James Sinclair: The journeyman looking for a second chance in England

James Sinclair lives his life by the motto of ‘have boots, will travel’ and that attitude has taken him to three diverse countries after starting out at Bolton Wanderers.

“My parents were both expats (roughly 20 years in Africa) and I even grew up my first three years in Nigeria so I guess it is kind of in my blood.”

Even with a taste for travelling at a young age, the 30-year-old’s career so far has taken him to places he never expected to play in. Spells in Israel, Poland and Sweden and even a very brief stint in Puerto Rico are not your usual destinations after being released by a Premier League club.

Sinclair was a promising athlete during his youth, winning titles in sprinting and decathlons but it was his football talent which really shone. Having started off further forward, he eventually made wing back his new position and it was his impressive performances in this position which saw him make two appearances for Bolton in the Premier League in the 2006/07 season and one further appearance in the following season during a UEFA Cup game against Red Star Belgrade.

However, after a promising start to his Wanderers senior career, Sinclair was released in 2009, something which disappointed the Newcastle-born wing back but he still appreciates the experience he gained training with the likes of Kevin Davies and Gary Speed.

“I would have liked to have had more appearances,” he says. “Especially after breaking through at the end of season and then continuing during most of the following pre-season games.

“It certainly was a real privilege to have been able to train alongside and be around the many big name players that Bolton had through those years I was there. Just being around them all on a daily basis was an incredible experience.”

Sinclair in his Bolton days

After leaving Bolton, Sinclair headed closer to home to sign for National League side Gateshead on a short-term deal where he made a handful of appearances. Whilst that move was less than exotic, his next club was somewhere much further from home.

“I had a few moves that didn’t materialise,” he says. “I intended to move to the MLS but unfortunately a couple hamstring injuries prevented that. Also a move to Norway didn’t materialize.

“Then just by chance, I got a call to see if I would be interested in going to Israel. My dad had previously worked over there so he knew what it was really like it was not that of all the negativity and violence we usually see on the news.

“I really enjoyed Israel, even though it was for only around three months. I would have relished to have stayed there longer.”

Sinclair’s spell in Israel saw him make just three league appearances for Sektzia Nes Tziona in the second division and his next move would turn out to be even more short lived as he agreed to sign for Sevilla’s Puerto Rican sister club who are due to join the USL which at the time was America’s third tier.

“The club along with two others on the island were set up one to two years too early for the USL so things were always a struggle from the get go.

“I didn’t actually play any games there as my registration didn’t go through before the team folded so it kind of just turned out to be more like a two-and-a-half month training camp in the Caribbean.

“I guess it is hard to complain about that!”

Having managed just eight league appearances in 2010, the wing back was in desperate need of regular first team football and although his next move did saw him earn more minutes on the pitch, trouble continued to follow him as he moved to yet another country.

“I was coming back from Puerto Rico and one of my good friends, Jaroslaw Fojut, from my time in the Bolton academy had moved back to Poland and recommended that I should come join him.

“Unfortunately the club I was at had a lot of financial difficulties previously and that continued throughout my time whilst I was there.”

In his first season with Polish second-tier side Polonia Bytom, the former Bolton man managed to more than double his total number of career games as he made 14 appearances in all competitions but in the following season, he played just four games before moving on again.

Sinclair in action with GAIS

It was a move Sinclair would not regret though as his whole future life and career would change when he packed his bags and headed to Sweden to sign for second-tier club Ljungskile.

In 2013 and 2014, his first two seasons in Scandinavia, the Newcastle-born wing back played fifty league games and scored six goals as he cemented his place in the Ljungskile line-up and become one of the strongest wing backs in the Swedish second tier.

His performances didn’t go unnoticed as Graham Potter’s Östersunds side came calling and he was part of the side which earned promotion to the top tier in 2015 in his only season with the club.

“I played more consistently when I moved out there and I think the style of play suited my attributes well,” he says, talking about his move to Sweden.

“Obviously I would have liked to have stayed at Östersunds longer but I have nothing bad to say about the club. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there as the club were very professional with everything they did.

“What the club have done under Graham Potter and Billy Reid is truly phenomenal and I am extremely happy to say that I have been a part of their story.”

As well as taking his game on the pitch to a whole new level, his life off the pitch also saw some major changes too.

“My time in Sweden was the most sociable. I had a lot of English, Kiwi and American team mates and as well as that, pretty much all Swedish people are fluent in English so socially it was easier than Israel and Poland. I met my girlfriend, now fiancée, six months into being in Sweden.

“I would say I am reasonable in Swedish now. I understand more and prefer to reply in English. My fiancée tries to speak more Swedish around the house for me to learn but it is harder as it turns out Swedish people just enjoy speaking English as soon as they can and when they hear the ‘lack of Swedish accent’ when speaking.”

After his spell under Graham Potter, Sinclair played two more seasons in the second tier with GAIS whilst also studying for a degree in Exercise and Sports Science. The end of the 2017 season saw the 30-year-old make it nearly eight years since he left to play abroad and he’s found some differences in the way each country plays its football.

“I would say the most notable difference I have found was in Sweden, especially the difference playing on konstgräs (turf) compared to grass. The turf is quicker and more technical so a lot of the teams are trying to adopt a possession playing style football.

“Additionally, in November in Israel the temperatures were around 35°c so that was very tiring to play in.”

Now back in the UK, the former decathlete is weighing up his options closer to home for now after leaving GAIS at the end of last season but he is not ruling anything out.

“I am looking to try and give a go back in England and the UK this summer. It’s been around eight years since I left to play abroad so I would like to try and establish something back in the UK especially as I am finishing up my degree next summer.

“Who knows where the next adventure will be and what else awaits.”

 

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