This week’s feature article is with Bairns legend Sam McGivern. In keeping with our week looking back at our victorious 1990/91 league campaign, Super Sam spoke on that title, as well as his start in the game, his post-playing relationship with Falkirk, and the rest of his time with The Bairns.
Sam started his career with Kilmarnock, making his debut for the Ayrshire club as a teenager.
“Soon after I left school, I was with Kilmarnock Boys Club. Killie were part time, so what they did was take me on in as part of the Youth Training Scheme as a member of ground staff. With the money from that scheme plus playing part time with the football, I was getting two wages from them, so it worked out pretty well!”
“I was dead lucky, the team at the time were probably looking for someone like myself to come through quite quickly. Five games into the reserves and I was in the first team squad, I was only 17 at the time so that was really good!”
“I remember the very night in training where I found out. it was at the times where you trained two nights a week and found out the team on the Thursday night. The sheets went up for the squads and I obviously didn’t think there was any chance I’d be near the first team. I went straight up to the reserve one and I wasn’t on it. I thought I’d done really well in the first five games, so I thought it was maybe because I was a bit young, so I went and sat down but I wasn’t at all happy. Some of the first team squad started coming over, shaking my hand and saying well done. I was totally confused till they told me I was in the first team squad for Saturday!”
“I was put in for a few games, then quite rightly taken back out, but very quickly I was in the first team and stayed there.”
After breaking into the Kilmarnock first team the young Sam struggled to balance his dreams of professional football with remaining at a part time side.
“We got promotion the first year I was there, I think we finished second. I played 34 games in the Premier the next season at 18. We were hopeless and had an absolute nightmare, but I had a good season and did okay. We got relegated fairly early, but I loved the season and knew that I wanted to go full time.”
“It’s a horrible thing to say but everyone that knows me down here knows what my situation was at Kilmarnock. I wanted to go full time and there was no chance of Killie doing that at the time. They were doing fine as a part time club, they had a few players worth a good amount of money, and there was a lot of good bids for players turned down because the club didn’t need the cash.”
“From that moment till four and a half years later I was wanting a move. Bosman ruling wasn’t in yet so you couldn’t manufacture a move if the club wanted to keep you. Killie’s situation in terms of offering contracts was not less favourable terms, which meant you didn’t have a choice.”
“I didn’t hate my time at Killie, but I wanted to train every day, I wanted to go full time. You feel really hard done by when you do leave and find out the clubs that were in for you and you didn’t get told. I was in the Scottish Schools set up, so I was in with all the guys that were already full time at 18, which is all I wanted, and it was another four years before I managed to get away. It didn’t ever affect how I performed on a Saturday, that’s not in my makeup, but it was very frustrating.”
Sammy finally got his move to a full-time side when Billy Lamont’s Bairn’s came in for him, but the contract signing was far from normal!
“When I was 22 Falkirk came in for me and that’s how that came about. I remember a Friday night, sitting in my flat, and got a phone call from the bold Billy Lamont. He said he’d agreed things with Kilmarnock so I’d be coming to Falkirk, so I asked how that would work since I didn’t have my boots and couldn’t drive!”
“I got a lift to Rugby Park to pick up my boots in the morning, then I made my way to Glasgow where Billy picked me up at the station to go to Park Gardens and get the deal done. We got to Park Gardens and met up with Eddie Morrison, who was my manager at Killie, and Robert Stewart who played with Falkirk at the time. The deal was whatever amount of money Falkirk paid to Killie and Robert Stewart would go to Killie as well.”
“It was all going ahead, I signed away, then Rab said he didn’t want to go. Eddie told him he had to or the whole deal would be off, but Billy Lamont said that I’d already signed and if they didn’t get Robert Stewart that was their problem, we’d already done our deal! So, the deal was done at the price agreed, Robert didn’t sign and came back to Falkirk, and it was done. Eddie Morrison must’ve gone back down the road tail between his legs worrying about what the chairman would say. I don’t know if they had an inkling that he wouldn’t sign but Billy just completely took charge.”
“We did okay that first game against Celtic, got beat 4-2 but held our own alright, then the following week was my home debut and I scored against Dundee United in a 2-1 win! Things got off alright and it started quite well.”
The new Bairn had an eventful start to his time with Falkirk, being part of a famous survival story as David Clarke’s side defied the odds to beat Celtic and stay up.
