As a player, you won a number of promotions with clubs such as Hartlepool United, Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers and Notts County. What are your personal highlights from your playing days?
“You play football for the love of the game and because you want to achieve success within the game so winning promotions and trophies at the clubs you have mentioned stands out.
“I was at Hartlepool United as played from the moment I left secondary school so it was special to win promotion there given the nature of the club at that time.
“Playing for a club such as Sheffield Wednesday and playing a part in taking them back into the Championship was also a great moment as the fans deserved that at the very least so it was nice to deliver promotion for them.
“I have to single out my time at Notts County in particular because we won the League Two title to achieve that promotion and that was my first time winning a league title outright.
“It is no mean feat to win any league title so that means a lot.
“I was also fortunate to captain some of the clubs that I played at.
“Arguably, my biggest moment in football as a player was captaining Doncaster Rovers to win the Football League Trophy at the Millennium Stadium while also scoring the winning goal in the match.
“That was a dream come true and a day that I will never forget.
“Overall, I had many good days in football as a player and when I approached retirement, I knew that I wanted to go on to become a coach and a manager because I love the game and I am always striving for success in what I do.”
Graeme Lee leads the promotion celebrations in 2003 as Pools go up into League One pic.twitter.com/gncpv62aJJ
— Pools Photos ⚽️ 🐒 (@PoolsPhotos) March 12, 2022
What was your transition into coaching like and how would you describe your footballing philosophy?
“I was fortunate to work with many good coaches and managers during my career.
“As such I took notes during my career from those whom I worked with to help prepare myself if I ever got the opportunity to coach or manager myself.
“Thankfully, I was given an opportunity to coach at Middlesbrough within the academy set up for ten years and I did not look back from there.
“In terms of my philosophy of football, I want my teams to be confident with the ball and to be able to play through the thirds of the pitch with fast, incisive passing.
“Playing exciting football is what every fan wants to see and that is what Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at for many years at Manchester United with his use of wingers in his teams.
“I am no different in wanting to play attacking and attractive football but I am also aware of the need to be solid and secure defensively as a team too.
“I want my teams to defend by being organised with solid defensive positioning where everyone in the team knows their role out of possession and by pressing the opposition high with intensity to win the ball back as quickly as we can.
“You are at your most dangerous as a team when you have the ball and you can hurt your opponent with good five-yard passes through the lines or with thirty-yard passes to exploit space in behind your opponent.
“You need to be flexible in your approach and that is something that I aim to do as a coach too.”
How do you reflect back on your decade coaching at Middlesbrough?
“I learned a lot and developed as a coach during my time at Middlesbrough by working in the academy structure and liaising with the first team coaches and manager too.
“Tony Mowbray was the first team manager when I went into the club and I learned a lot from him.
“He is a true football man who is more than happy to share his thoughts on the game with you and help you develop.
“He also has an aura about him when he walks into a room.
“I also had the opportunity to work closely with Aitor Karanka who was a disciplined coach with an emphasis on defensive organisation to the point that when the team went 1-0 up, you were confident that you would not be losing that game.
“I learned from both of those managers and I enjoyed planning and delivering sessions to help develop the young players I was working with, in and out of a match day.
“We had strong young talent and it was vitally important in my role to prepare them for a future in first-team football.
“I ensured that we gave the players information that was detailed and tailored to their development needs whether that be their first touch or their positioning in or out of possession.
It worked for us at Middlesbrough and thankfully, many of the young players that I worked with were able to go on and represent the first team.”
You left Middlesbrough to manage Hartlepool United following the departure of Dave Challinor from the club. You kept the club in League Two and were one penalty kick away from taking the club to Wembley. With hindsight, how would you reflect on your time at the club?
“I was not expecting to leave Hartlepool at the time that I did because we stabilised the club in the league, went on a cup run in the FA Cup where Patrick Vieira praised our approach after we faced Crystal Palace and we came close to reaching Wembley and the final of the Football League Trophy.
“However, sometimes that is the way football goes. You learn to expect the unexpected at times.
“Upon reflection, I still believe that we were doing a good job at the club especially when you consider that the club had lost five successive games prior to me going in and added to the fact that they had just been promoted back to the EFL from the National League.
“We turned those losses into draws initially before picking up wins and progressing the club forward from where we were.
“I felt that we recruited well in January and that we would have continued to grow as the season progressed especially given how well we did in February by winning five out of our six games.
“I am also confident that the club would not be where they are now had I been given the opportunity to recruit the players that I had identified and been given the time to implement my plan for the club going forward.”
Finally, Graeme, do you have ambitions to get back into football management?
“Absolutely, I want to return to football management. I love coaching and I have great passion for football and improving players and teams in general.
“I was fortunate to work at Middlesbrough for over a decade and I learned a lot from my time at Hartlepool which has made me a better coach now than I was then.
“I have taken the time to reflect on my experiences in the game to date and I have continued to prioritise my professional learning and development by visiting clubs and by attending CPD courses to further up-skill myself.
“Having had the time to reflect and further enhance my development, I know that I am ready to return to management and all I need is the right opportunity to be able to showcase what I can do.”