The Scottish U21 international penned a three-and-a-half year deal with the Tigers after joining from Motherwell on transfer deadline day, only to suffer an ankle injury in his first training session as a Hull City player.
Read our in-depth Q&A interview with the youngster below as he reflects on his start to life at the KCOM Stadium.
James – welcome to Hull City. It seems strange to be saying that two months after you first signed but how does it feel to have joined the Club?
It’s a dream come true. It’s a massive club and I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to come here. I was overjoyed to get everything signed and completed on the last day of the transfer window. It’s going to be a big step up for myself but the challenges that lie ahead are something that I’m very much looking forward to and relishing.
You came here from Motherwell. What was the story behind your decision to leave home and Scottish football behind to move to England and Hull City?
It was a hard decision for me and my family to pack up everything and leave Scotland at such a young age, but it was a decision that I made with the focus firmly on myself and my career. I want to be as successful as I possibly can as a professional footballer. I want to play at the highest possible level and to come to the Championship and play for a club like Hull City is a massive achievement for both myself and my family. Making the move to English football has always been an ambition of mine eventually, although my mentality wasn’t to make it happen in January. I was probably thinking to see out the season with Motherwell and in Scotland, but when a team like Hull City came in for me, it was a no-brainer of a decision. The opportunity was just too good to turn down.
It was certainly a dramatic transfer deadline day experience for yourself. How did that all pan out?
The only word I can use to sum up the day is chaos! I was out training with Motherwell. I did the warm-up and we were just going to start doing the possession boxes when the manager Steve Robinson pulled me to one side and told me that Hull City had put a new bid in that they couldn’t turn down and he saw it as a big opportunity for me. It was then a mad dash to get down to Hull as quickly as possible. I phoned my Mum and Dad on the way to tell them and they both got quite emotional because they knew it was a big opportunity for me but at the same time, I was also leaving home for the first time.
I think I had less than five hours to head home, pack a bag and get down to Hull. I had to get the medical done, which seemed to take ages. It felt like hours and hours but everything came through. It wasn’t the calmest of situations, let me tell you that. My agents were with me, pacing up and down the hall as we waited to get everything sorted and signed. Thankfully, it all got done though and I think there was only something like half-an-hour left before the deadline when everything was agreed and I put pen to paper.
It was absolutely mental! To be involved in something like that on transfer deadline day was crazy. You watch these things unfold on Sky Sports News and think to yourself, ‘surely it doesn’t happen like it’s reported’. But, when you’re in the middle of it and get to experience it, it’s absolute chaos! I was sweating and shaking myself because I wanted the move to happen so badly and when everything was done, the over-riding feeling was just pure relief! I’ll admit to screaming the hotel room down with both joy and relief once everything was all sorted!
How difficult was the decision to leave Motherwell where you came through the ranks?
Naturally, I was sad to leave Motherwell. It was a hard decision to make because, as I’ve said, it wasn’t something I was expecting to happen in January. But, having spoken to the gaffer and the owner here, I came to the conclusion, after discussions with my family, that the opportunity was one that I just couldn’t turn down. Yes, I was doing very well and progressing nicely at Motherwell, who were third in the table at the time, but I firmly believe that I made the right decision. I must stress how grateful I am to everyone at Motherwell that played a part in my progression. They’ve made me the player that I am today and I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me. I think Scottish football is very under-rated. It provided a great platform for me to learn and play first-team football, but it just felt as though the time was right for me to make the move and become a Hull City player.
You then experienced the highs and lows of being a professional footballer in the space of a couple of days with your move here followed by an ankle injury suffered in you first training session which ruled you out for the remainder of the season – how tough was that to take?
