Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Stephen Craigan hailed as he hangs up his boots

Stephen Craigan is retiring from football

Take a bow Stephen Craigan — a wonderful servant to club and country.

Craigan, you might be tempted to say, was the man who taught the Spanish how to play football.

And he also enjoyed embarrassing the mighty England as well.

The Motherwell captain has announced he will retire after Sunday's final game of the season.

The 35-year-old from Newtownards has turned down a contract offer to remain at Fir Park and will instead work with the media after the Clydesdale Bank Premier League meeting with Dundee United.

Anyone who has spent a few minutes in the company of the former Northern Ireland international will have encountered an intelligent man who was a joy to listen to.

A gentleman off the pitch, he gave everything on it. He was one of those leaders Northern Ireland have always needed to punch above its weight.

And he’s left the Green and White Army with some golden memories from punching the air in front of the Kop after that famous win over England to his extraordinary performances against Spain and Sweden.

He was a hero who gave his all, but as another former Northern Ireland defender who was a warrior in a green jersey, Alan McDonald, said yesterday: “Father time catches up with all of us, but Stephen was a wonderful man, very accommodating and someone who gave very loyal and brilliant service to his country.”

His impressive career lasted eight years and brought 54 caps, ending in March in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Windsor Park against Slovenia.

And to think this was a guy who once had a mental block about playing at Windsor because it meant so much to him.

After making his debut against Finland in 2003 he soon established a brilliant central defensive partnership with Aaron Hughes and his best days were under Lawrie Sanchez. Someone with such impressive leadership and communication skills was always going to captain the team and he did so five times.

But Craigan also gave 100% commitment to his clubs Partick Thistle and Motherwell, where he will now pass on the captain’s armband.

Craigan said: “When I joined the club in 1994 I had no idea that I would spend the majority of my adult life and footballing career at Fir Park.

“My aim was to play football professionally and today I can say I achieved my goal and it's been a wonderfully satisfying journey.

“I take a lot of pride that I've represented the club 378 times and in wearing the claret and amber colours.

“It was a privilege to follow in the footsteps of some great players who've played not just at Fir Park over the years but at centre half.

“I want to thank all the players that I've played with throughout my career, past and present.

“At times I'm sure I was hard work but it was all for a good cause, winning.

“I've learned a great deal from all the managers I've worked under and I hope I set a good example for them with my work ethic.”

Craigan is in his second spell with the Steelmen after a switch to Partick Thistle earlier in his career. He has made 378 appearances in an 18-year career — 27 of them this season as Well finished third in the SPL.

Football’s loss will be daughter Chloe’s gain with more quality family time on the horizon.

Motherwell's record cap holder made it to last year’s Scottish Cup final but silverware eluded him.

The glorious nights at Windsor Park are his cherished memories after frustrating big names such as Wayne Rooney, Raul and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Former Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington paid a heavy price for dropping him for a Euro 2008 double-header — leading to two defeats and with it, bringing to an end our dreams of qualifying for the finals.

Craigan took the massive setback on the chin and returned to deliver more classy displays.

After quitting the international stage, he said: “It has been a wonderful journey and I have loved every minute playing for my country.

“It's been a privilege playing in front of the Green and White Army, who have been amazing in my time with the team.”

As another former Northern Ireland skipper, Alan McDonald yesterday said: “He’s been a great servant to Northern Ireland and a very nice man who more often than not was the first person to talk to the media about a performance and no doubt he’ll keep up the media work and maybe even try management.

“He has a tremendous knowledge of the game at club and international level.”

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