This week’s feature interview is with former Falkirk striker Farid El Alagui.
Farid joined the club ahead of the 2011/12 season, not long after the club’s relegation from the Scottish Premier League. His route to the club was a very unusual one, with a lot of luck required in his signing by Steven Pressley from the French fourth tier.
“It was a different way than usual! I was in France back in the day, on holiday. I was meant to start the season with my team in France, in the fourth tier.”
“The week before we went back for pre-season, I had a phone call from this agent that I didn’t know, but he obviously knew me. He phoned on the Sunday saying that one of his strikers had let him down and wasn’t going to make it for a trial in Scotland, so he asked me if I wanted to replace him.”
“The thing is, this was the Sunday morning he phoned me, and I had to be in Scotland for the Sunday night, so I basically had one hour to make a decision! I booked the flight and made the decision to come up to Scotland.”
“Obviously, I had no idea what I was coming to. If the trial was successful, I’d get my money back, if it wasn’t, I would be out of pocket. It was a difficult decision, but also not difficult because it was a chance to play in a good league in Scotland, so I took it with both hands and went to see what happened!”
“I remember arriving on the Sunday night with two other players, and the trial started on the Monday at Stirling. We were going to train for a week and there was three games, I can’t really remember but there was one against Dundee I think, then another against Kilmarnock. After the three games I was shattered! I had no training before, when I arrived in Scotland I hadn’t trained for a month so it was difficult physically to keep my fitness up.”
Farid may have signed under odd conditions, but he hit the ground running after being offered a contract, scoring 28 goals in his debut season in Scottish football.
“From day one I had a great feeling about the place and the people at the club, which was Steven Pressley, Alex Smith and Lee Bullen at the time. I remember with the staff and the players, it felt really straightforward and it was just the perfect match between the people and myself. I felt very comfortable and it made it much easier to settle when I was first there.”
“From the very first game everything just went boom. Obviously, the game against Rangers helped me to make a name for myself in Scotland and whole season was great. I think I scored 28 goals in the season and being named player of the season and everything was just amazing. I wasn’t expecting that kind of success straight away!”
*All the players and all the staff, every person at the club, made me feel very comfortable and got me settled in as quickly as possible, so I tried to repay them on the pitch.”
Despite an extremely young squad under Steven Pressley, The Bairns thrived with Farid leading the line. It came unexpected to many predicting a struggle for Falkirk that season.
Massive results against the likes of Rangers and Dundee United in the cup were the peak in a season of exciting, attacking football.
“I remember when I came to Falkirk it was a difficult time at the club. It was a very young team, so many people were not expecting anything from us. It was meant to be a very difficult season for us but after some games in the league and after winning some cup ties, then the Rangers game in September, that gave us all a boost as players, and the fans as well.”
“From that game I think we gave them something to be proud of and through the season we beat Dundee United over there and we took them to Hampden, I think emotionally we gave them a great season, and a lot of pride.”
“We were just happy to be able to make them smile every game we played. It was a great feeling to have that type of relationship with them, because they deserved it, they went through a hard time and it was just important for us to give them as much joy as possible.”
Probably the crowning achievement of that season was reaching Hampden for a Scottish League Cup semi final against Celtic. After beating Rangers earlier in the season, shown last Saturday live on Falkirk TV, it was a massive occasion for The Bairns.
“It was amazing, if you’d told me at the start of the season we were going to play at Hampden in front of 30,000 I don’t think I’d have believed you!”
“From the start of the season we went through some difficult games, to difficult stadiums and to difficult pitches. When we went out at Hampden it was important to remember what we went through to get the right to play at Hampden and it was a great feeling.”
“My family came for the game as well. It was a dream game to play against Celtic; you manage to beat Rangers then you go on to play Celtic at Hampden, it’s another world. With the team we had as well, Jay Fulton scored that day and he was a teenager. To be at the start of your career to play in a game like that and score goals like that, it was just amazing for them. I remember their faces and the pride they had, it was very special to witness and be part of that.”
Despite only being 26 when he joined Falkirk, Farid found himself one of the senior figures in one of the youngest ever Falkirk sides. This was made all the more challenging as he only moved into professional football himself two years prior.
