Nostalgia: Falkirk win without kicking a ball

Falkirk historian Michael White looks back on an unusual scenario for the Bairns in 1973.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 3rd April 2020, 6:19 am

Falkirk fans had been treated to some great times under manager Willie Cunningham, and had reached a League Cup semi-final at Hampden.

They were a team to be reckoned with, and finished in their highest league position for years after they gained promotion.

Willie Cunningham’s departure saw the arrival of John Prentice and the almost simultaneous departure of a certain Alex Ferguson, who had been touted as a possible successor.

Sign up to our daily The Falkirk Herald Today newsletter

The appointment was greeted with dismay by several fans, after his previous move from Brockville to Dundee in September 1968.

The alarm bells started ringing early on, although few could have expected progress from a League Cup section that contained both Old Firm sides.

After a pointless start, in both League Cup and League, fans demanded a meeting with the manager and petitioned the board for the removal of Prentice.

The former cup-winning captain was determined not to be influenced by supporters. “At the moment, we are needing six new players. But with crowds so small, we’ve no money to buy anyone. Are the fans expecting instant miracles?”

After a 0-0 draw at Shawfield, the headlines in the Sunday Post read “You’ve Got Problems, Mr.P.” And so it proved.

There were no wins at all as the season progressed, and even The Shire hammered a full-strength Falkirk 3-1 in a Stirlingshire Cup tie at Fir Park.

As October ended Falkirk were adrift at the bottom of the league with five points from nine league games and not a single win.

Prentice was still adamant that he could pull off a miracle, claiming that 27 points would see his side safe.

In a classic example of understatement, he said: “To achieve that (survival) we’ll have to average just over a point a game. We’re well behind that schedule now.”

And then came a miracle. Falkirk won their first league game of the season on December 1.

The miracle was that this achievement took place without a ball being kicked.

Shortly before 11am on the morning of December 1, 1973, the 25th match was called off due to the extreme weather and the Pools Panel was called into action.

Lord Bath’s group of “experts” was called into action for the first time since 1969 and by kick-off time, 30 games had been called off.

The panel was made up of five people, ex-internationalists Raich Carter, Neil Franklin, Stan Mortensen and Ronnie Simpson, along with former referee Arthur Ellis.

Without being unkind, it is unlikely that they knew much about Scottish football, apart from Simpson, and might have struggled to know current form.

East Fife were second bottom of the league, but Falkirk had home advantage.

It was a Pools Bonanza and the panel gave Derby an away win at Wolves, their first under Dave Mackay, but few could have predicted the Falkirk win.

Falkirk were doing better in the Sunday Post Crime Count League - in second place behind Celtic.

East Fife were bottom, and maybe the Pools Panel had assumed that they might have lost a couple of players at Brockville?

Things went from bad to worse after this and guess who scored a later winner at Somerset Park to stretch the winless run?

None other than a certain Alex Ferguson who must have delighted in proving a point.

STV cameras recorded a 6-0 hammering at Parkhead and the Falkirk Herald headline read “Brockville Crisis”.

The AGM was imminent, and the natives were extremely restless.

Reports suggested that the club were £100,000 in debt. 1973 ended with a 3-3 draw at Brockville against Dundee and The Bairns were looking doomed.