University challenge pays off for new Raith signing

New Raith signing James Craigen celebrates after scoring for former club Partick Thistle.

New Raith signing James Craigen celebrates after scoring for former club Partick Thistle.

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James Craigen’s route to Raith Rovers is not your typical footballer story.

The 24-year-old Englishman started his career with Preston North End, but after being released aged 18, he decided education was his number one priority so moved north of the border to study Sports Business Management at Edinburgh University.

There he combined his academic studies with football, playing for the Edinburgh Uni side in what is now the Lowland League, while he also turned out for the Scottish University team when they won the BUCS Home Nations Tournament.

Craigen was even selected for the Great Britain Uni side at the 2011 Student Games in Japan, where the team finished runners-up.

The midfielder was spotted by then Partick Thistle manager Jackie McNamara, who invited him for a week’s training before signing him up.

And after three years at Firhill, which included a Championship winners medal and 57 appearances in the Premiership, Craigen now finds himself at Stark’s Park and he is eager to be part of Ray McKinnon’s Raith revolution.

“There were a few other options but the gaffer was really interested from early on, and that’s something that really persuaded me,” he told the Press.

“We’ve been in contact throughout the summer, then I met him in Gretna service station, had a little chat, thought about a few things, and now here I am.

“His plans for the team, and how I featured in them, was a massive part about me coming here. He has a hunger for this season and I want to be part of that.”

Craigen believes that his decision to move to Edinburgh Uni not only benefited his education, but also made him a tougher footballer.

“Academy football was enjoyable and nice to watch but it doesn’t prepare you for going into the first team with men,” he said.

“When I played the sheer amount of games I did at university I improved.

“It wasn’t that pretty getting kicked on a Saturday afternoon but it toughens you up and that’s what you need.

“I played some games in this league and the league above you have to mix it.

“It’s not going to be nice football all the time. Sometimes when you go away from home you have to be more direct.

“The past football experiences I’ve got have helped me become an all round player.”

While disappointed to leave Partick, Craigen feels his move to Raith can be a good one for his career.

“Everyone wants to play in the top division but I feel I can go away from Partick with my head held high,” he said.

“I thought I did well over the last few years and played a number of games.

“It’s the right move for me to come here to hopefully play well and play in more games.

“That’s down to myself and how I perform on the pitch but that’s what I want to do.”

Craigen won the Championship with the Jags in 2011-12 and he sees similarities between that squad and the one he has recently joined.

“There’s a resemblance in the squads,” he said.

“When I joined Partick that year there was a young hungry squad like there is here now.

“You can tell it’s a fit group of boys and everyone is around the same age.

“There’s also a few lads with a bit of experience which you need.

“I think we can go on to have a really good season.

“The league’s a bit stronger now than when Partick went up but I think we’ve got a good group of lads and we can try and achieve something this season.”