The Allam family, Hull City’s owners, appointed Grant McCann as first team coach in June 2019 at a difficult time for the club – three of the Tigers’ last five managers had walked away from their post, such was the difficult relationship between the boardroom and the dug-out. In what turned out to be a tumultuous two and a half years in charge for Grant, he dealt with the owners with aplomb and came out of his rollercoaster tenure with considerable credit.
He prepared the Tigers for the 2019/20 Championship season by reinforcing his squad with a mix of experienced operators – defender Ryan Tafazolli, goalkeeper Matt Ingram, strikers Tom Eaves and Josh Magennis – and youthful enterprise – winger Josh Bowler, full back Callum Elder, midfielders Leo da Silva Lopes and George Honeyman. Just one win in the opening seven League games saw Grant’s side drop into the bottom six but a fine 3-0 win at Luton Town kickstarted a rapid revival that saw City lose only six of the next 19 League matches and rise to eighth in the table after a New Years Day win at Sheffield Wednesday. A 3-2 FA Cup win at Rotherham followed with Tom Eaves netting a hattrick, and the scene appeared to be set for a successful second half of the season – alas, the exact opposite transpired.
The owners decided to cash in on their prime assets, selling wide forwards Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion respectively. With his main attacking threat having gone west, McCann was unable to galvanise his team and an eleven match winless run, culminating in a dreadful 1-5 defeat at Stoke City, saw his side drop into the bottom four. Football then paused for three months due to the COVID19 pandemic but when it returned in June 2020 City’s fortunes were not improved. Playing behind closed doors, the Tigers won just one more game all season and finished bottom of the Championship table, a ghastly 0-8 victory at Wigan Athletic that saw the Tigers concede seven first half goals providing the totemic low point of Grant’s first season in charge at Hull City.
Whether by good design or an unwillingness to take affirmative action, the Allam family retained Grant for the 2020/21 season, a decision that proved very wise. McCann added more experience to his League One squad – midfield general Richie Smallwood, Hull-born full back Lewie Coyle and Scotsman Greg Docherty – as well as several youthful talents such as Alfie Jones from Southampton, home-grown defender Jacob Greaves and versatile Sheffield United midfielder Regan Slater. The season was played entirely behind closed doors, save for an away match at Oxford United attended by 1,000 intrepid souls, and started with a dominant 2-0 victory at Gillingham. Relieved of the matchday pressure of the Hull City faithful reminding him of his side’s failings the previous season, McCann was able to compile a tight-knit squad that fought hard week after week – the Tigers hit the top in October 2020 and spent the entirety of the rest of the season in the top three places. A run of five consecutive victories in February and March 2021 saw the Tigers return to first place, a position they retained for the rest of the season. Promotion was sealed with a late April 2021 victory at Lincoln City, the title was secured a week later – ten months after McCann led the Tigers to one of their worst seasons in decades, he had led the club only its fourth League title in 117 years. Fair play to him.
Grant was able to operate modestly in the transfer market during the 2021 close season as the Allams continued their quest to maintain good order in the accounts in preparation for a sale. A thumping 4-1 opening day win at Preston North End showed the momentum that the Tigers had retained from the previous season, but by erly November 2021 McCann’s side had won just one more League match and dropped once again into the relegation zone. A run of four consecutive wins lifted spirits and as Christmas 2021 approached it was clear that Assem and Ehab Allam had found a buyer for the club in the shape of Turkish media mogul Acun Illicali. In January 2022 McCann steered the Tigers to two wins in the last two fixtures of his tenure – a rampant 2-0 home win against Blackburn Rovers days after Illicali’s take-over was confirmed and a fine 1-0 win at faraway promotion-chasing Bournemouth – before being relieved of his duties at the end of January 2022. History will remember McCann’s tenure in two ways – the man that delivered the League One title, one of the club’s finest achievements, and the man that delivered a shockingly poor relegation from the Championship. Given the constraints he worked under and the talent he was denied midway through his first season, it is clear that his successes should define Grant McCann’s time at Hull City more than the failures.
Grant Samuel McCann was born and raised in the Sandy Row district of central Belfast and was a youth team player at Belfast side Distillery before joining the West Ham United’s academy in 1996. After successfully working his way through the development system at Upton Park he earned his first professional contract for the Hammers in July 1998. In August 1999 Grant went on a one month loan at Scottish Division One side Livingston, making his senior debut against Morton and compiling five senior appearances before returning to West Ham United, though he was unable to break into the first team during the remainder of the 1999/00 season. In August 2000 he spent a month on loan at League Division 2 side Notts County, making 3 appearances, then in October 2000 McCann was loaned to League Division 3 side Cheltenham Town for the remainder of the 2000/01 season. He scored his first senior goal against Brighton & Hove Albion in February 2001 and ended his Cheltenham loan in early May 2001 having scored three goals in 33 appearances. In mid-May 2001 Grant made his Premier League debut for West Ham United, coming on for the closing minutes against Middlesbrough.