“The full time set up kept on developing from when I joined, it progressed fairly quickly up until Billy lost his job and Dave Clarke came in, who wanted a proper full time set up. I think any Falkirk fans you’d speak to would say it was fairly negative football under Davey, he was passionate, but very defensive and it was 100% work rate and not so much skill. I didn’t mind it, but it wasn’t really the nicest football to be honest.”
“When he came in, he managed to keep us in the Premier League right at the death, beating Celtic at Parkhead. Celtic could have still mathematically won the league that day, so they hadn’t given up. It was a massive result for us, the last two games were Celtic and Aberdeen away, and we needed a win. Jimmy Gilmour scored the winner and he was the nephew of Jimmy Johnstone so there was a whole story attached to that! I managed to score as well that day, after 40 seconds.”
“I don’t think we really thought we had a chance, so we weren’t nervous and just went out and played, and we really deserved to win that day. We worked really hard, but we played some good football as well, even with the referee giving them a penalty that was never a penalty.”
Jim Duffy was the next manager Sam played under. Despite an incident on a night out in Saltcoats that garnered much attention, Sammy believes that had nothing to do with the young manager’s departure.
“The next season we really struggled, and Jim Duffy took over. Jim was only 29 years old at the time and I liked his ideas in the game; I liked the way he went about it, he was passionate and he could do most of the training – he gave the place a big lift.”
“That boost lasted for a good season and a half but then Jim lost his job. There was a big thing about the Saltcoats debacle, in my opinion it was blown a bit out of proportion with Jim blaming that for us not doing well. It was unfortunate, the feeling with all the players was we didn’t want to see him go, but I don’t think any of us agreed that he lost his job because of the Saltcoats thing, it was because the team wasn’t playing well, and I’ve always maintained that.”
Sammy was a key figure in one of Falkirk’s best ever seasons, as we claimed the 1990/91 First Division title.
“It was all a bit strange when Jim Jeffries came in. I wasn’t awfully sure; I nearly went back to Kilmarnock because when he came, he brought in a whole load of strikers. I went down to Killie but didn’t really like what I heard so came back and when Jeffries asked me what I wanted to do I said I wanted to fight for my place.”
“For one reason or the other it didn’t work out for the other guys, and I was giving 100% in training like I always did and was really fit. Jeffries put me and Stainrod in together after maybe five games of the season, we hadn’t started well. It looked as though there could be something there then the addition of Alex Taylor and Tommy McQueen was the major catalyst.”
“We went up to Dundee and drew 2-2, but we absolutely hammered them. It was a foggy day, me and Simon both scored and played really well together, the whole team clicked into place. The following week we played Airdrie and won 3-1, I got my hattrick, and it really kicked on something unbelievable from there.”
“I said I was possessed after my hattrick but the whole team was possessed for months after that, we were on the crest of a wave. That season was mental. To come from the poor start we had, because Airdrie were flying and Dundee weren’t getting beat off anyone, it was a massive for us to win that.”
“Jeffries management was a bit alien to me, a bit strange, it wasn’t anything special he did on the training pitch, but he just knew how to gel a team together. He was good at making a team fit, he brought in Eddie May when we were struggling a bit, and that was massive, adding five or six goals from the midfield, I don’t know if we’d have won the league without it. His way of putting the team together was unbelievable.”
The title-winning season had some of Sammy’s best moments with The Bairns, but he knew it was his time when the opportunity came to move to Ayr United a few years later.
“The following season I picked up some injuries early doors, so it was a bit of a struggle, but the team did well. I came back into the team near the end of the season after we got promoted and scored four or five goals right at the death and felt good, but there had been changes and I never thought it was wrong to let me go when I went.”
“I wasn’t getting a game and I still felt I should’ve been playing, just maybe not in what was a right good Falkirk team at the time. I could have contributed from the bench, but Jim Jeffries knew I didn’t want to be on the bench. George Burley wanted me down at Somerset, and that’s exactly what happened, in a swap deal with Greg Shaw worth about £100,000 they reckoned.”
Sam developed a lethal partnership with the player they call God, Simon Stainrod, as the pair guided Falkirk to the top division. He talked about what it was like to play with the legendary striker and how they formed one of The Bairns most famed partnerships.
“It was a dream come true for me to play with him, I’d never played with a striker like that, and everything just seemed so easy. It made it that bit easier playing with someone who knew exactly where you wanted it to be when he was delivering a ball to you.”
“When you’re playing up front with your back to a centre half, it wasn’t my game and I didn’t need to do it when Simon was there. I’d play around him or I’d play the channels, I knew by the way he came towards the ball what he was going to do.”
