Falkirk appear to hae been saved from relegation by Airdrie's demise. But James Teideman is still bitter about the fate of clubs excluded from the SPL
It is the night that Bayer Leverkusen host Manchester United in the second leg of their semi-final. The Champions League music that welcomes the teams on to the pitch at Brockville Park floats with comic irony over the terraces – as if it isn’t surreal enough that Everton are playing here tonight for the honour of lifting the Alex Scott memorial trophy, highlight of Falkirk’s 125th anniversary celebrations. The travelling fans must have had a laugh as they surveyed the crumbling “stadium” that sums up the melancholy malaise of small Scottish clubs.
It is no wonder the home fans struggle to sing. Their club feels tired and beaten. Five years ago Falkirk were in a Scottish Cup final and two years before that finished fourth in the old Premier Division. A three-goal half-time deficit against Everton is soaked up with a strange, nonchalant despair. This is nothing compared with losing 5-0 to relegation rivals Raith.
Perhaps Falkirk’s five-year decline began with the ambition of then manager Jim Jefferies, who moved to Hearts along with players such as David Weir. From fourth place when Jefferies left, Falkirk fell to finish third bottom and were relegated as the glossy, self-important Scottish Premier League was created with ten clubs rather than the previous 12. It was the only season in which three teams went down. Worse was to come with the SPL’s criteria for belonging to the new elite. Prospective members had to meet the re- quirement of a 10,000-capacity all-seater stadium.
A recent clash between those SPL titans St Johnstone and Motherwell made a mockery of that ruling, drawing a stupendous 2,700. A week after the Everton match, poor Airdrie, though placed second in the First Division, looked to have saved Falkirk from relegation by doing an Accrington Stanley.
Falkirk should have twice been promoted to the SPL, or at least had the chance of a play-off, but were denied. Even their proposal to groundshare while a new stadium could be built was rejected, even though Celtic were permitted to play at Hampden for a season while Parkhead was reconstructed. The list of gripes and injustices is long. For a couple of seasons Falkirk were playing a short passing game that would have shown up the long ball tactics of most SPL teams as decidedly average. They contested close cup ties: a final against Kilmarnock, a semi-final against Hearts and quarter-finals against Rangers, Hibs and Dundee.
But this season the superhuman energies of manager Alex Totten (now director of football) have run out, failing to galvanise the collection of former ball boys that is now the first team into out-fighting and out-foxing seasoned First Division professionals. Consecutive seasons of richer rivals such as Livingston poaching half the team, releasing players because the club can’t afford their wages, and knowing promotion was impossible anyway, inevitably affected performances. The most passionate player on the pitch against Everton is Yogi Hughes, but he is a Falkirk old boy, now at Ayr, returning for a sentimental bow at Brockville.
The sadness became comic at times. At one game this season two Trinidadian recruits watched their new team give a typically farcical display – they must have been warmed by how quickly the fans started abusing their own team. The pair never got the chance to grace Brockville. The club realised that not only could they not afford to offer them contracts, neither could they pay for their flights home. A local businessman stepped in to rescue the players from a new life in Falkirk.
For three years the local council has dithered over contributing to a new out-of-town stadium and the club has touted its home to the developers to raise their share. At last this summer Brockville looks set to be sold to the US conglomerate Wal-Mart. Personally I’d rather see Brockville blown up than destroyed in an alien supermarket invasion, but the club needs the cash to move on. If work soon starts on the new ground, Falkirk will play next season’s home games at Stirling Albion. But we have been here before. It is hard to believe that this is really the last game at beautiful Brockville. Someone seems to think that it is, marking the occasion with a streak at half-time. Predictably this earns the loudest cheer of the night.
Falkirk fight hard yet cannot score a deserved consolation. At the final whistle, defender Andy Lawrie is framed by a large hoarding advertising a demolition company. The hundred visiting Everton fans to his right continue to out-sing the 2,000 Falkirk faithful. Bring on the Arsenal indeed. Thank you Airdrie.
From WSC 185 July 2002. What was happening this month