Falkirk’s Generation Game

Brian Grant enjoyed a long career as a professional player for Aberdeen and Hibernian.
Brian Grant enjoyed a long career as a professional player for Aberdeen and Hibernian.

Thomas Grant has followed his father Brian into the world of professiohal football – and both dad and son owe a lot to Falkirk’s Alex Smith.

Under Smith’s supervision as Falkirk’s technical director, and many other coaches along the way, the midfielder has progressed through the Falkirk Academy and into the Bairns’ first team.

A stand-out performer in the majority of his appearances this season, the cliched ‘wand of a left foot’ perfectly describes the set-piece specialist’s deliveries since he was pitched into the team by Steven Pressley in November last year with the veteran manager’s backing.

However, backing Pressley’s decision is not Smith’s only role in his career, as Smith jests with Grant “you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me”. And he doesn’t mean the first-team, or even Falkirk – he means football full stop.

It’s a story that transcends the generations.

Smith was the first manager for Thomas’ dad Brian – a Scottish Cup winning midfielder for Aberdeen in 1990, (again co-incidentally, under the veteran’s tutelage).

And it was Smith who picked up on Brian’s talents while scouting around Central Scotland during his time as manager of Stirling Albion.

“I was just driving by a game and stopped to watch for a few minutes and I saw this midfield player with a lovely left foot,” Smith told The Falkirk Herald.

“He had a great touch with his left and could pass well with his right. Then he brought another ball down with his right and sprayed another pass out with his left, and I thought ‘that boy is a player’.”

He watched longer and approached the coach of local amateur outfit Fallin Violet.

“I just got his name ‘Brian Grant’ and it turned out I knew his father and that was that.

“I signed him as soon as I could and put him in my Stirling Albion team, then (Sir) Alex Ferguson came in for him and we let him go in a good move for the player and the club.”

Years later Smith followed Grant north and the midfielder became a key component in his midfield as Aberdeen won the 1990 Scottish Cup.

Now, there’s another Grant in the centre of Smith’s midfield – at Falkirk – and he has just as delicate a touch and an eye for a pass that the interim manager witnessed more than three decades ago. This time, it’s 18-year-old Thomas spreading the passes and set-pieces with his left foot.

The reticent 18-year-old set-up two goals in the under-20s win against Kilmarnock on Tuesday night and added: “He (Alex Smith) tells me about my dad and he jokes about how I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for him spotting my dad when he was a teenager.

“Alex has been great with me and he’s been great for advice and to speak to with me and all the young guys coming through the ranks.”

Grant Snr was an Academy coach at Falkirk but moved to take over a similar role at Dundee United while running a McDonald’s restaurant near Forfar. More recently he became Academy manager at Tannadice, but though Thomas has battled his way to the first-team on his own merits, Brian still keeps an eye on his offspring’s showings.

“I speak to my dad about my performances too, he tells me where I went wrong and talks me through my performance,” added Thomas. “His advice for big games and to play the game, not the occasion.”

And there’s a big occasion coming shortly for the Grants as Thomas has the chance to emulate his dad’s silverware achievement next month when the Bairns head to Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Brian’s old club Hibs.