The first six months of 2003 were among the most tumultuous in Falkirk FC's history. Brian Marjoribanks recalls the Bairns emotional farewell to Brockville.
THE FIRST half of 2003 was arguably the most incredible six months in the history of Falkirk Football Club. But not always for the right reasons.
January began with Falkirk, who were technically relegated the previous season but saved by Airdrie's financial capitulation, on top of the first division thanks to some fantasy football under new boss Ian McCall.
Transfer speculation abounded over young stars Mark Kerr, Collin Samuel and Lee Miller but it was midfielder Stevie Tosh who left, joining Aberdeen for a 30,000 fee. After signing on at Pittodrie, Tosh caused anger among the home support by claiming Falkirk would not be promoted if they won the league. Loudmouth or lucid? Time would tell.
January 25, 2003, was a Burns Night to remember as Hearts were roasted by red-hot Collin Samuel in one of the best-ever games at Brockville – made sweeter by the fact it was the final season for the old ground. Owen Coyle scored the fourth as the Edinburgh side were given a 4-0 mauling.
But Falkirk were victims of their own success. For within a week, boss Ian McCall stunned the town by jumping ship to take the helm at SPL strugglers Dundee United. McCall had preached loyalty to the Bairns cause only recently but in football money talks and McCall walked – thanks to an annual salary of 300,000, payable, no doubt, in pieces of silver.
Veterans Owen Coyle and John Yogi Hughes took over the Brockville hot-seat as joint player-managers in February. Their first match in charge ended in a 1-1 draw with rivals St Johnstone and the side the pair inherited edged closer to the title.
With Westfield still in the planning stages and footballs due to be replaced by wrecking balls down Brockville way at the end of the season, Falkirk needed to find a 10,000-seater solution to the SPL's ludicrous top flight entry conundrum. It seemed Airdrie was once again to the rescue as the Bairns announced home games the following season would be played at the Diamonds' Excelsior Stadium – if promotion was granted.
The SPL were due to decide in March if Falkirk would be allowed promotion but ominously postpone the matter to see who won the championship. Another blow came when Falkirk held Dundee 1-1 at Brockville in the Scottish Cup only to crash out 4-1 in the Dens Park replay.
But, unbeaten in the league at home, the Bairns continued to rack up the points until D-Day came along at McDiarmid Park in April. The Bairns were not found wanting.
Recent recruit Stuart Taylor and John Henry combined to sink St Johnstone – Taylor's strike flying into the Saints net via Henry's knee to extinguish the Perth side's flickering championship hopes. The finishing line was in sight.
A week later, Bairns fans rose to acclaim new legends as a packed Brockville witnessed Owen Coyle fire a hat-trick to fuel Falkirk's leap over the line – beating Arbroath 4-1 to clinch the first division title. CHAMPIONS!
Their appetite for success growing, thousands of fans signed up to back The Falkirk Herald's Justice for Bairns campaign, urging the SPL troglodytes to allow Falkirk to take their rightful dining place at Scottish football's top table.
The vultures again were reputed to be swooping around the team's top performers. Their efforts had certainly not gone un-noticed with Lee Miller nominated for SPFA Young Player of the Year and Mark Kerr short-listed for First Division Player of the Year – the midfielder also clinching the coveted Falkirk Herald Starshot trophy.
There was more good news as work finally began at the new Westfield stadium in May…and in preparation for the end of season flit, a memorial service was held for all those deceased who had their ashes scattered at Brockville over the years. With impeccable timing, a ghostly figure was spotted and snapped on the wall of a house looking over the park.
The final whistle blew on Falkirk's time at Brockville. But only after the northern raiders of Inverness Caledonian Thistle invaded Fortress Brockville to smash Falkirk's unbeaten home record and grab a 3-2 win in the last ever game down Hope Street way.
It served as a timely reminder that with Falkirk, disappointment is never far away.
Sure enough, at the end of May, the news finally arrived. In a frankly farcical announcement, the SPL deny Falkirk promotion when five top-flight chairmen say their bid to share with Airdrie DOES meet all the rules and requirements … but seven others say it DOESN'T. An appeal with the SFA is immediately launched and discussions begin to share Ochilview next season with neighbouring Stenhousemuir.
Meanwhile, as Falkirk waited to learn their fate, the club failed in an audacious bid to sign former Celtic and Scotland star John Collins. Influential midfielder Stuart Taylor then moves to Partick Thistle and long serving full-back Jamie McQuilken follows Tosh to Aberdeen in a 60,000 deal.
With promotion dreams in tatters, the bulldozers finally flatten Brockville in June – but only after an auction to sell off the most coveted pieces to diehard fans. Light relief comes with the news that Brockville will be Brockvillas – thanks to an American company buying wood from the main stand to make luxury ski chalet in Colorado.
There was good news when Alex Totten confirmed he will stay on with Falkirk as director of football. But the first half of 2003 ends in complete devastation when the SFA appeal fails in the final week of June, consigning Falkirk to the first division for another season at least. Stevie Tosh had the last laugh!