Rarely too far from Scotland’s elite, Falkirk FC came within 90 minutes of a Premiership place in 2016 – a sadly similar story to 2014. In between, The Bairns were close to a first Scottish Cup win since 1957.
This occasional pattern of finishing also-rans and runners-up should be seen in context. Halfway between the trophy-laden giants of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Falkirk have kept in contention despite a smaller budget and, until 2004, an old-school ground that barred the way to promotion.
The club’s glory days came in the early 1900s. Formed in the late 1870s, The Bairns took their nickname taken from the town’s motto, warning outsiders not to ‘meddle wi’… the Bairns o’ Fa’kirk’. Competing in the Scottish Cup, winning the inaugural Stirlingshire Cup, Falkirk were first based on Hope Street, site of their later permanent home, Brockville Park, from 1885 onwards.
Entering the Scottish League in 1902, The Bairns were a free-scoring side who twice pushed Celtic close for the title, beating Rangers en route to the Scottish Cup final of 1913. Two unanswered goals, one from centre-half Tommy Logan, enabled Falkirk to beat Raith for the trophy. He and inside-forward Jimmy Croal were soon snapped up by Chelsea, appearing in the English FA Cup final two years later.
A popular figure when a guest striker at Falkirk during World War I, Syd Puddefoot was brought back to Brockville Park in 1922 from his native West Ham for a world record transfer fee of £5,000, raised from supporters’ donations. It was only enough to lift the club to fourth place on his debut season.
Goals later came from record scorer Kenny Dawson, and Falkirk finished in the top five either side of World War II, under Tully Craig. After his departure, they fell away, spending the odd season in the Second Division and, in the 1970s, the third tier.
This indifferent spell was only broken by former Millwall winger Reggie Smith, who saved Falkirk from relegation in 1957 and led them to a second Scottish Cup win. Doug Moran, later of Ipswich Town, scored the winning goal in extra-time to beat Kilmarnock under floodlights at Hampden, silverware settled on a replay.
The later third-flight stint ended satisfactorily with the 1979-80 divisional title wrested from local rivals East Stirlingshire by two late goals in the final game of the campaign.
The top flight remained elusive. The new SPL admission rules required all-seater grounds. Brockville Park comprised tatty terracing and a groundshare wasn’t permissable.
A new home was the only solution and, as Falkirk Stadium was being built by the M9 motorway near Grangemouth, The Bairns played at Ochilview Park in Stenhousemuir.
First under Alex Totten then ex-Bairns centre-back John Hughes, Falkirk always had a decent side, their midfield embellished by veteran Russell Lapaty. Hughes had revived his former Hibs team-mate – the Trinidadian international repaid him with a Player of the Year performance in 2004-05 that gained Falkirk promotion for the first time in ten years. The timing was perfect, with a new stand added to the new stadium, ready for 2005-06.
Falkirk made the Scottish Cup final of 2009, a team featuring ex-Old Firm favourites Neil McCann and Jackie McNamara failing to mark Hughes’ farewell with a major trophy. A wonder strike by Rangers’ Nacho Novo was the only goal.
A substitute that day, Steven Pressley stayed on at Falkirk Park in a coaching role, first as assistant to former Bairns midfielder Eddie May, then as manager from 2010. May had presided over the only defeat by a British side to one from Liechtenstein, Falkirk losing in extra-time to Pierre Littbarski’s Vaduz in the Europa League.
Close, but not close enough, to promotion under Pressley, Falkirk switched to Gary Holt in 2013, the Norwich legend taking The Bairns to the Premiership play-offs in 2014. Goals from Rory Loy had been enough to get them there, but no further.
In came former Falkirk striker Peter Houston, who first led The Bairns to another Scottish Cup final, a 2-1 defeat by Inverness Caledonian. Goals from experienced striker John Baird then brought Falkirk to the Premiership play-offs, a late strike from Bob McHugh before a record crowd at Falkirk Stadium taking The Bairns past Hibs in the semi-final.
A stoppage-time effort from Will Vaulks set Falkirk up for a showdown second leg play-off final at Kilmarnock, where two early Killie goals exposed Houston’s safety-first formation.
The three-sided Falkirk Stadium is one of the most impressive grounds in the Scottish game outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Opened in 2004, it replaced the age-old Brockville Park, unsuitable for modern-day needs.
The only downside, apart from the missing stand, is its location, way out towards Grangemouth, a long, long walk from town.
The stadium was developed gradually, starting with the main West Stand, twice the size of its later-built counterparts at either end of the ground. Away fans are allocated the North Stand. Overall capacity is an all-seated 8,000.
Whether the empty space will ever be filled by an East Stand is open to question. Falkirk’s average gate is just over 5,000, although a return to the Premiership would up this figure.
Falkirk Stadium is a little too far to walk from Grahamston station – roughly 30 minutes.
As it’s on the main road to Grangemouth, there is a regular bus service. In town, near the station, before the junction of Park Street and Weir Street, bus Nos.3, 4, 4A, 4B, 5A and 5C run to Stadium Road End, just after Westfield Roundabout, journey time 8min. The No.5 is evening-only. All pass by Falkirk bus station, too. Each is on a 15-30min schedule so one should come along pretty quickly.
Tickets & shop
The ticket office & shop (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm, match-day Sat 9am-kick off, 30min after final whistle, match-day midweek 9.30am-kick off) are in the same outlet behind the Main Stand.
Advance and match-day ticket sales are by cash or credit card – there are no turnstiles, all admission is by bar-coded ticket. There are also online sales for up to two home games in advance.
A seat behind the goals in the North (away) and South Stands is £18, £19-£20 in the Main Stand. Over-65s are charged £12-£13, under-18s £7-£8, under-12s are admitted free with a full paying adult.
Signed, framed photos of the 2015 cup final team are among the more unusual items amid the smart navy-blue replica kits and polo shirts.
There’s little of interest around the ground itself but a couple of handy venues halfway from town, near Forth Valley College.
Just off Grangemouth Road at 2 Thornhill Road, the Mill Inn is a standard, Tennent’s-serving boozer while, a little further towards the stadium, by a five-a-side football centre, Pennies is a more convivial choice. Best known for its affordable pub food, this sports lounge offers darts, pool and live acts, as well as TV sport, standard beers and occasional live acts.
There’s no stadium bar at the ground, only the reservation-only Brockville Lounge. Note also that The Westfield opens daytimes except when there’s a match on – handy for a snack or main meal (no booze) if you’ve popped into the club shop or ticket office.