A brief overview of new Dundee manager james McPake's journey through football.
At the age of 16 James McPake began his professional football career with Livingston FC, although it would be four years later that he would make his debut as a striker in his one and only substitute appearance of the 2003/04 season. The following year James would become a more regular feature in the West Lothian outfit’s first team, ironically scoring his first professional goal against Dundee, as the youngster was converted into a powerful no nonsense defender.
Although he was by now a fixture in the Livi squad, James turned down the opportunity to drop a division during the 2005/06 season with loans at either Partick Thistle or Gretna, but did instead head to Cappielow Stadium to join Greenock Morton for a ten game spell, during which time he scored two goals. With Livingston being relegated at the end of that season James returned to Almondvale, featuring regularly in the starting eleven over the next two and a half seasons.
Having signed a pre-contract agreement with English Championship side Coventry City, James headed for pastures new in January 2009 when the two clubs agreed an undisclosed fee to allow him to join his new outfit early. Unfortunately the centre back’s period at the Ricoh Arena would be more remembered for his time off the park than on it, a double hernia and dislocated shoulder being followed by a career threatening back injury that found the rugged centre back with three broken vertebrae and a muscle tear. Occurring on New Year’s Day 2011, it would take James until the November of the same year to fight back from the scare and while Coventry would reward the popular player with a contract extension that would keep him at the club until 2013, but by the end of the 11/12 season James was on loan at Hibernian and scoring for the Edinburgh club in the Scottish Cup Final. Although The Hibees would ultimately lose out that day to their closest rivals Hearts.
Hibs made the move permanent and James would become club captain over the next two seasons, going on to gain his one and only cap for Northern Ireland in a 6-0 loss to The Netherlands. However, with the Edinburgh club being relegated at the end of 2013/14, James left after their then manager, Terry Butcher, had refused to consider the defender for selection even after he’d recovered from another serious back injury.
Along with his team mate Kevin Thomson, McPake would move to Dundee in May 2014, with the pair being manager Paul Hartley’s marquee signings as the club looked to establish itself back in the top flight after seven years away. Shrugging off suggestions that he couldn’t play week in, week out, James became a stalwart of the Dundee backline and quickly became a fan favourite with his committed displays. His bullet headed goal from a corner in a 3-1 win over Dundee United at Dens Park that gave The Dark Blues their first home win over their neighbours in a decade, being a moment that most Dee’s still cherish.
That goal, however, was nothing compared to the 94th minute equaliser against the same team that James scored in the August tie between the two clubs the next season, Dundee coming back from 2-0 down late on to grab a point and send United into a tailspin that ultimately resulted in their relegation. With Greg Stewart already having curled a trademark left foot strike into the opposite top corner, James slid in during the last minute of injury time to poke home a rebound off United ‘keeper Luis Zwick after the goalie fumbled a Gary Harkins long range shot. The equaliser subsequently sent the Dark Blue hordes into meltdown and there’s little doubt that the goal is a modern day Dee highlight.
Unfortunately the same fixture wasn’t so kind to James when in the New Year’s Day derby of 2016, the now club captain went into a committed challenge with United’s John Rankin that did untold damage to the defender’s knee. With Rankin clearly not at fault and showing great concern for his opponent, James was stretchered off. And much though he would put in a huge amount of physical and mental effort over the next two years in an attempt to return to first team action, on January 30th 2018 it was announced that James McPake’s playing career had come to an end.
With a clear respect between player and club James was invited to join the DFC backroom staff, coaching at reserve and youth level and representing the club in the USA at their Texas based coaching link-up. With rumours then suggesting he was being lined up for the then vacant manager’s job at his first club Livingston in June of 2018, McPake instead busied himself gaining his UEFA pro-licence. James’ first taste of being the boss of a first team dug-out came soon enough though, leading the Dens Park men in a caretaker capacity for the closing game of the 2018/19 season after the sacking of Dundee manager Jim McIntyre. The rookie bosses’ charges going down 3-2 against a St Mirren team fighting for their top-flight survival - although his side’s fortunes were hardly aided by being reduced to nine men for the final stages of the game.
A firm favourite with Dundee supporters, James’ announcement as the club’s 13th manager of the 2000’s still came as something of a surprise, what with his lack of top-job experience and that many other more renowned names had seemingly been in the running. However, with a strong bond with those behind the scenes at the club, as well as the support, James has proved a popular choice and having quickly built an experienced and respected backroom team around about him, it looks like the first time manager has given himself every chance of success.