“I was young but one of the oldest in the team which was a bit scary. Craig Sibbald was 16, Jay was 17, the oldest one was big Doddsy. I didn’t have that much experience of the professional world, I was probably only two years into being professional so it was a funny feeling. When I think about it now, how well we did that year I don’t think we realised that we had done at the time.”
To crown off a wild roller-coaster season for The Bairns was the Challenge Cup final. Falkirk managed to secure their fourth title, the most of any team, on a sunny day in Livingston against Hamilton.
“I think it was really important to give something to the fans. No matter what we did that season, no matter the memories, which were great, we wanted something to keep. I think the Ramsdens Cup was the perfect moment for us to give it back to the fans.”
“A lot of fans travelled, it was a great day. Big Doddsy scored early, I think he must have scored 10 that season! It just shows the spirit of the team, I scored a lot of goals but anyone could score an important or vital goal.”
Farid won the hearts of the Falkirk fans with of course his goals, but also his larger than life persona on the pitch. The target man remembers The Bairns faithful fondly, even now.
“When I was on the pitch I needed a certain interaction with the fans, to give me a boost when I felt tired or was struggling. It was always a great feeling to interact with them and have this energy. In some difficult moments we needed them, and they were a massive part of what we did because without that I genuinely don’t think we would’ve had a great season and I wouldn’t have scored so many goals.”
“Right from the start we had a connection that we kept through the whole season and until today. Every game we were happy to see them again and to spend time with them, and try to win games for them.”
“To me it was a big motivation, I tried to show every game that I needed them behind me and they were really great with us. They gave us a lot of energy, there was a lot of games we were struggling in and we got a goal or saw it out because they were there giving us that support.”
Farid was well known that season for his famous celebration. It became his trademark to kiss a pound coin after every one of his 28 goals.
“That season was special. When I first came I said I was here for a reason, like someone pushed me to come to Falkirk for some reason. It wasn’t meant, it wasn’t planned it just happened like that. In my first League game, it was obviously very important for me to perform on that day”
“During the warm up I found a coin on the pitch and gave it to Lee Bullen. He told me I had to keep it, he said it was special and would give me luck. I told him I’d kiss it if I managed to score, which I managed to do in that game, so I went to kiss the coin he had in his pocket”
“We kept this celebration going the whole season, obviously I wasn’t expecting to kiss it 28 times but I was delighted to do so!”
“I do still have the coin, at home in a safe place! I have a lot of memories, like shirts and trophies, and I always keep that coin in a special box, because it’ a reminder of a great time.”
After leaving Falkirk, Farid made his way down to England, playing for Brentford, before returning to Scotland for a number of years. His favourite memories in his time in Scotland after The Bairns came in the Edinburgh derbies, and his two goals in two games for Hibs against their bitter rivals.
“The Edinburgh derby was something special. During my time in the UK there were some goals that were more magic than other ones. The two I scored against Rangers are an example, right up there.”
“I only played two derby games because I had an injury that made me miss out. I scored at Tyncastle but we lost 2-1, then I scored at Easter Road when we won 2-0. That one is the special one and goes up with the goals against Rangers for Falkirk.”
“You can see the magic and joy you put in people’s lives when you score some goals and they’re just more special than other ones. It’s one of the best feelings you can feel.”
As he grew towards the end of his career and began looking beyond playing, Farid began a degree in sports management. He returned to France to complete his education and complete his time as a player where it began, sixth tier French club Marmande.
“It’s not a typical career like another professional football player! I always wanted to finish where I started, I came up through the amateur and non-league level, so it was important for me to come back to the club where I started football. This club was Marmande and I started here when I was seven years old and stayed till I was 18.”
“When I knew I was going to play one more season I wanted to come back here, and I was starting to look at what I’d do after my career. I had the opportunity to finish my studies while back in France and playing for my club, so it was a no brainer for me. It was a great memory and I was happy to take my little girl to France for my last game there, it meant a lot to me to bring her to the stadium where I started.”
Since retiring from playing at the end of last season, and after completing his education, Farid has now taken on the role of Sporting Director at Marmande. We wish the former Bairn all the best in the next chapter of his football career!
“Now I have my diploma I’m trying to pass my coaching badges, and also put things together and structure the club. Luckily, in my career, I’ve managed to have some great experience and seen a lot of things. I want to help the club to grow and I was absolutely delighted to take the position. When I came back I wanted to give something back to the club and the people there, and that’s what I’m doing at the moment so I’m very happy with that.”