Football / Fans Eve View: Falkirk feel on a high: No. 27 - Falkirk

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The Independent Online
WHEN the occasion takes them, supporters of Falkirk display a heartening appetite for agitation and protest. The most recent manifestation of which was an appeal for increased accountability made during a home game with Airdrie when Falkirk fans brandished red cards in the direction of the club's main directors.

The whole exercise required careful planning and military-like precision. Outside Brockville Park, fanzine generals and volunteers distributed the cards, careful to remind people to wave them only before the game and during half-time. Ever mindful of the danger that if an explosion of red had occuring during the match, Airdrie players, recognising a sight familiar to them thanks to their regular acts of thuggery, would troop off the pitch en masse.

This demand for democratic change has a long and distinguished history. A previous group of unhappy directors were sent packing on a wave of terrace discontent. Further back, during the late 1970s, a loose band of malcontents set up a body called the Falkirk Action Committee.

Then, in one of my politically active phases, I had a hand in drafting the FAC's first and only press release. It suggested a rather spurious, 'Citizen Smith' style, link between the suffering endured by Falkirk's loyal supporters and the plight of the Palestinian people. Needless to say it drew no response from either the Falkirk hierarchy or the Israeli government. Nevertheless, a tradition for dissent had been established.

In those dark First Division days, Falkirk were obliged to contest local derbies with the town's other team, the mighty East Stirlingshire. This is a rivalry thankfully free of the primeval hatred usually associated with fixtures between close rivals. The Bairns v The Shire at New Year was rather a time for seasonal lunacy.

During one such encounter an East Stirling follower wandered on to the park and offered their goalkeeper a drink from his whisky bottle. The Shire keeper needed little encouragement and took a deep satisfying draft as if he'd just spent the last week stranded in the Sahara desert. Falkirk still couldn't put the ball past him.

Falkirk could not afford to caper around in such company, however charming, for too long and first, under the management of Dave Clarke, then, briefly, Jim Duffy and finally the bold Jim Jefferies the club have stepped up a division to become a fairly regular feature in the Premier Division.

Much of the credit for this happy state of affairs should be laid at the door of Jefferies, who has quickly put together an attack- minded side without recourse to the intrigues, plots and paranoias usually associated with the transfer market. The winger, Kevin McAllister, is proving to be such an inspirational captain that it has been sensibly mooted that he might supplant Gordon Strachan in the Scottish national team.

McAllister's partner upfront is the strong and direct little Englishman Richard Cadette, signed, as was the former Hibs' midfielder, Eddie May, from Brentford. While May and the powerful Neil Duffy provide the running and main creative force in midfield they are joined in this department by the less than sleek figure of Kevin Drinkell, currently at Brockville in a player/ coach capacity having been rescued from a bleak spell at Coventry after more celebrated times at Rangers and Norwich.

Just over a week ago Falkirk become irrevocably linked with this year's crisis at Parkhead when they calmly knocked a hapless Celtic side out of the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. For those of us who had already witnessed previous five- and seven- goal rumbles between the two clubs a 2-0 victory for Falkirk was thoroughly justified. Now the Bairns travel to Tynecastle in the quarter-finals where they seek to avoid a repeat of last year when at the same stage they lost 3-1.

But while a cup run would lift the spirits of their followers, Falkirk's main task is to forget all diversions, the current supply-side economic obsessions of the proposed Scottish Super League plus other endless proposals to restructure the game, and get on with picking up enough points to pull clear of relegation worries.

To some extent Falkirk are receiving the same 'too good to go down' plaudits that Nottingham Forest are getting in England. Most neutral supporters would prefer to see Airdrie and probably Motherwell drop down a division, an event which even Falkirk fans wouldn't protest too much about.

Shug Hanlan, comedy writer and contributor to 'Scottish Football Today'