McCann spent the 2001/02 season on the fringes of West Ham’s first team squad, making three further Premier League substitute appearances. At the start of the 2002/03 season Grant had a short-lived loan at League Division 1 side Grimsby Town, making no senior appearances. In October 2002 he was again loaned to Cheltenham Town, now elevated to League Division 2, and added a further 10 appearances for the Robins, scoring once. In January 2003 he made the move to Cheltenham Town permanent, the £50,000 transfer representing a record fee paid by the Gloucestershire club. He quickly established himself as a key part of the Robins’ squad and although Cheltenham were relegated at the end of the 2002/03 season, McCann remained a first team regular for the next three seasons. In the 2005/06 season Grant scored 11 goals as the Robins won promotion from League Two to League One after a May 2006 Millennium Stadium play-off final win against Grimsby Town. McCann started the 2006/07 season impressing in League One and by November 2006 he was attracting the attention of larger clubs – he scored 42 goals in 179 appearances following his permanent transfer, taking his overall Cheltenham Town tally to 46 goals in 222 appearances.
In November 2006 McCann joined Championship side Barnsley on loan and scored on his Tykes debut against Ipswich Town. This move became permanent when the transfer window reopened in January 2007 and he became a key part of Barnsley’s first eleven. He retained his starting place for much of the first half of the 2007/08 season until January 2008 when he transferred the Championship rivals Scunthorpe United – Grant scored four goals in 44 appearances for Barnsley. At the time Scunthorpe were an archetypal yo-yo club and McCann suffered relegation at the end of the 2007/08 season, then promotion via a League One play-offs victory against Millwall at the end of the 2008/09 season – he also started and scored in the Football League Trophy final at Wembley in April 2009 which the Iron lost to Luton Town. He missed only four League games during the 2009/10 season as Scunthorpe narrowly avoided another Championship relegation and by May 2010 Grant had scored 20 goals for The Iron in 113 appearances.
In May 2010 free agent McCann joined League One side Peterborough United. A first team regular for four seasons, Posh were promoted in McCann’s first season via a May 2011 play-off victory against Huddersfield Town – Grant scored the third goal in a 3-0 victory and won his third play-off final with three different clubs. He remained at Peterborough for the next two seasons as they narrowly avoided, then yielded to, relegation back to League One and played regularly during the 2013/14 League One season as Posh lost the play-off semi-final to Leyton Orient. At the start of the 2014/15 season Grant struggled to earn regular first team football and began coaching the youth team. He was handed a free transfer in January 2015 having scored 35 goals for Peterborough United in 186 appearances. He had a brief spell at Northern Irish League side Linfield, scoring once in five appearances, before hanging up his boots and returning to Peterborough at the end of February 2015 to take up a full-time coaching role.
As McCann’s career developed at West Ham United he attracted the attention of the Northern Ireland international setup. He made his Under-21 debut in May 2000 against Scotland and over the next 18 months he compiled three goals in 11 Under-21 appearances, the last coming against Malta in October 2001. The following day Grant made his senior international debut, also against Malta, when he was a late substitute for Stuart Elliott, another Belfast player with Hull City associations. McCann was in and out of the international squad for the next eight years until becoming a more regular choice from 2009 to 2012. He scored his first senior international goal in March 2007 against Liechtenstein then added two goals against San Marino in the 2008/09 season before taking his international tally to four goals when he netted against Israel in August 2009. His final international appearance against Netherlands in June 2012 took his tally to 39 senior international caps.
McCann was appointed to Peterborough United’s coaching staff in February 2015, in September 2015 he was briefly caretaker first manager for 2 matches following the dismissal of David Robertson. In May 2016 Grant was appointed first team manager on a permanent basis and guided Posh to the middle reaches of the League One table before his dismissal in February 2018 – his first full-time spell in charge at Peterborough lasted for 101 matches. In June 2018 he returned to the management fray when he was appointed first team manager at League One side Doncaster Rovers – in his first season at the Keepmoat Stadium he guided Rovers for 59 matches, a sixth place finish and the end-of-season play-offs, only to lose at the semi-final stage to Charlton Athletic after a penalty shootout. It was this successful season that enticed Hull City to approach McCann, plus his assistant manager and former Scunthorpe teammate Cliff Byrne, in June 2019.
McCann left the Tigers in January 2022 and within a month he was reappointed first team manager at Championship strugglers Peterborough United. His new side were put to the sword by his former employers Hull City, notably a rampant Keane Lewis-Potter, in his first game in charge and in his second game his side kept the score down in an FA Cup tie against Premier League giants Manchester City – quite the baptism. Despite leading Posh to four wins in the remainder of the season McCann was unable to avoid relegation to League One, a division where his recent credentials were impeccable. A good start to the 2022/23 season saw Peterborough rise to fourth place by mid-November 2022, but a run of five defeats in seven League matches during the festive period saw Grant’s side fall away to 8th place and he was dismissed by Peterborough four days into 2023 after 48 matches in charge.
In May 2023 McCann was reappointed first team manager at Doncaster Rovers, now a League Two side with a modest level of resources that tested Grant’s management skills. His Rovers side dumped Hull City out of the League Cup in August 2023, a rare highlight in what proved to be a difficult season.
Nationality: Northern Ireland
Date/Place of Birth: 14 April 1980, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Appointed by Hull City: 21 June 2019; 39 years, 68 days old
Left Hull City: 25 January 2022; 41 years, 286 days old
Tenure: 949 days
Peterborough United (2015), Peterborough United (2016-2018), Doncaster Rovers (2018-2019), Hull City (2019-2022), Peterborough United (2022-2023), Doncaster Rovers (2023-current)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 136, Won 53, Drawn 29, Lost 54, Goals For 187, Goals Against 178
Achievements: Champions of League One, 2020/21 season