Craig James was born in Middlesbrough in 1982. Playing at left back, he came through Sunderland’s youth academy and was a regular for our reserve side. Alongside ourselves and Livingston, he turned out for Hibernian (loan), Darlington (loan), Port Vale, Harrogate Town, York City (loan), Barrow and Whitby Town.
A whole host of younger players were given an opportunity to impress Mick McCarthy during the final throws of our desperate nineteen point season. Remember the likes of Richie Ryan, Chris Black and Jonjo Dickson running around like headless chickens against Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry and co.? Of course you do. Though the full back was not one of those thrown in at the deep end, he did manage to escape the clutch of youngsters that the former Republic of Ireland manager released at the end of what was a depressing campaign.
Whilst we were struggling to remain afloat in the Premier League, James was quietly building up his reputation north of the border when turning out for SPL side Hibernian on loan. The Edinburgh club elected to keep the full back, despite a managerial change midway through their campaign - he chalked up twenty-two appearances before an injury sent him back home to the North East.
The following year, after he was given a glowing reference from Hibs manager Bobby Williamson, the Teesider was given the number 34 shirt in the run up to our return to the second tier.
He was given a huge boost of confidence when McCarthy commented:
Craig James came back into training after the end of his loan in Scotland and I liked him a lot. I'd already heard good reports about him from somebody who watched him at Hibs.
So he's coming back and he's going to be part of it. He's one of the squad for next season and he's already been told that. To me, he looks like being a good player.
As a result, James was handed a chance to impress by the Sunderland manager in a game away at Stoke City. On the back of four wins on the trot, we travelled to the Britannia in good spirits.
Stoke - who had not won in six - were feeling quite the opposite. But in typical Sunderland fashion, a horrendous first half from the Lads saw us go in 3-0 down before half time, with James at fault for at least two of the goals.
It’s safe to say that he was never seen again in a red and white shirt.
At Livingston FC...
Following his release from Sunderland, James went on to play 72 games for Port Vale. After leaving Vale Park in 2006 he bobbed around a variety of clubs before returning to Scotland, joining Livingston on a one-year contract and linking up with former Sunderland midfielder Mark Proctor.
Livingston struggled in the opening months of the campaign, picking up only two wins in the first ten games - a run which involved the youngster predominantly featuring at left back.
Despite the poor start to life in the second tier, James and indeed Livingston continued to improve and they moved off the bottom of the league. The emergence of Robert Snodgrass, Leigh Griffiths and Graham Dorrans helped Proctor and his team to an impressive 6-1 win over Greenock Morton in January, a win which gave the club a real boost in their battle for survival.
Although survival was achieved, finishing the season in a lowly seventh place cost the manager his job, and with it a contract for his fellow former Black Cat. James was not offered a renewal of his deal and moved into non-league football with Barrow Town.
Also played for both:
Colin Healy, Neil Teggart.