JAMES McArthur is not the type of person who is ever likely to forget where he came from.
But if there was any danger of that happening as he enjoys his recently acquired status as a £7 million English Premier League player, he would only require a quick glance at the Scottish Premiership table to remind him.
The remarkable sight of Hamilton Accies at the top of the pile is a delight for the Scotland midfielder who celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday while preparing for Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia at Ibrox.
McArthur retains a genuine affection for the New Douglas Park club where he made his first-team debut at the age of 17 and developed his talent until earning a £500,000 move to Wigan Athletic four years ago.
Accies have cashed in again to the tune of around £700,000 as a result of the sell-on clause in the deal which was triggered by his deadline-day move to Crystal Palace last month.
McArthur is thrilled to see the latest crop of young players helping Hamilton make such startling progress in the top flight this season and believes they offer a template for how Scottish football should operate.
“I don’t think I would be sitting here as a Scotland player today if I hadn’t started my career at Hamilton,” he said. “I really believe being with them and getting that chance to progress at first-team level is vital.
“At a lot of other clubs, you might not get that chance. You would be playing reserve football and not progressing as fast. Personally, I owe a lot to Hamilton.
“By the time I was 21, I had played over 150 first team games for Hamilton. That’s the same for a lot of the younger lads who are there now and the best way to learn is by playing first-team football.
“It has been amazing what Hamilton have done this season. Alex Neil has done a remarkable job in the time he has been involved as manager. Billy Reid needs to get credit as well because he took these kids and nurtured them and brought them through when he was in charge.
“Alex Neil took it on from there and has done an amazing job. Giving young players a chance is the reason why they’ve done so well. You look at the boys who are there – they have not just become good players this year. They’ve played 100 games, 80 games and learned a way of playing games.
“When you play reserve football, you don’t get as much out of it. You only learn so much. They are getting the chance to learn the right way and when you need to go and win a first-team match, you are playing for your career really. Hamilton are a prime example, if not of the way Scottish football has to go, but of the way to develop young players. I think that can only be good for the Scotland national team as well.
“Accies deserve the money that comes in from the players they develop, not only for our transfers but for the work they are doing behind the scenes. Starting kids at a young, young age takes time and money and they will continue to progress as a club.”
McArthur is relishing his new challenge at Selhurst Park where he has helped Palace pick up seven points from their first four Premier League matches under manager Neil Warnock.
“It’s been brilliant so far,” he said. “Good results make it more enjoyable as well and the manager is very good – not just because he signed me, but he keeps everyone in high spirits and is a good laugh.
“He’s got a funny side to him which everyone sees and that’s good, because managers can be too serious sometimes. He builds a happiness in the camp and everyone feeds off that. But when it’s time to do business, he is ready to work hard. He’s got us organised and we are getting results from it.
“I’m pleased to be back in the Premier League, it’s where every player wants to be. I wanted to stay with Wigan last year and help the club get straight back there, because I was part of the team that was relegated and so was partly to blame for that.
“Everyone had to take their share of responsibility so I wanted to stay and try to get them promoted. It didn’t work out like that unfortunately. I wanted to give it a year and then an opportunity came to get back into the Premier League with Palace and I’m happy it went through.
“The transfer fee doesn’t bother me at all if I’m being honest. Whether you are worth £500,000 or £7m, you can only do your best. I just give it my best shot. I help the team – that’s what it’s all about – it’s not about individuals, especially at Crystal Palace.”
That team ethos is also very much key to Scotland’s hopes for success under Gordon Strachan. It was evident in the Euro 2016 opener against Germany in Dortmund last month, but did not earn McArthur and his team-mates any points as they lost 2-1. “I think we take a hell of a lot from that performance,” added McArthur as he hopes to win his 17th cap for his country against Georgia this weekend.
“We were playing against the world champions on their own patch and we ran them very close.
“We take the positives, even though we were gutted at the time to lose the match.
“We want to win every game and we will go into this one against Georgia trying to get three points as we do in every match. We believe we can do that so we’ll try our best.
“This is the best Scotland squad I’ve been involved with. Not just in midfield, all the way through there is strong competition for places. It’s getting harder and harder for the manager to pick the team and that can only be a good thing.
“We’ve come a long way under Gordon Strachan and as a long as we keep progressing, we’ll try and win as many games as possible and do as much as we can to qualify.”