“I keep in touch with Simon quite a lot and I think he loved that season as much as anywhere else he played. He was unbelievable, the ability he showed.”
“To be fair, Simon wouldn’t have had the season he did if I wasn’t there either. He couldn’t have swanned about the way he did if I didn’t do his running for him! I’d run past Simon to shut someone down because that’s not in his makeup, I knew I’d be fit enough after 90 minutes to do that, if Simon did that he’d maybe only last half an hour in a game.”
“We complemented each other, and it was immense to play with someone like that, you’re talking about someone that’s played at a very good level, where I was lucky to be a professional footballer for 18 years!”
The former Bairns striker reflected back on some of his favourite games with the club.
“Some of those games were incredible and it’s lucky we’ve got some on camera. Everyone talks about the hattrick game and everyone talks about the Celtic game. There were lots of stick outs the season we one the league and lots of ones where I didn’t score and thought I played my best football, but because you didn’t score nobody bothers about it!”
“One of those days was down at Rugby Park the season we won the league. It was the best I’ve ever played with my back to goal, bringing other players in, and my touch was there. Simon played that day as well but there’s a big difference between playing as a partnership at Brockville and Rugby Park, it was massive so really difficult to get close to each other. It felt because of the size of the park I had to do more on the ball and I felt like I had a really good game that day, but no one will remember it because ewe didn’t win and I didn’t score!”
“The second game against Airdrie where we beat them 3-0 is a big one. We really had to win that day because we were all getting cocky as hell. I had a newspaper interview and all week I was saying there was no way they were going to beat us. They were still right up there, trying to win the league, but the way we were playing I could easily have said we were definitely going to win, but I didn’t want to come over like that! We were that confident, the belief was mental. The crowd we carried that day to Broomfield was unbelievable. There was enough the day I scored the hattrick, but I’d love to know what the Falkirk attendance was at that day, we must’ve had about 4,000 at it, it was mad.”
“For getting spoken about and the subsequent media attention the Airdrie hattrick game has got to be there. If we hadn’t won that day, I don’t think we win the league that season, it was that important. Even though the team as coming together quite well, if we didn’t win that day they’d be a right few points ahead of us and it might’ve been too late.”
Sammy’s time with the Bairns wasn’t just a passing affair. The 56 year old has been a presence amongst the Falkirk fans on many big occasions and will always keep n eye out on the Falkirk score if he can’t get to a game.
“The Cup Final was a day! I was behind the goals at Ibrox with some mates and ex-Falkirk player, and we’d been out from about 10 o’clock in the morning in Glasgow. I don’t think I’ve ever sobered up as quickly in my life as when the offside got given. I knew he wasn’t because, for some reason my eyes were attracted to him in the box and I was absolutely raging! I looked like some mad football fanatic, it was like I hadn’t played for the club and was one of the punters.”
“I was at the Inverness final as well. I always seem to meet supporters prior to big games like that. I probably get to four or five games a season, I’m very passionate about my golf and do a 14 hour shift one Saturday out of three so it’s not easy to get through.”
“I was away with my pals on a golf holiday during the play offs and we ran into some Falkirk fans in a pub, younger guys who probably wouldn’t have clue who I was! For the next few nights, we were out drinking with them, it was amazing and it’s people I’ve kept in touch with since I got home.”
Sammy finished by speaking on his close relationship with the Bairns fans, who have held him in great esteem since his time at Falkirk.
“People look for different things in footballers, and people appreciate a kind of working class way of playing football; you didn’t have everything growing up, you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth. I probably played football the way I would’ve done any kind of work.”
“If I hadn’t made it I was going to join the army and I think I brought that mentality into football, if it’s going to be a toss of a coin between me and someone else to get the nod on a Saturday and I get in because I’m going to give a bit more, I’m quite happy with that.”
“It’s the way I was brought up, I grew up idolising my PE teacher and was lucky enough to play with him in the Killie reserve and still keep in touch with him to this day.
“The guys coming along every week are just as bright and know as much about the game as anyone, that’s why they go. They deserve to have quality time spent with them and some players need to realise that. A lot of the guys I’ve met through Falkirk Football Club supporter wise are a good bit brighter than me, so why should I turn my nose up to spending time with someone I can learn something from.”
“To be held in the esteem I am is overwhelming, it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s probably a bit exaggerated from the punters, but I think a lot of it was to do with my efforts, definitely not the ability I had! I would spend time with people, I’d try my hardest all the time and I wouldn’t make myself out to be something I wasn’t, and it’s been amazing the way I’ve been treated.”