AFC Fylde ace Crainey's Euro 2016 verdict
With Euro 2016 soon to enter the knockout stages, one man in the AFC Fylde ranks knows more than most about the pressures of international football.
Coasters left-back Stephen Crainey featured for Scotland over nine years, earning 12 caps for the Tartan Army.
The former Blackpool Premier League star has many memories of playing for Scotland, the best of them being his debut against a star-studded France side in 2002.
“My best memory was when I made my debut,” admitted Crainey. “France were the World and European Champions at the time and to get the call-up when I was so young at Celtic was an unbelievable experience for me.
“We played in the Stade De France in front of 80,000 fans and it was a great learning curve early on for me so in my career.
“We lost 5-0 but to be playing against the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinidine Zidane at that age set me in a good stead for my career.”
Crainey was never able to represent Scotland in a major tournament and the current squad missed out on the Euros, but the full-back who turns 35 tomorrow is confident their fortunes will change.
He added: “I think they can do very well. Scotland have a good young squad coming through and they were unlucky not to qualify for the Euros.
“There’s a lot of optimism and I think that the future can be very bright. I want to see Scotland making all the major tournaments but I think all the lesser teams are getting better.
“I don’t think that gap is as big as it used to be. Iceland and Albania have done really well in these Championships against top teams. I think it has levelled out and is getting closer and closer every year.”
Crainey admits to being a little disappointed by the tournament so far. He said: “I think it’s been good but I would have liked to have seen loads more goals.
“I’m sure that will come in the knockout stages, when teams are going after it a little bit more. Maybe teams are setting up a bit more defensively to play on the counter-attack and it’s harder to break that down.”
Crainey has been pleased to see his former Blackpool team-mate Craig Cathcart in outstanding form for Northern Ireland. He said: “In the campaign leading up to qualifying, Northern Ireland were unbelievable.
“When I played with Craig he was a top-quality player. He’s done really well for his country and for Watford. Craig’s an all-round player and not afraid to tackle, which is good.”
Finally, who are Crainey’s tip for the Euro crown? “ I don’t think any team has majorly stood out so far. But if Spain click into gear, I think it’s hard to get the ball off them. If they start finding goals as well, I think they’ll be hard to stop.”