This weekend we cast our minds back to the late 80’s/early 90’s as we speak to Former Bairn Derek McWilliams.
Derek spoke about his early career and reminisced about his time with Falkirk in our weekly feature article.
The Broxburn native almost fell out the game as a teenager after a demoralising few years left him struggling to enjoy the game:
“When I first left school, I went down to Arsenal, believe it or not! I would have been about 15, you could go to an English club at that age at the time. I was very young and that was probably my downfall. I was there for about a season, then I came back up to Scotland.”
“I was training with Rangers for a while, John Greig was the manager. It was dragging on and dragging on, so I ended up signing for Hibs. I played a few first team games, but they had a lot of money problems at the time and got rid of their youth team even though they had a really good side.”
“After I left Hibs I kind of fell out the game for a bit. I was a bit disillusioned, but after a while I went back and played for the juniors for a while, I would’ve been about 17. I eventually got picked up by Dundee after I got back into it.”
Even after rediscovering his love for the game it wasn’t plain sailing with ‘The Dee’, but Derek eventually found his way out of a sticky situation and onto Brockville.
“I was at Dundee for probably three or four years. Archie Knox signed me but eventually he left and went back to Aberdeen with Alex Ferguson. Jocky Scott got the job and he wasn’t the biggest fan of me. I was in and out the team and it was decided I would get a free transfer.”
“I was going to go to Germany with one my friends who played out there; Vince Mennie who actually came to Falkirk as well eventually. I got offered to go to a club called Saarbrucken, who were a German second tier side at a time but changed my mind at the last minute. Vince was training with Dortmund at the time, but they ended up signing Murdo MacLeod instead!”
“After I came back, I still had a year left at Dundee and ended up dodging about in the reserves till I went on loan to Falkirk, who wanted to sign me permanently. I was promised a free transfer but because I did well on loan Dundee decided they wanted a transfer fee, so I had a wee argument with them about that which sort of held everything up. Eventually it was sorted out and we came to agreement of £5,000 or something like that, and that was me.”
Derek joined The Bairns as they struggled in a Scottish Premier Division with extra relegation places due to reconstruction.
“I think there was three that went down that year and I think Dunfermline and Morton were certain to go down. It went to the last game; I remember we still had a chance. If I remember rightly, we had to beat Rangers to be in with a chance, but we got beat 5-0.”
After relegation, the prolific attacker found some of the best form of his career under his former teammate and 29-year-old manager Jim Duffy.
“Next season we started off in the First Division. I think Dave Clark lasted maybe a month or so because we didn’t have a good start, then Jim Duffy came in. I played with Jim at Dundee, so it was a good thing for me. He was still relatively young, he was probably the youngest manager in Britain at the time, he got a really bad knee injury and got told to stop playing early. I was a bit of a buffer for him for what he was thinking which was quite good experience. It was a learning curve for him at Falkirk and I don’t think it’s something that would happen these days.”
“That season we probably should have got promoted. I think it went down to the last game again, with Dunfermline ahead of us. We drew up at Forfar, but it didn’t matter because they drew as well, and we needed to better their result. I think we should have gone up, but obviously I’m going to say that! I think I scored maybe a dozen goals that season, and we had a few good players at the time, but Dunfermline were a good side as well, it was a bit disappointing in the end.”
“Next season we had a few new players in, but we didn’t start well even though we were probably favourites to go up after the season before, then it goes back to the famous night out in Saltcoats. Jim resigned and Billy Lamont came back in as caretaker, which wasn’t my cup of tea. It was nothing against him as a manager, but he tried to turn me into a more defensive player and it’s just not my game. He was old school but steadied the ship till the end of the season. I ended up top goal scorer that season, I think I scored 17, but it didn’t end up going anywhere.”
After Jim Duffy’s dramatic departure and a disappointing fourth place finish it was time for some well-earned glory as Falkirk came first in the second tier in Scottish football, in one of The Bairns most dramatic title wins.
“Jim Jeffries came in the next season. It was a lot of big changes squad wise and he had his own ideas as well, but I was still part of the plans.”
“Again we didn’t have a good start, I remember I did something to my hamstring in one of the first couple of games so I was out for a bit watching and I’m thinking we had no chance, because we were terrible! Yogi was playing up front at that point and it was torture, the fans just weren’t having it at all.”
