Sheffield United: Martin Cranie discusses his contract at Bramall Lane and why the FA Cup still matters
Ten years ago, as he climbed Wembley's steps to join in the celebrations, Martin Cranie paused for a moment and took a mental picture of the scene.
The Sheffield United defender, then a young player with Portsmouth, was a member of the squad Harry Redknapp steered to FA Cup glory following a narrow win over Cardiff City at the national stadium.
Although he did not feature, despite even being ommited from a five strong bench, the scene unfolding around him left an indellible impression on the 21-year-old and, eleven seasons later, still counts as one of his favourite footballing memories.
"What still sticks in my mind is when we walked up the steps to get the trophy," Cranie admitted last night. "Seeing all those supporters was a fantastic feeling. I might not have been part of it that day on the pitch but I was in the squad and able to be around it all, seeing it first hand.
"That is probably one of the best memories I have in football. We had a few beverages afterwards to celebrate."
Tomorrow, when Barnet visit Bramall Lane in the third round (kick-off 2pm), Cranie will renew his acquaintance with a competition some people believe has lost its lustre in the Premier League era.
Top-flight behemoths now prioritise European qualification. Even most Championship managers, unless their sides reach the later stages, are probably more focused on chasing promotion.
Cranie is of a different opinion and, recounting the joy reaching the final brought to Fratton Park, not simply because the tournament offers a potential source of regular first team action.
"People say the cup has lost its magic with all the changes that teams make," he admitted. "Others say the big clubs are not interested. But there is never a bad trophy to win, there's never a bad game to win and hopefully we can go on a good run.
"I probably didn't appreciate it at that age. Because I didn't play, I was probably thinking, '˜Hopefully at one stage in my career, I will be able to lift a trophy like this'. I was quite young so didn't expect to play at Wembley. Just being in and around the squad, watching the final, was great."
"I was there to support the boys," Cranie continued. "We won it so that made it a fantastic day. There's no messy stories from the night. I couldn't tell you where we went.Â
"The build-up was good. We got new suits made, they were a bit baggy then, non of this slim-fit stuff everyone has now. We went to London to soak it up for a couple of nights and it was an unbelievable experience."
Cranie, now aged 32, is set to make only his third appearance since joining United in August when Darren Currie's side arrive in South Yorkshire. Despite finding opportunities limited, the former Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town centre-half has become a valued member of Chris Wilder's squad and, as The Star revealed last month, has agreed a contract extension until the summer.
Deputising for the suspended Chris Basham at Wigan Athletic earlier this week, Cranie's performance demonstrated both his importance to the cause and why Wilder was determined to strike a deal.
"It will get done," Cranie said. "It will get sorted out this month, I'm not worried about it. It might have been difficult for the manager because I've not played many games but hopefully I've still contributed and it's great that he's got that trust in me."