It’s 1974 and I’m a student at Heriot-Watt Uni. I have an old blue-grey ex-USAF greatcoat which I picked up in Cockburn Street in Edinburgh for £6. I’m very proud of it, even though my terrified mum grabbed it off me as soon as I brought it into the house, and got a needle and picked off the badges. She had heard they were illegal (she was probably right). It still had some cracking silver buttons though.
Anyway, I’m standing in the queue for the boys’ gate at the Hope St turnstiles at Brockville, wearing my greatcoat. Back in the 70s the crowds were pretty decent so they always had a separate gate for boys (not girls, I’ve just realised). Most youths like me pushed their luck to get in the boys’ gate – there was none of this modern ‘concession’ nonsense.
My mate Alan (Big Para to anybody who knew him, r.i.p.) and I are standing there when we become aware of two plods looking at us from across the street. Eventually they start to saunter over, and with dismay we think we’ll have to go to the men’s gate and pay the full whack. But no, they simply look us up and down, and then one of them turns to the other and says “You’re right, it is a braw coat”.
Why The Kelpies as a header photo? Well even if you loved the old stadium, it was hardly photogenic so I thought a lovely evening shot of that other Falkirk attraction seemed in order. They’ve also got a “F*****g Big Wheel” as they sometimes like to sing. If you were ICT you’d sing back “I’d rather have a castle than a wheel”.
My first match at Brockville was in April 1970 when I was taken to see Penicuik Athletic play Ashfield in the semi-final of the Scottish Junior Cup. My uncle, Marshall Mills, had been captain of Penicuik when they last reached the semi, in 1966, going down 1-0 to Bonnyrigg Rose at Tynecastle. This time the Cookie won 1-0 to go through to a Hampden final. The crowd was reported as 6000 although the place looked absolutely rammed to me.
The record attendance is reported as 23100 against Celtic in 1953. The main stand dated from 1928 and held 2750. The stadium itself was Falkirk’s original home in 1876, although they moved out before returning in 1882.
The first actual Falkirk game I can remember was in 1972 when the Bairns drew 2-2 with Rangers in the Scottish Cup. Jack put Falkirk ahead, Greig and Johnstone replied for the Gers then a certain Alex Ferguson scored with 20 minutes left to set up an Ibrox replay which Falkirk lost 2-0.
The cramped covered enclosure opposite the main stand, with its low roof, was an experience in itself. It was the obvious place for the hardcore fans who wanted to sing. Due to a large gate opening onto Hope Street, it had a narrow walkway which divided the terrace in two and it was bedlam in the days before segregation as supporters had to use it to change ends.
The photo above shows the traditional home end, behind which was the narrow Cooperage Lane, and then the railway. There’s a legendary story of a ball being hoofed out of the ground and landing in a railway wagon, before being transported to Perth…
In the early 90s I enjoyed going along to watch Falkirk under Jim Jefferies. They were a really entertaining side back then with some amazing players such as Davie Weir, Ian McCall, Kevin Drinkell, John Hughes, Kevin McAllister and Simon Stainrod. Plus Mo Johnston.
One Tuesday night in January 1994 arch rivals Dunfermline came calling. The Bairns were a goal up (was it Richard Cadette?) when the Pars’ Neale Cooper cleared a ball upfield and decided to have a kick at Cadette, if my memory serves. Referee Sandy Roy was watching the play and missed the incident. The far side linesman immediately flagged but as play raged on, Dunfermline built an attack and put the ball in the net. With the linesman still flagging and the home fans in turmoil, the ball was placed on the centre spot for the restart, before the ref finally realised what was going on. The Pars’ equaliser was chalked off and Cooper received a red card, to the jubilation of the Bairns fans. Falkirk went on to win 2-0 over their Fife rivals.
Another night I remember was the following January, a Scottish Cup tie with Motherwell, and the only time I have seen a game abandoned because of floodlight failure. Alex McLeish was the visiting manager, and he didn’t cover himself in glory. As the home supporters behind the dugout tried to engage him in what might loosely be called ‘banter’, poor Alex decided to reply in a grumpy ‘show us your medals’ stylee.
Hearts put to the sword in 2003… Falkirk 4 Hearts 0
By the turn of the century Brockville, like many other ageing grounds, was looking rather the worse for wear. The toilets in the main stand were an experience all of their own. Falkirk arranged to move and the ‘final’ match took place on 29 April 2000 against ICT. There was a ceremony at half time in which a coffin was carried onto the pitch. In a packed Brockville (well 4484, but very busy…), ICT were rather fortunate to escape with a 2-2 draw, and Les Fridge, never a favourite with the ICT support, had the game of his life, saving two penalties from Scott Crabbe.
However the move to a new stadium fell through, something which was to hurt the club when they won the First Division in 2003 and they were denied promotion due to not having an SPL compliant stadium. However they did leave Brockville at last, to groundshare during 2003-4 at Ochilview, home of Stenhousemuir.
The long-overdue Brockville finale took place on 10th May 2003 with ICT once again the visitors. Current ICT boss Yogi Hughes was a Falkirk player at this time. This time the visitors nicked a 3-2 win in front of 7300 with Charlie Christie’s late winner being disputed by the Falkirk faithful who claimed that the ball had gone out of play before Steve Hislop crossed the ball.
The new Falkirk Stadium finally opened in 2004 with only one stand, magnificent though it is, holding around 4150. It’s often described as a smaller version of the new BT stand at Hampden. Currently there are 3 stands, bringing the capacity to 7937, and it looks great on the telly as the filming is always from the empty side facing Grangemouth and the M9. Since June 2013 there has been an artificial pitch (see following 2 images).