Partick Thistle winger James Craigen started out his career with Preston North End. Like many in the Jags side he was let go by his first club only to be given a second chance by Jackie McNamara. However, he took a slightly different route than most of his teammates in getting to Firhill.
After leaving hometown club Preston, Craigen decided to go to university where he is studying Sports Business Management. After three years there he was spotted by McNamara when the Scottish Universities side played against Partick Thistle. He spent a week training with the Jags before the manager decided to sign him.
Craigen said: “I wasn’t really worried about my career because I knew I wasn’t going to get another contract at Preston. I decided to carry on with higher education and things just happened from there. I really enjoyed playing for Edinburgh and through that played for the Scottish University Select side and then I was lucky enough to play for the Great Britain University side and I was always thoroughly enjoying it along the way.”
However, Thistle also had competition from Conference side Tamworth. At the time Jackie McNamara said that they wouldn’t be able to compete with the English club financially. But Craigen still chose the Jags.
The player added: “I’m glad I signed for Partick instead of Tamworth it’s been brilliant here and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Earlier in the season Craigen was sent out on loan to Forfar where he made 10 appearances and scored twice. He said: “I was on loan for a couple of months and I was happy with that. I needed game time and it was good to play week in week out.”
After coming back from Forfar Craigen quickly established himself in the first-team set-up. He has scored twice and made 22 appearances for Thistle so far this season.
He added: “The gaffer always told me that if you do well when you come on and you impress then you have a chance of staying in the side. So I just worked hard to get my fitness up and done ok since I’ve come in. Obviously I thank the gaffer for giving me a chance.”
Although the Jags took a big risk in signing a player from university, Craigen more than paid them back when he scored the winner against title rivals Morton last week: Looking back on that goal, Craigan said: “It was probably the biggest goal I’ve ever scored and it’s the best feeling I’ve had in football really, it’s fantastic.”
Once Thistle secure the title Craigen will complete his remarkable rise from university football to the Scottish Premier League. He said: “This time last year I was playing for Edinburgh uni so it’s quite good going from university football to the Scottish First Division this season. I’m still at University now, doing that part-time.”
The Jags only require one more point to secure the First Division title. But Craigen didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself by talking about the SPL before the league has been won. He addd: “It’s not over yet, we’ll need to get another point before we concentrate on next season. But if we do manage to get the point that we need I’ll be delighted.”
He also spoke about what it would be like to play against Dundee United and the man who signed him for Partick Thistle – Jackie McNamara – next season: “Obviously Jackie’s the person who gave me a chance, he signed me for Partick. He texted me to say well done and that he was delighted for me when I scored last week. But it’s just another game and we’ll be concentrating on getting the three points.”
Craigen spoke about the differences between McNamara and the new manager Alan Archibald: “There’s not too much of a difference, he’s tweaked a few things and a few things have changed. Obviously not conceding as much as we’ve had lots of clean sheets. So he’s maybe tightened it up at the back a bit more. So it’s more of the same regime with just a few things tweaked.”
Although Craigen mainly has had an excellent season so far, he did play in the Jags side that lost to Queen of the South in the Ramsden’s Cup Final earlier in the month. He said: “It was a disappointment. We know we didn’t play well. But we had a team meeting on Monday and drew a line under that so that’s gone and then we’ve moved on.”
Despite the Cup Final loss, Craigen has enjoyed a remarkably rise – from non-league football with Edinburgh University to being on verge of Scottish Premier League football in the space of one year. He has also become a regular in the Jags side over the past few months and will be looking forward to showing off his talents in some of Scotland’s biggest stadiums next year.