For this week’s feature article, we spoke to Tam Scobbie. The 32-year-old began playing for The Bairns aged 12 and spent over ten years at the club, through many highs and lows. He spoke about cup finals, European trips, relegations and injury woes as we took a look back at his career in the navy blue.
Tam came into the Falkirk first team through the academy, part of a talented generation of players that included Scott Arfield, Chris Mitchell, Darren Barr and Mark Stewart.
“As a young kid that’s what you want to do, you want to go into an academy where you know you’re going to have the opportunity to come through and play for the first team. When you saw the number of boys that came through it showed that there was a pathway there. Before I broke through at Falkirk I had some other options, with what would maybe get called bigger clubs, but when I thought about it, being from Falkirk and having been at the club since I was 12 years old, I knew it was the right place for me.”
“To see so many young players come through, it was a great time for the club. It was a dream come true for all the lads to not only play together at the youth level but to step up and be a part of the first team as well. It was great times for us all, we knew each other from a very young age, and you get to know people as mates as well as teammates.
“When you’re at the youth level you go out and play football for the fun of it, for the enjoyment. When you get into the first team it’s a bit more serious, but us guys came in and we played in the first team like we did in our youth career, which I think is part of the reason a lot of us did so well.”
“A lot of us that came through at the same time aren’t involved in football anymore, through one reason or another, but we still keep in touch because it was a big part of our life from 14/15 up to the age of 19/20. It’s a long period in your life that you’ve spent with the same guys.”
The veteran defender puts a lot of his success down to former Falkirk manager John “Yogi” Hughes, who’s motivation tactics gave the young player the focus he desperately needed.
“If it wasn’t for Yogi, I don’t think I’d have made it as a football player. I was a young kid from Westquarter that used to get up to a wee bit of nonsense now and again. I got injured very early on in preseason of my first year as a YT. I was carrying on with my friends and he pretty much gave me an ultimatum: eight weeks to start looking after yourself or it was out the door.”
“I used to train every day with the YT’s then 3 nights a week with the younger lads to get myself fit, I stopped going out with my friends and did extra running, and four or five months after that is when I made my debut in the first team. I think I showed him that I had the desire and the work rate to go out and be a successful player for the club, and I think I really showed myself that if I put my mind to it I could go on to make a living out the game and play for Falkirk, which was always my dream.”
After working his way up Tam finally made his Falkirk debut as The Bairns zeroed in on the First Division title and promotion to the SPL. The club’s ascent to the top of the league ladder slowed Tam’s first team chances, but he never lost faith and quickly became a regular in John Hughes’ back four.
“I made my debut at Hamilton; I think we had won the league already. I was on the bench, Yogi wasn’t even there because he was watching a player down in England, so Chipper took the team. For the last 15/20 minutes I played in front of Alan Kernaghan, and that was brilliant because he just spoke to me right through the game. He talked all day and I learned from him that if I wanted to go on and be a right good player, I had to make sure that I was like him and spoke all the time through games. It’s something I adapted to my game and something that’s carried me well through my career, trying to make sure people are in the right place and talking to them as much as possible.”
“We got beat, I think we ended up losing the last three games that season. Yogi wasn’t too happy because we had won so many games leading up to that, he said I was a bad luck charm! It was a great experience to be involved, it gave me a wee taste and it showed if you worked hard in the youth squad then you would get your reward. That’s something Yogi and Chipper were good with, if you were good enough you were old enough.”
“I had to be very patient when we got to the SPL. Yogi went out and signed a few players, so I was in and about the first team but not really playing a lot at the time. He was always talking to me and telling me my chance would come, to just be patient!”
Tam’s greatest day in a Falkirk jersey came on the 26th of April 2009 as he headed home the opener in a famous win against rivals Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup Semi-final. With fellow academy graduate Scott Arfield getting the second in a 2-0 win, it was about as sweet as they come for the Falkirk faithful.
“It was a great day. We didn’t have a great season that year, we were sitting quite near the bottom of the league, so it kind of took your mind off it. To go into a semi-final with your biggest rivals with all the fans that brings, I think I got 70 tickets for everyone from the pub in my village! They all came, and my mum and dad and family were there.”
“To score and for Scotty to score at the back of it, two young kids who’ve come through the youth system going out and scoring against your biggest rivals and putting us into a Scottish Cup final, you were kind of in dreamland.”
“It’s a great experience that I’ll always remember. The ecstasy and the excitement and the surrealness of it at quite a young age was a lot to take in but looking back now it’s a proud memory.”
Following the semi was of course the final! Tam started in a memorable performance for Falkirk against a terrific Rangers side, but sadly it wasn’t enough as a spectacular Nacho Novo strike sealed the day and the cup for Walter Smith’s team.
“We managed to stay in the league, we scraped it by the skin of our teeth up at Inverness, and Yogi decided to take us away to Newcastle for a few days. We got some good training and it also helped getting us away from all the hype so when we came back, we were fully focused.”
“I don’t think we could’ve done much more to win the game, we were right on top of Rangers, we had some great opportunities, and it’s just unfortunate that Nacho Novo managed to score that wondergoal from pretty much halfway.”
