BIG INTERVIEW: New Lancaster City player-coach Craig Stanley reflects on time with Morecambe

Craig Stanley
Craig Stanley

Craig Salmon talks to former Morecambe midfielder Craig Stanley, who has signed for Lancaster City this month as player-coach

It was a call Craig Stanley certainly was not expecting. Enjoying a Sunday morning lie-in, the tranquillity within his household was suddenly disturbed by the sound of his phone ringing.

Jumping out of bed, he clasped hold of the receiver to discover his boss – Morecambe manager Sammy McIlroy – was on the other end of the line.

Over the course of the next two minutes, Stanley was to discover that his career as a Morecambe player was soon to be over after five sterling years of service.

Although he had been an integral member of the team which had defeated Exeter City at Wembley in 2007 to win promotion to the Football League and then helped the club establish itself in League Two over the next three-and-a-half years, Stanley soon discovered – if he didn’t know already – that sentiment does not exist in football.

“I got a phone call one Sunday morning,” recalled Stanley, who this month signed for Lancaster City as player-coach.

“It was Sammy McIlroy.

“He just said Torquay had come in for me.

“I told him straight away that I didn’t want to leave, but Sammy just said if I didn’t go, I will never play for the club again.

“ It was as simple as that really.

“We had played on the Saturday at Hereford and it was towards the end of the January transfer window in 2011.

“He called me on the Sunday – I was still led in bed – Sammy never rung me on a Sunday.

“He just basically said that he was looking to get rid of me.

“That was it really. There was no falling out or anything.

“Don’t get me wrong, myself and Sammy had fallen out on the odd occasion in the past.

“We didn’t always see eye to eye.

“I think a lot of people thought that because we had had falling outs before that me leaving was due to that.

“But that wasn’t really the case at all.

“He wanted to sign other players and thought it would be best for me to go to Torquay. I went there on loan, did well, and that’s how I ended up getting my move to Bristol Rovers.”

Intriguingly, after Stanley’s departure, McIlroy left his post at the end of the season and was replaced by current incumbent Jim Bentley.

He did his best to persuade the midfielder to return to Morecambe after his loan stint with the Gulls had finished, but Stanley decided that the chance to play for a city club like Bristol Rovers was too good an offer to turn down.

“It was disappointing the way it ended at Morecambe,” said Stanley. “It did not end the way I wanted it to.

“I did not get the chance to say goodbye to the fans, but it’s all part and parcel of football.

“Jim Bentley did make me a very good offer to stay, but I just thought after five years and the chance to play for Bristol Rovers; at the time they were getting eight or nine thousand fans in per week.

“I don’t think Jim was too happy about me rejecting his offer, but I just felt at the time, Bristol was a massive club and it was the best thing for my future.”

Stanley, who began his career as a youth player with Walsall, can list a host of clubs on his footballing CV, but it’s his time at Morecambe which he looks backs upon with the most fondness.

It was at Morecambe where he realised his dream of playing in the Football League after that famous victory at Wembley.

He also flirted with promotion to League One, making 45 appearances during the 2009/10 season when the Shrimps reached the play-offs, only to be well beaten 7-2 on aggregate by Dagenham and Redbridge in the semi-finals.

He was also in the starting line-up for Morecambe’s first ever game at the Globe Arena – against Coventry City in the Carling Cup – after their move from Christie Park at the start of the 20010/11 season.

“When you look back on my career, the most successful period was my time at Morecambe,” said Stanley, who helped Hereford win promotion to the Football League the season before he joined the Shrimps.

“I played a lot of games and we achieved a lot.

“Obviously playing at Wembley in front of 50-odd thousand people in the play-off final and going on to win it; you can’t get a better feeling than that.

“When I joined Morecambe, I knew there was a good chance that we could get promoted because the season before I had played against them for Hereford.

“But for me playing at Wembley is the best moment of my career.

“There’s lot of great players – both past and present – who have never had the chance to play at Wembley.

“So I feel rather fortunate to have had the opportunity.

“I think also, it was always my dream to be a professional footballer and play in the Football League – and I managed to achieve that with Morecambe.”

This summer’s World Cup has also got Stanley thinking about the time he represented his country.

He made four appearances for England C, captaining the Three Lions to the European challenge Trophy when they defeated Holland 4-1 in 2006.

“Playing for the England C team is a great honour for any non-league player,” he said. “Obviously it’s not the proper England team that e are all watching at the minute in Russia.

“I have got my caps at home and it’s something to look back upon with pride.”