You wouldn’t usually expect to come across a former English player abroad teaching in a school in Doncaster but for the pupils of De Warenne Academy talking shop with a man who’s played in the Philippines is a daily occurrence.
“I started teaching in September and I love it” says Brad Grayson, a 25-year-old striker. “It’s great because I can relate to the students with playing football and I was quite surprised how knowledgeable they were on the non-league! They follow me every week which is really nice.”
Grayson is back in the UK after spells in Sweden, Australia and Asia but his footballing career started a lot closer to home for his boyhood club Doncaster Rovers.
“It was brilliant,” says the striker recalling his days with the Rovers. “The best experience of my life so far was to come on and make my debut for my home town, who I had a season ticket and supported when I was younger.
“It was great training with the pros and they all made me feel very welcome especially Brian Stock, James Coppinger and Shelton Martis who were all brilliant with me and gave me advice.”
The 2010/11 season was the forward’s breakthrough as he made his debut as a substitute in a League Cup match against Accrington Stanley and then went on to make the bench three times in the Championship. However, despite being on the fringes of the first team, he was released in 2011.
“After I made my debut I believed I held my own and maybe could have featured a bit more but being involved with the squad and being on the bench against big clubs in the Championship at the time like Norwich and Portsmouth was amazing.”
After his release, Grayson drifted into non-league football but he had a hunger for professional football and looked for an immediate return, that’s when the LFE programme came calling.
The programme which places English players at clubs in countries such as Sweden has helped many footballers, like Östersunds goalkeeper Andrew Mills, achieve their dream of a return to the professional game.
“I wanted to play professionally again and give it another go. Paul Bartlett from the LFE helped me out massively and got me to a team in Sweden called Ånge IF.
“They had a partnership with the LFE. They sent out the players on a three month contract and if we were good enough then the club had to give us another deal.”
And Grayson was certainly good enough. He fired a spectacular 22 goals in 24 games to earn the golden boot and guide his Ånge side (who represent a town of less than 3,000 people) to promotion from the fifth tier in what seemed like a match made in heaven on and off the pitch.
“It was very cold but it was very good,” he recalls. “All the Swedish lads and coach were brilliant and I lived with 5 English lads in an apartment so it felt like home also.
“They always try to keep the ball on the ground and always had a number 10 which I enjoyed as much as the striker because everything went through to the number 10.
“I also tried learning Swedish but I only learnt the basics. English in general are very ignorant in terms of expecting everyone to speak our language. In Sweden they were amazing at English as they start learning it from primary school so I didn’t feel the need to learn everything.”
It was a successful spell for Grayson but he was soon on the move again and after a brief stint back in English non-league football, he ventured even further from home.
He joined Australian state league side Cumberland United where the football was a far cry from what he had enjoyed so much in Sweden although the move did have its positives.
“The football standard wasn’t the best technically. it was similar to England were it’s pumped up to the forwards and they try win the flick on.
“The lifestyle was very good though. The weather was always brilliant and you’re always happier when you’ve got a beach five minutes from your house and a swimming pool in your back garden!”
The former Doncaster man then continued his new routine of returning to non-league football back home before heading abroad again and this time it was to follow a much less trodden path following a tip-off from another Englishman abroad.
“The move came about when my friend Adam Mitter, who I won the league with in Sweden, spoke to me and asked if I would be interested in going to the Philippines.
“I always wanted to go to Asia and Adam told me out of the countries he’d played in that it was the best one yet.”
After thinking the move over, Grayson got in touch with the manager of Loyola Meralco Sparks, who at the time was Scottish coach Simon McMenemy, the former coach of the Philippines national team. The chat turned into something much more substantial as he made a decision he would not regret.
“He said he liked my highlights and wanted me to play up front with the national team captain [former Chelsea youth player] Phil Younghusband.
“So I went out there, took a gamble and it was the best one yet. The football was great playing against players who have played for their countries and in MLS. The lifestyle was unbelievable too. We got treated like kings!”
“It was easy to settle in too as I had a British manager so he made me feel welcome as well as Adam being there too. There were also about eight lads who were half English and half Filipino who had come over from English academies like Chelsea and Crystal Palace.”
The move saw Grayson take his game to a whole new level. Although the routine was different, Loyola had everything the forward wanted from football.
“The Philippines was overall the best football I have played in. It was ran like a professional club with yoga sessions, video analysis every week on opponents and very good technical players.
“We had loads of spare time too. We trained from six in the morning because it was too hot in the middle of the day so after training we could do whatever we wanted – apart from Thursday when we’d have video analysis and yoga.”
After his adventures in Asia and across the globe, the striker now has a new reality as he gets to grips with teaching alongside playing for Northern Premier League side Buxton but at the age of just 25, another move abroad is not off the cards.
“Never say never,” he says. “I’ve only just turned 25 and would love to play full time and experience another country.
“Hopefully I’ve still got seven or eight seasons left playing and after I finish I could go back into teaching.
“It just depends on if any clubs come in for me abroad. Maybe my old manager Simon, who recently won the Indonesia Super League, might give me a call!”