James McPake has retired from playing and will take up a role in the Dundee FC Academy as Head of Professional Programme.
James was born in Bellshill on June 24th 1984 and started his football career with Livingston after turning out for Holytown Colts, Celtic South BC and Coatbridge Amateurs as a youth.
Although recognised as a defender, McPake started his career as a forward and made his first team debut for Livingston on April 3rd 2004 when he came off the bench for Derek Lilley against Hibernian at Easter Road in the SPL.
He scored his first goal for the League Cup holders the following season in a 1-0 home win over Dundee in December and would make 17 appearances during the 2004/05 season by the end of which he was playing at the back.
In January 2006, Scottish Second Division side Greenock Morton signed McPake on loan after he had rejected proposed loan moves to Gretna and Partick Thistle. He made his debut against Gretna on January 14th and went on to make 10 appearances for The Ton, scoring twice in the same game against Alloa.
McPake returned to Almondvale in the summer and in total would make 119 appearances for The Lions in five years before departing for Coventry City in January 2009. He had actually signed a pre contract agreement with Coventry in December for summer 2009 but the clubs came to an agreement and he joined immediately for an undisclosed fee.
The centre-half made his debut for the Championship side in a 2-1 home win against Wolves on February 7th and scored his first goal in a 2-2 draw away at Leicester a year later.
Jazza, as he is nicknamed stayed at the Ricoh Arena for two years and joined Hibernian on loan in January 2012. He was sent off on his Hibs debut at Ibrox but by the end of the season was part of the Hibs side to reach the Scottish Cup Final in which he scored and made the move permanent in June.
Two weeks after the 2012 Scottish Cup Final against Hearts McPake won his only international honour when he called up by Northern Ireland for whom he qualified through a grandparent born in Coleraine.
Jazza lined up for the friendly against the Netherlands in the Amsterdam Arena against the likes Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben as the Dutch prepared for the Euro 2012 finals later that month.
McPake was appointed captain of Hibs and stayed at Easter Road for the next two years where he played 53 times but after they were relegated from the Premiership in play-off with Hamilton, James left to join Dundee after not being selected during the run despite having fully recovered from a back injury.
McPake was brought to the newly promoted Dark Blues by manager Paul Hartley and he made his debut in Dundee’s first game back in the top flight in a 1-1 home draw with Kilmarnock.
Three weeks later Jazza scored his first goal for the club with a header in the first minute against Celtic but it is his next Dundee goal that will always be cherished by the Dundee support. McPake scored the second in the memorable 3-1 win over United in April 2015, The Dee’s first home win over their neighbours in ten years and he propelled himself into Dens Park folklore with the 94th minute equaliser at Tannadice in August.
Dundee were 2-0 down with just nine minutes left but after Greg Stewart pulled one back with nine minutes left, there was hope that The Dee could rescue something from the game. With just seconds left on the clock a United clearance fell to Charlie Telfer 30 yards out but he was robbed by Gary Harkins who hit a long range effort at goal. Goalkeeper Zwick could only push the ball away and the Dark Blue’s No. 5 slid in to score and send the Dundee fans wild with delight.
That derby is forever known to Dundee fans as the ‘McPake Derby’ and the pictures of Jazza celebrating in front of the Jim McLean Fair Play Stand are iconic Dark Blue images.
In his first season at Dens, Jazza made 38 appearances and was a key component of Dundee’s climb into the top six and won the player of the year from eight different supporters clubs at the end of the campaign.
In his second McPake was appointed club captain after the departure of Kevin Thomson and pulled on a Dundee shirt a further 17 times. Unfortunately in the New Year derby at Dens, Jazza’s committed style saw him fracture his kneecap after he launched himself into a full-blooded challenge on United’s John Rankin, attempting to block a shot from the midfielder on the edge of the box. Jazza came off worst as his studs caught in the Dens Park turf and his knee bore the brunt of his full body weight.
The inspirational captain suffered the horrific injury just 10 minutes into the clash with United which ended in a 2-1 victory at Dens Park but for Jazza it ended in heartache.
What followed was an incredible show of mental and physical strength as James and the club did everything possible to get the defender back out on the park.
Long days were spent in the gym and out on the training pitch as he battled to return to fitness. While attempting to recover from the injury McPake took on coaching duties at Dens and despite being close to a comeback a number of times, he has now decided to call it a day.
A popular player both in the stands and the dressing room, James McPake will always be held in high regard by the Dundee support for commitment, dedication, leadership and giving 100% every time he pulled on the Dark Blue shirt and they will also be grateful for some wonderful memories and those goals against United. A true “Dark Blue Derby Hero.”
We wish James well for the future.