As a 15-year-old, James Hainey had little interest in taking up the sport that so many of his pals couldn’t get enough of down at the local park.
The former Broughton High pupil, now 20, just couldn’t see the appeal of 22 players running around a pitch trying to kick a ball in between a set of goalposts. But how those days have changed.
As the now self-proclaimed football-daft Leith Athletic striker prepares for Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup first-round clash against Cumbernauld Colts, Hainey recalls a period in his life that is largely unrecognisable given his dedication to a game he now says he couldn’t do without.
“I just wasn’t interested in playing football, it’s as simple as that. I actually never did any sport to tell you the truth,” said Hainey, who netted the only goal of the tie as Leith defeated Coldstream in the second preliminary round earlier this month. “I played the odd time for my school but that was it really so I never really had any sort of youth experience at all. I eventually got asked by my friends to go along to Leith when I was 15 and I just thought ‘okay, why not I’ll give it a go’.
“It’s strange, though, because I absolutely love the game now, including training! If you win every weekend and you play for a good team then it makes it even better. I could not have imagined being where I am now five years ago, make no mistake about it.”
A broken leg sustained at Leith Links during his first season ensured Hainey’s introduction to football was short-lived, the teenager deciding against a comeback until he turned 19. However, the decision to make a second go of it couldn’t have gone much better for the player himself, nor current boss Derek Riddel for that matter, who promoted Hainey to the first team upon learning of his goalscoring feats for one of the club’s youth sides.
“I was playing under-19 and doing well there when Derek took notice and asked me to come along,” the apprentice painter and decorator explained. “I didn’t expect to really be playing last season but then started on the bench a couple of times. Things just progressed from there and I ended up the club’s top goalscorer with 24. I was also told I was in contention for the player-of-the-year award so it couldn’t have gone any better really with winning the East of Scotland League as well. I was over the moon.
“I was absolutely delighted to score in the last round against Coldstream to take us through, even though it was only a tap-in. They all count. It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve managed to score in the Scottish Cup.”
Leith will again make use of city rivals Spartans’ home pitch at Ainslie Park (kick-off 4pm) as their spiritual home of Meadowbank 3G does not meet SFA criteria. That aside, Hainey says he and his team-mates are desperate to go out do themselves justice against their Lowland League opponents.
“There’s far more at stake in these cup games so you’re always that wee bit more up for it,” he said. “You want to prove yourself. There was a lot of apprehension prior to our first game against St Cuthbert’s as we were heading into the unknown. Against Coldstream, though, we were poor but we got the win and that’s all that matters.
“We played Cumbernauld last season in one of the other cups and we lost in extra time. They’re a big, strong physical team but they’re beatable. I really don’t think there is much in terms of difference between the Lowland and East of Scotland Leagues. The facilities are better but player-wise, I don’t think there’s any real gulf.
“It definitely makes you want that league title even more so you get another opportunity in the cup the following year.”