James Graham: Meteoric rise for football youngster who is pride of Lewis
It has been a meteoric rise for James Graham from the parks of Lewis and Harris to trials at some of England’s biggest clubs and subsequent three-year professional deal at Rangers.
Since bursting onto the local football scene with Back FC as a kid with rocket fuel in his boots, young Graham has long been tipped for a rise to the top. He has the talent and a good head on his shoulders.
He’s fearless, brave and old school but his most fearless weapon of choice is his blistering turn of pace which sees him crank through more gears than a full season of Top Gear and leave defenders choking on his slipstream.
He is also a cool finisher and he quickly earned him a reputation as one of the Western Isles top football prospects.
In the blue of Back FC he scored goals for fun while his form also transferred to the Nicolson Institute School Team, scoring a hat-trick of North of Scotland Cup finals in a row - the last of which also brought the trophy home across the Minch to the Stornoway school.
He’s a born maverick and the kind of a player who doesn’t just create moments of magic dust in games, instead tips an entire bootful of the stuff onto the turf instead.
He was quickly drafted into the Western Isles Development squad at his age group, before he later aced trials for the North of Scotland Schools teams - all of which caught the eye of Ross County and led to his footballing soul being wooed to Dingwall.
“Ross County had seen me playing for the school teams and also for the Western Isles when we actually played Ross County and I scored,” he explained.
Fellow Lewis teenagers Matthew Wright and Adam Mackinnon - just a handful of miles and from the next village to James - were also signed by Ross County and the three lived together in digs ensuring the then-15-year-olds first time living away from home and his family was made much easier.
“I made the move over to Dingwall but I was in digs with three other boys, Adam, Matthew and another boy, so it was good to live with them, especially Adam who has been one of my best friends for years,
“I was in school full time as well in Dingwall and only training at night and playing the matches so I was still studying.”
He might have swapped his Lewis postcode for one at the heart of the Highlands but his desire to find the net was never dampened and he shone for the Ross County youth sides, torturing defenders up and down Scotland.
It was soon obvious even Ross County couldn’t keep Graham for long and some of Britain's biggest clubs were soon sniffing around and he travelled south to trials at both Anfield and Old Trafford with Liverpool and Manchester United.
“I played two matches for Liverpool and I scored twice against Notts County U15s then I also played for their U18 side against Sheffield United so it went well,” said Graham.
“I was with Man United for a week just before lockdown and they wanted me to go back again but then lockdown happened and it all had to be cancelled but they wanted another trial after I had played the full 90-minutes for them against Norwich.
“Manchester United are my English team and the ones I supported but they offered a trial while my boyhood heroes offered a three-year deal so in the end it was an easy decision for me to make and sign for the team I’ve always supported.”