Always the bridesmaid, never the bride... until this season.
Well that’s not entirely the case for Will Vaulks, but it is for his experiences in challenging for the Falkirk Herald’s Starshot trophy over the course of his Bairns career.
During that time the Bairns have gone close to major honours, but never quite made it.
Scottish Cup final. Play-off final. Play-off semi-finals. Vaulks has been there and done it since breaking into first-team football. In that time he’s never looked back either. It’s been a self-assured career, one that he was positive he COULD have, if someone gave him the chance, and Falkirk did.
It’s much publicised that Vaulks signed for the Bairns for free in a bid to prove himself after a pro spell at local club Tranmere turned sour.
Vaulks has proven himself, and then some.
He’s been runner-up in the Herald’s accumulated points rating system in each of his full seasons at the Bairns, but been pipped at the post in each.
This time though, he’s finally made it.
“I used to be really invested in it and look at it every week,” admitted Vaulks. “It’s about time I won it after coming second so often!”
He added: “In my first full season Rory Loy was scoring goals for fun and beat me to it, then last year it was Sibbs (Craig Sibbald) who had a great season. But I suppose it shows I have been consistent each year, and it’s been another good season this year.”
Vaulks won the Starshot, Blair Alston took the club award for player of the year as voted by his team-mates while supporters gave a gong to Mark Kerr. Add to that John Baird who has hit the net 19 times and Danny Rogers who excelled – to come up trumps hasn’t been easy.
Vaulks said: “Bairdy scored so many goals and got a few awards from supporters’ clubs. It’s all been really shared out in terms of awards which is a good thing. It shows we have strength right through the squad and that’s one of the reasons we have done so well this year.
“Starshot though is done on a game by game basis, so it rewards consistency rather than overall impressions and it’s impartial so it’s great to finally win it.”
Mark Kerr ran him close though. So too did Baird. Peter Grant was another contender until his untimely injury but Vaulks knew he could win it, that he was capable of taking the trophy and finally he did. Just like he did with his football career.
Steven Pressley brought him to Falkirk but had no budget. Vaulks funded the move himself, playing for expenses and to prove himself capable. Pressley didn’t think he was ready, but after three months at the Bairns and then the boss’s switch to Coventry, Alex Smith, Stevie Crawford and Robbie Neilson pitched him into the first team.
“I always knew I could make it as a pro, and believed in myself – you have to. Sure, I had doubts but since the Gary Holt season I have been steadily improving.”
He’s caught the eye, and not just for the lavish goal celebration that has become his trademark. Sporting Lisbon were credited with an interest in him earlier this year, in a move that flattered but bemused the Englishman and boss Peter Houston. This time last season Hibs made an enquiry, but didn’t follow it up.
Blackburn too have had a look at Vaulks and took him on trial two years ago. Vaulks won’t be going back to Ewood Park, despite a great few days closer to home.
“The facilities and club were unbelievable,” he said.
“But as soon as I went in they ran some tests. I was down there as a central defender but I didn’t measure up in height to their criteria they set for that position. So they put me at right back. I did OK and it was a good experience but that’s just how these clubs operate.”
On paper, from the off they rejected him. Rovers’ loss has been Falkirk’s gain, particularly in midfield where Vaulks has operated more recently and pitched in with some vital goals too.
And following the strikes is the flamboyant celebration.
“I’ve been able to do it for a while and always thought I’d bring it out on the big occasion. It would need to be a good goal for me to do it – I’m not going to flip around for a tap-in!
“It took a little while in coming but I always knew I’d bring it out. Then when I did the fans seemed to enjoy it – I enjoy doing it too – I just hope it comes out more often!”
It has helped Vaulks become a firm fan favourite. A player who wears his heart on his sleeve, scores piledrivers for goals and would get a 7.2 for the celebration. He’s also the vice-captain and a regular attender of fan events.
He’s made an impression, but the place and club which gave him a chance has made an impression on him too. He’s regularly out and about supporting club causes and supporters events.
“I love living here. I’ve got my dog and my girlfriend here, and have friends here. I came here for games and got games.
“But I feel I’m part of the club. I do a lot with the fans and support the commercial team at events and things because I love that side of it – they have been brilliant with me since I came and I love the place. I just do my bit to give back to the fans for their support.
“I should say thank you to them for their support, they’ve been brilliant this season.
“I should also say thanks to The Falkirk Herald for running the award each year, because it’s important for the boys to be recognised. I’ll say thanks to my mate Sibbs for not winning it this year and tipping me for the award this time last year when he won it – and to the whole ‘Falkirk Family’ - the commercial team will appreciate that mention!”