James’ Park and Villa Park will be great experiences we can thrive on and bring the best out of us, because the pressure will be on those sorts of teams.”
The manager must come up against one of a number of new managerial additions to the Championship at the weekend in Jaap Stam and he explains that it won’t be a simple job in preparing his team to face the Dutch man’s Royals.
“They are a different team from when we played them in the last away game of last season. They have different players, a different manager and it is very difficult in the first game of the season to know what they are going to do.
“Over the pre-season games their systems and personnel will have changed, so it is difficult to get an idea of what they are doing. You have more of an idea if the team have the same manager as in previous seasons. However, we will go there and be hard to beat, make sure we take the game to them and try and replicate the same performance and result we ended last season with.
“I have probably come up against Jaap Stam before as a player. He had a fantastic career as a player and learnt his managerial trade back in Holland. He has learnt from some fantastic managers and coaches during his career and saw an opportunity to become a manager at Reading.
“He will be wanting a successful season and we cannot be sure how they will set up, but we are always respectful of everyone we play – as we were last year – but it is about what we do on Saturday that is the most important thing,” he added.