It has to go down as the toughest moment of my life so far. I came into the training ground and I was buzzing to meet the rest of the lads and get going. It was my first training session and I just wanted to make an impact and show what I’m capable of. Everything started well but then I rolled my ankle. I probably made it worse because I trained through it. I did the full session because I thought it was just a wee knock. With the gaffer and Cliff watching on, I just wanted to make an impact and show what I could do because I was desperate to be involved in the game on the Saturday. I had to pull out though because of how sore it was. It was a massive disappointment after experiencing the high of the move and that was further compounded with the news of exactly what I’d done.
It showed just how cruel the beautiful game of football can be at times?
Cruel is a great word to describe what happened. I’d never had any major injuries in my career prior to this one whatsoever. I’d never had an operation before so it was very disappointing for it to happen right at the start of my time here. I must stress the support I’ve received from my family and everyone at Hull City has been first class though. It was something tough to deal with, but I’ve got a good mentality and didn’t let it get to me. It was just a case of having to stay positive despite the difficulty of the situation. That was key – along with having the support of everyone at the Club, which has meant an awful lot.
You posted a positive update on social media in February after your operation – where are you at with the injury and you rehabilitation now?
I’m now out of the protective boot and the crutches have gone as well. I’m back walking on the treadmill at the minute and, hopefully, in the next nine or ten days, I can start running. I’ve been hard at work in the gym as well, getting bigger and stronger. It’s time to crack on now though – I’m just itching to get back out onto the grass. I miss having a ball at my feet and I cannot wait to get back doing what I love doing more than anything else. I’m working hard with the physios that are in – me and big Tom Eaves. He’s got a similar sort of injury, so we’re on the exact same timescale in terms of coming back, so we’re just cracking on and are both fully focused on getting back to full fitness as quickly as possible.
How important has it been to have some team-mates working alongside you during your rehabilitation process?
It’s been great and a big help. As well as working alongside big ‘Eavesy’, I had Eric Lichaj – the skipper – as well. He played a massive part and was great when talking to me. He kept me going and made sure my mind was right. It can be lonely at times if you’re on your own. You wouldn’t wish an injury on any of your team-mates, but to have someone with you for the journey – every single day – is massive. It’s been a big, big help to me. I’ve been quite fortunate really because I’ve been in at the training ground every day, working with the medical team and in the gym, whilst the rest of the country has been in lockdown. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it’s been for the public to have to stay indoors with what’s going on with the coronavirus in the country. But, to have been able to talk to different people, work with the physios and see different faces has been great for me and much better than having to just sit about at home on my own.
With the current situation in the country and the suspension of football due to Coronavirus – if the league were to resume, how would you rate your chances of returning to action this season?
If the season does end up getting back underway, the aim would be to come back and play a part, although that’s down to the gaffer to be fair. All I can do is crack on and work as hard as I possibly can to get back to fitness. I’m here to play football and score goals – that’s what I joined Hull City for – and it’s something I’m desperate to do. I’m here to do the best I possibly can for the team and to try and help us win games – whenever that may be. Hopefully, if the season does get up and running again, I can play a part and score some goals to get us moving up the table.
Whenever the time comes, how much are you looking forward to being back out on a football pitch again?
So so much! I can’t even begin to describe how excited and eager I am to play football again. It’s been so hard to not even touch a ball. It has been a very frustrating time because I came here to play football, develop, improve and score goals – and that is what I’m desperate to do. I know that I’ll come back stronger from this situation and with an even better mentality. I just want to come back and be a better player than I was at Motherwell and I’m excited to see where my journey with Hull City will take me. I can’t wait to play for this amazing club and hopefully get the fans behind me as well.
If you were to talk to someone who had never seen you play, how would you describe your playing style to them?
I’m quite a tricky striker. I like getting involved in the scrappy side of the game as well as scoring goals. I always relish a battle on the pitch. I’m good in the air and can use both feet. I like a wee finish – and I like a wee celebration as well! I can play in any of the front three positions, down the middle or out wide. I probably prefer playing on the wing because I like to get at defenders. Every time I get the ball, I want to go forward. I want to help the team attack and score goals.