“I was still injured when we went up to Dundee and turned it around. I think Sam scored two and it was a really good performance. I came back for the Airdrie game the next week, realistically he could have kept the same team, but I got brought back in. It was a great game, we played really well, and Sammy famously scored his hat trick, I’m sick of hearing about it! I think we went on a big run after that.”
“I think I probably scored a dozen goals again, I enjoyed that season. it was unfortunately my last at Falkirk but a good way to go out. Simon was obviously there, we had Tommy McQueen and Alex Taylor and a few other great players, it was a really good side. Realistically, we probably should have won the League by a bit more! There were lots of good games that season and lots of goals.”
In that season came some of Derek’s favourite games in the navy blue, with victories against Raith Rovers especially sweet.
“We gave Raith Rovers a few doings that year, we scored seven against them at Brockville and we beat them in Kirkcaldy 4-2. I scored two, we just played some really good football. It could have been more to be honest; it was one of those games where everything just clicks, I don’t think Simon was even playing that game. The game at Starks Park was a really tough game, I think we were 2 down at half time. I scored two that game as well and we brought it back.”
“I scored a hat trick down at Ayr that year, probably the only hat trick I scored. I always say that was better than Sammy’s, because mine was a real hattrick: left foot, right foot, header! I think I scored six against Ayr that season they must have hated me.”
In 1991 Derek left Brockville for East End Park, a switch not often well received by The Falkirk faithful, but a choice not necessarily made by the player.
“I was out of contract and I fancied going to England at the time. There’s obviously a big discussion about why I left at that point, but there was a lot of politics. I’d done well in my first four seasons at the club and there were teams interested. It wasn’t about the money; I would have liked to try my luck down there after I’d been down when I was younger and I maybe I wasn’t ready for it.”
“It was pre-Bosman, which was a bit of a nightmare. It probably would’ve come down to tribunal, and the English clubs never wanted to take a chance. It’s totally changed now; clubs had all the power then.”
“There was a lot of things with us not being like to train and bonuses being withheld, so it wasn’t handled very well, but everything got sorted eventually. After it dragged on into August and I hadn’t signed anywhere they actually asked if I wanted to come back and sign for a month, which I probably would have done, but the offer came in to go to Dunfermline.”
“Jeffries was needing players, so we ended up getting a goalkeeper, Ian Westwater, and Paul Smith plus money, so he was really wanting to push it through. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of club obviously, but I was kind of put in the situation, so I thought let’s do it. Dunfermline were a decent club at the time don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think the fans were very happy which you can understand.”
Despite an ignominious end to his time at Falkirk, The Bairns hold a very special place in the former pros heart.
“From the first month I went on loan I loved it, and it was probably my best spell, you can check my career goal wise. I really loved my time at Falkirk and I still go back to the games now. I loved going out in Falkirk as well, maybe a bit too regularly, but it was a good place to go out and it still is!
“I loved playing at Brockville, whether I was on the far side from the Falkirk fans or the main stand, it was a great wee place to play in. I came from Dundee which was probably the opposite, it was massive at Dens Park and the playing surface was so far away from the fans. When you went to Brockville it was totally different.”
“I got on well with the fans, maybe because I was out quite a lot! I got on well with a lot of them and still do to this day. I met my late wife there, so that’s one of the best things in my life. I keep in touch with her family who still live in Falkirk. Her brother’s actually got the top I won the league in, he used to go to the games, so that got me in the good books with him as well; playing with the first team at the time and going out with his sister!”
Derek very nearly had a part in another well-known Falkirk season, but unfortunately ended up in Airdrie not Clydebank on that famous day in 1994!
“When Falkirk won promotion in the 1993/94 season around about deadline time I could’ve went back, that was quite a hard one. Dunfermline needed a goalkeeper and wanted Westwater back, so it was a case of swapping and Falkirk saying who do we take, and I think the only one they could probably take that the fans would have.”
“I did speak to them but it fell through, not because of money, but by that time I was going to be out of contract and I think I wanted a two year contract to get security for another year. I understand why they didn’t, because they wouldn’t have known whether they were going to be in the First Division, and in hindsight maybe I should have just said we’ll just do it.”
“The League went to the last game. Dunfermline were playing Airdrie, I wasn’t in the team, I was way out the picture by then. Dunfermline won 5-0 but Falkirk did enough at Clydebank, and I was away early because I knew that would be my last game before I was released, I was quite happy to see Falkirk win!”