Many thought a career in foot- ball was a tall order for Falkirk's KEVIN JAMES. He is proving them wrong as the Bairns face Kilmarnock in a
historical Scottish Cup final.
Words: Lorin McDougalI Photograph: David McIntyre
IN A LAND famed for its great wee men. any Scots male taller than Ronnie Corbett might even be called ‘Big Yin’. The description fits Falkirk defender Kevin James perfectly — at 6ft 7in. ‘officially’. the 21-year-old rising star is Scotland’s tallest professional footballer.
‘l was always tall. although when I came to Falkirk as a YTS trainee, l was about 6ft 2in or 6ft 3in.’ says the former Currie High School pupil. "Then. a couple of years ago, I suddenly shot up to 6ft 7in. I think I’ve stopped growing now.’
This assurance must be music to the ears of those vertically-challenged players who have been terrorised by his considerable physical presence — and for Kilmarnock FC. who face Falkirk in the Scottish Cup Final on 24 May. Many critics. however. cruelly expressed their doubts about his suitability for the sport. comparing the finely-built James to a stork.
"l’hat’s never bothered me.’ he counters. 'When you‘re portrayed as someone that shouldn’t be playing football. it makes you try that wee bit harder to prove everybody wrong. When I go out there and play. it sticks two fingers tip to the folk who have been slaughtering me about the way I am.’
There have been problems of a sartorial nature. including Falkirk’s inability to find him a big enough jersey. ‘That’s true.’ says Kevin laughing. ‘If you see some of the pictures during games. long sleeved shirts just about go up to my elbows. The other problem is tracksuit bottoms because the gaffer doesn’t like us wearing jeans — I’ve only got two pairs that actually fit.’
Before you form the impression we’re dealing with some sort of circus freak. forget it. James. after all. was deservedly voted April’s Young Player of the Month and was named by Craig Brown in the Scotland under- 2l squad for their recent match in Sweden. A foot injury which has since healed forced him to withdraw.
Mental toughness. as well as sheer height, has been one of his biggest assets. particularly in the wake of a disastrous Falkirk debut
eighteen months ago. ‘lt wasn’t the best of
debuts. losing five goals as a defender.’ he
recalls. "That day. we caught Motherwell at the top of their game. It was a baptism of fire
but I learned from that and improved my game. We did get a bit of a roasting. but it was an education you could say.’
James’s graduation took place last month when his late headed equaliser against Celtic set up the semi-final replay which Falkirk so famously won. What’s more. the scorer had his eyes firmly closed at the time. The Bairns next face Kilmarnock in a repeat of the 1957 Final which Falkirk won. ‘lt’s frightening that 40 years later. the exact same thing has happened again.’ say James. ‘llopefully. the
result will be the same.’
James and his team-mates have already endured the most traumatic part of the Cup Final build-up — The Cup Final Song. ‘It was a good laugh.’ says James. ‘But I don’t think the boys should give up football to follow a singing career — the Spice Girls don’t have anything to worry about.’
The Scottish Cup Final: Falkirk v Kilmarnock is at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, Sat 24 May and is broadcast on BBC1. See Sport listings.
16—29 May 1997 IHE usm