Dunfermline Athletic

Academy is crucial going forward

Sunday, 19th Jun 2022

When James met Jim the new manager gave a run down on his route to the East End Park chair

Manager James McPake met up with his old gaffer Jim Leishman at the DAFC Fixtures Launch Breakfast on Friday and praised the grounding he got from him, George McNeill, Davie Hay and John Robertson.

In the latter half of Leish’s eight years as manager at Livingston James was in the Livingston Youth Academy. James developed making his first team debut as a 19 year old in April 2004

“It was a really successful time there and a great grounding for young kids” said the Pars manager who himself is evidence of that but so too are the careers of the likes of his team mates Graham Dorrans, Robert Snodgrass, Murray Davidson, Allan Walker and Leigh Griffiths.

Above: James McPake scores for Livingston against Dunfermline

In season 2004-2005 while Richard Gough was the manager at Livingston his assistant, Archie Knox made James a centre half.

“Archie asked me one day to play centre half in a reserve game and I was scared to say anything other than yes to Archie. Thankfully it worked out well and I went on to have some great times in football playing centre back.”

James left Livingston in February 2009 and signed a contract at Coventry City for Chris Coleman.

“We played a pre season friendly against Coventry and Chris must have liked what he saw because Coventry had a scout at every game. In the winter window I signed a pre contract and the deal got done then.

“It was a great move for me and my now wife Dawn, it was just the two of us then. I was four years at Coventry before I came back up on loan to Hibs. I had injured my back and dislocated my shoulder playing for Coventry in a pre season game at Dunfermline. I can still see the spot.

“It was great playing in the English Championship. Coming from Scotland it was an eye opener for me to play with players who had played in the World Cup. Playing week in week out with these players, it was a great time and Leamington Spa is a great place to live so we had a great four years down there.”

James still feels that he played his best football while at Coventry City and he gained a wealth of experience in squads that included Jordan Henderson, on loan from Liverpool, a European Cup winner and now captain of Liverpool, Aron Gunnarsson who went on to be Iceland captain when they went to the Euros and beat England, Clinton Morrison who had gone with the Republic of Ireland to the 2002 World Cup and won 36 caps and Lee Carsley who had 15 years at Everton and is now coach for England U21s.

“It was just a fantastic time. Being respected by them made me feel good and gave me confidence. It also probably why I got interested in coaching. I liked the way Chris and his coaches coached. I was getting to the stage where I was quite liking this and taking mental notes. I always wrote things down and some of the runs we are using in pre season I wrote down while Leish was my manager.”

Pat Fenton took James to Hibs but it was bitter sweet given Dunfermline were relegated after losing 4-0 at Easter Road in the penultimate match of the season. That success for Hibs was overshadowed by the 5-1 Scottish Cup Final defeat to Hearts in which James scored for the Hibees.

“We got to the Scottish Cup Final the next season but lost 3-0 to Celtic but being from the West of Scotland you don’t realise just how big Hearts and Hibs really are. Even that game against Dunfermline, it was in front of a big crowd. One of these teams was going down and that season but I realised how big a club Dunfermline was as well.”

Back trouble had James contemplating retirement but he took up an offer to train at Dundee that led to Paul Hartley offering him a contract:-

“We won the Championship and got promoted in my first season there. We went on to finish top six in a fantastic first season in the Premier League. I only missed two games so from going from everyone saying that you are finished to 38 games that season in my head, I proved a lot of people wrong.”

The transition into coaching was made easy with Paul Hartley again identifying potential. James continued:-

“Paul said that he saw something in me but I keep saying that he felt sorry for me. He let me help with the first team which was tough. I was club captain but I was in the dressing room and sitting on the bench on match days. Paul was asking my advice and I was thinking ‘is this going in one ear and out the other’ but he let me take sessions.

“When I realised that my knee was not going to let me get back and I couldn’t catch the youngsters, the role came up as Head of Elite Performance I took the under 18s at Dundee. That gave me a great grounding and we gave nine debuts to academy graduates who notched up over 100 appearances between them.

“That is what I want to do at Dunfermline, the fans want to see their own young boys coming through the academy to play for the club. It is just my opinion but it means that wee bit more.

“Having our own academy back again is fantastic. I have seen what is developing at the training ground and I think that is going to be a fantastic base and credit to everybody that is involved.

“Greg Shields puts in a lot of work and he has been great with me. He is now juggling two jobs because he is running an academy but also helping me at the minute.”

Two sixteen year olds and three seventeen year olds signed on as apprentices recently - Calum Archibald, Andrew Tod, Sam Young, Jake Rennie and Michael Beagley - and James enthused:-

“The five boys who have come in have done very well and this is maybe not what fans want to hear but we want to see them successful out there and then move them on to the bigger teams in England where they can showcase that we have been a huge part in their development.

“When this job came up I felt that it was the one for me and having the academy back is crucial going forward.”

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