What a first year for Lewis lad James Graham at Glasgow Rangers!
James Graham can’t hide his unbridled excitement and joy as he runs down the highlights and reflects on his first season as Rangers player and the 16-year-old vows the best is yet to come.
“I’ve enjoyed it so much and playing for the club I grew up supporting means everything,” Graham exclusively told the Gazette," and I’ve learned so much it's been a dream come true.”
It has been a year to remember for the blue half of Glasgow as the Ibrox side halted Celtic’s attempted 10-in-a-row dreams and instead landed a historic 55th Scottish top flight league title of their own.
And within their youth set up our very own Lewis football wonderkid James Graham has been taking strides, and scoring goals, in his bid to blaze a trail into the Gers top team in time.
Graham was snapped up at just 15-years-old after wowing for Ross County in their youth set up and despite interest from English Premiership giants Manchester United and Liverpool - the latter for whom he netted a brace for their youth side while on trial.
But when Rangers showed their hand there was only one place Graham wanted to go and the day he found out his childhood dream could become a reality remains as fresh as ever in his mind.
“Oh man it was crazy,” he laughs loudly.
“My Mum was on a Zoom call with her work and a phone number kept trying to ring her but she didn't know who it was so kept hanging up.
“Eventually she sent a text to say she was on a work call and it was from Ross County. She called them back and put it on loudspeaker and I came down the hall with my Dad and they told us they had had an offer from Rangers and they were happy to accept it.
“It was crazy and my Dad and I were so excited.
"We are all Rangers fans so it meant so much and I was delighted to make the move.”
Recent injuries have left the teenager in the physio room but having already scored in a number of first season youth matches, including a priceless Old Firm goal against fierce rivals Celtic, Graham is thrilled with his early progress.
“I’ve been injured now for nine or ten weeks and the physio and he thinks another month at least,” he explained. “It’s not the end of the world but it's really frustrating.”
It is a hip injury but the physio thinks it is to do with my growth and they suspect my bones and muscles are growing.”
He continued: “Our season started on April 16 and it's a 16-game program over 10-weeks with games most Tuesday’s and Fridays.
“I’ve missed the start of the season unfortunately but hopefully I’ll only miss four or five more games and I'm desperate to get back playing.
“Last season I scored three weeks in a row but scoring in an Old Firm game against Celtic meant the most obviously. We had lost to them initially but a few weeks later we played again and this time we beat them and I scored in a 3-0 win which was impossible to describe.
“I’ve been playing on the wing, either side, but i did play up front too although I think I prefer playing wide.”
Although the Rangers senior side have roared to title glory and ended a decade of hurt, Graham and the rest of the youth squad have been unable to share in the joyous scenes with the top-team players due to the strict Coronavirus restrictions and respective bubbles.
“Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed near the first team as they obviously play so often and with the restrictions so they are in their own bubble and we are in ours so it is a bit gutting not to be able to see or be part of the celebrations this year,” he said.
“It is part of our contract to be at the games and helping out whatever they need but of course this year we aren't able to do anything of that but hopefully next season that will all ease off and we can be part of things.
“The coaches seem pleased with me and have been very positive about me and I’ve two more years on my contract so I have plenty of time to show what I can do.
“And I also met Steven Gerrard (Rangers senior manager) at a B team game one time and I was introduced to him and he shook my hand and we had a wee chat and that was great.”
As the big clubs have come calling so has the call to represent his country and James has also already enjoyed international recognition which began with an invitation to join up with the Scotland u16 squad for a three-day training camp in Loughborough.
He was also in the Scottish Schools u18 squad last season which was unfortunately cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic,
It was no surprise to see him bury the ball in the net in a Scotland shirt as he bagged three goals in the friendlies running up to their Centenary Cup campaign in which James also won a first cap as he joined the action against Northern Ireland from the bench despite being easily the youngest player in the entire squad.
More international opportunities will undoubtedly follow for the Lewis lad but for now his main focus is on a return to fitness and returning to action with his beloved Rangers. And as the Light Blues have cruised to Scottish Premiership Title glory the sight of youth team graduate Nathan Patterson making regular appearances has given young James and his team mates the incentive to keep working hard as it shows the pathway from the juniors to the seniors is there.
“Yes, seeing Nathan Patterson doing well is inspiring and also to see a boy the same age as me in Leon King make his first team debut shows there is a pathway for us,” he said.
”Lots of people haven't enjoyed 2020 but for me it has been great, a dream year. “Moving to Glasgow and signing for Rangers has been everything.
“It's a bit restricted but I’ve loved every second of it and learned so much and I’m living my dream.”