He’s a Scotland international excelling in the English Premier League with Wigan Athletic alongside his partner in crime, James McCarthy. Jonny Boyle spoke to James McArthur in December about making it to the big time and staying there.
By Jonny Boyle – @beanroll
“I don’t know where he’ll end up, but if he continues working hard then there’s no limit to how well he can do.”
Rich praise from Hamilton Academical manager Billy Reid, but for the ex-Hamilton midfielder and current Wigan Athletic and Scotland man, James McArthur, it doesn’t do his rise to the top of British football justice.
Born and raised in the concrete jungle of Barrowfield, in the backdrop of the iconic Celtic Park, there were “plenty of temptations but I had good people around to guide me” for a young McArthur. The trappings for a teenager growing up in Scotland are well-known. One in three Scottish teenagers is binge drinking by the age of 13 and many are caught up in a gang culture rife in the West of Scotland. A report by the Evening Times in 2008 stated that there were 170 gangs in Glasgow and that number is thought to have increased since.
It all started at Rangers south boys club for McArthur as an 8 year old before moving on to St Johnstone pro youth, Rangers supporters club, Clyde and then Hamilton, the most significant move of his life, at the age of 16.
McArthur broke in to the Hamilton first team in 2005, just two years after joining as a youth player at New Douglas Park. The club was a hotbed for talented youngsters and his emergence to the first-team at the beginning of 2005 added to the debuts of Brian Easton and current Wigan team-mate James McCarthy. The midfielder told talkingbaws.com: “Hamilton was a great club for me. They lost a lot of players and had bad injuries. They deserve to be back in the Scottish Premier League.”
Hamilton might be dear to McArthur, but he holds nothing back in his appreciation for the man who gave him his debut as an 18-year-old youngster: “Billy Reid was huge for me. He gave my chance at Hamilton and I can’t thank him enough for that.” The admiration goes both ways.
“We’d win 3-0 with the youth team. All the players would come in and be delighted, but James would just be sitting there,” Reid exclusively told TB.
“I’d ask ‘what’s the matter with you?’ He’d say he hadn’t played well enough and if he wanted to push into the first team he needed to improve.
“Admittedly, it wasn’t his best game, but regardless of that he always wanted to improve. I said he would play for Scotland one day and I’m delighted to say I was right.”
That desire to better himself took McArthur to 168 appearances by the age of 22. He was a midfield stalwart as Hamilton achieved promotion to the SPL in 2008 and he helped consolidate their place there for the next two seasons.
His time in Hamilton was where it all began for the McArthur-McCarthy partnership, one still continuing now at Wigan’s DW Stadium seven years on.
The 24 year old said: “We have a great understanding of the way we play together as we’ve been together for a long time.”
He told the Daily Record: “It’s a joy for me and to play besides James is always superb,
“To think two boys from Hamilton are now playing together in the Premier League is incredible.
“It feels like when we first started playing together and it’s amazing to think we’ve got to where we are now. We have to pinch ourselves at times.”
The Barclays Premier League is arguably the greatest in the world and McArthur has taken to it superbly. 76 appearances in all competitions helped Wigan to retain their league status in both seasons since his arrival in 2010. His form at the highest level led to a first Scotland call-up in November 2010 and rich praise from national team manager, Craig Levein, to follow.
“The attitude of James McArthur is first class. I have had great experiences with boys such as him where the penny suddenly drops. He understands his position and understands his importance in the team,” the former Scotland boss said.
“He started in Slovenia so for me to put him in there showed a lot of confidence in him. He played against Brazil, played in the Carling Cup and scored a goal. I have been keeping a close eye on him.”
Not only is it testament to Billy Reid for allowing the potential of McArthur to flourish in easier surroundings north of the border, but it’s also down to Roberto Martinez, the current Wigan boss and man who signed the midfielder, that the Scottish international is playing consistently at the highest level.
Levein said that Martinez deserves great credit for his development while Reid sees Martinez and former Hamilton assistant Graeme Jones, now second in command at Wigan, as the “ideal people for him to play under”.
“James has grown since the day he arrived at Wigan Athletic,” said Martinez after the 24 year old signed a new extension to his contract.
“His attitude, desire and daily standards make him an example for any young professional footballer.
“This season he has managed to put all the hard work in the training ground into effective performances on the pitch, helping the team to achieve outstanding results against the best sides in European football.
“We’re all very proud of James at this moment, but still very aware that at his age the best footballing years are still to come.”
Where McArthur goes next all depends on him. He told us: “I would love to stay in England for the rest of my career.
“I see myself hopefully playing in the Premier League and starting regularly in the Scotland team.”
McArthur can acknowledge Reid, McCarthy, Martinez, Jones, Levein and a few others for helping him on his way to the big time, but there’s one man largely to thank for this success story: McArthur himself.
How far can McArthur go? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.