“I think if you look at the performance the boys put everything they had into it, I don’t think we could’ve done much more. We just maybe lacked that goal to kick us on, on another day we could’ve won it.”
From the massive high of the cup final, it was next a dramatic low for the Westquarter native as he was a part of the team that found themselves relegated from the SPL, ending a five year spell in the top flight.
“It was tough. Especially for myself, being a local lad, after seeing the club grow and me growing with it, then to go down like we did on the last day against Kilmarnock, it’s difficult to put into words how upset you get by it. It’s one of those things you have to accept, we weren’t good enough that season and it showed.”
With the club struggling to come to terms financially with relegation a number of first team players left the club, but Tam felt he still had unfinished business at The Falkirk Stadium.
“There was talk of some financial difficulties and the club having to move some players on. I had a few options to leave, but I didn’t want to leave on those terms, I didn’t want to be remembered for leaving after we got relegated.”
“I decided to stay for another year and hopefully try and get the boys back in the SPL. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but there wasn’t a time where I was saying I need to get out of here because we were down in the First Division.”
“It didn’t really cross my mind; I wanted to stay and try to repay the fans for all the kindness they’d shown me and all the encouragement they’d given me. It was tough, to go from the highs of the Scottish Cup and doing well in the league to getting relegated, it was a big wakeup call. These things happen in football and it’s just something you’ve got to work with and do your best.”
Despite not achieving promotion, the 2011-12 season seemed to bring the buzz back to The Bairns. Farid El Alagui proved a sensation and Tam found his role reversed from when he first broke into the first team as he guided a new generation of young talent through terrific performances against the likes of Rangers, Celtic and Dundee United.
The season also marked the end of Tam’s time at the club, but he ended it on a sweet not as Falkirk clenched a record fourth Challenge Cup title.
“That season we didn’t manage to win the league but if you look at the games we played that season, against some big clubs, we did very well. We had the Rangers game where Mark Millar scored the late free kick after Farid banked two, the Celtic game at Hampden we played really well but unfortunately got beat, I think it showed that Falkirk were back to doing well and having a real good core of youth coming through.”
“It was a great season to play as a senior boy, to play with some of the young kids coming through and try and help guide them. I was trying to pass on my experience from guys like Kevin James, Scott Mackenzie and all these players I played with when I was a young lad that helped me so much.”
“Any kind of silverware you can get at a club is brilliant, so to go there and win it in front of a big crowd was great. It was a bit of icing on the cake, because I knew it would be my last season with the club. To finish with a bit of silverware was fantastic from a personal view but also from a professional one for the club, and I’m sure the fans enjoyed their day out in the sun through at Livingston.”
The then 24-year-old’s departure from Falkirk was known for a while, but that didn’t make the day any easier as he brought to an end a dozen years and nearly 200 appearances with the club.
“It had been coming, I’d spoke to the club the previous year and they’d kind of inclined that they’d be happy for me to go after we got relegated. It just didn’t feel right at that time, but the next again year we’d done quite well; we played some good football and I’d helped the young lads, and I just knew it was time for a new challenge. The club had said they were looking to go in a different direction as well, so it was an amicable decision and it was probably the right time for me to leave.”
“It was a tough one, especially the last game, but the club moved on and I moved on, I still love the club to bits. To get a guard of honour going down the tunnel it was an emotional time. I had my family there as well, who’d come to pretty much every game from the age of 16. It was kind of an end of an era for me, it took a few days to sink in that I wouldn’t be going back to The Falkirk Stadium like I’d been doing for the last six or seven years.”
“It was exciting, but also challenging. I didn’t know if I was going to enjoy it somewhere else, I’d pretty much lived and breathed Falkirk since I was 12 years old.”
Being a local lad and having grown up in and around the club, Tam knows more than most what Falkirk means to the fans and they in return have always treated him as one of their own.
“I had a great relationship with the fans. Even outside of football, when I was out and about up the town the fans were brilliant, would always come up and speak to me. “
“I’m quite a down to earth kind of guy, I wasn’t brought up with a silver spoon or anything like that and I grew up in quite a tough area where you had to work hard for everything you got. I think you see that in how I play the game with my aggressiveness and how hard I work, and I think to be fair that’s all Falkirk fans ask of you; for you to go out on the pitch and give it 100% every time. They might mump and moan about you giving a pass away, but if they see you running and working your socks off for 90 minutes, they’ll always appreciate that.”
“Even if sometimes I was having a bad game, but the fans saw I was working hard, giving my all for the club and putting my body on the line, they always thanked me for that. Every fan hates when they see a player on the pitch and they don’t feel that they’re giving 100% for the club, and that was never me. Every time I stepped on the pitch, I wanted to make sure I did my family proud, the club proud and myself proud. The first thing I wanted to do was make sure I worked my nuts off for the fans, and anything after that was a bonus!”
From Falkirk the next step was back to the SPL with St Johnstone. Many successful years followed in a five year spell at the club that saw consistent top six finishes as well as a first foray into Europe for the Perth side.
“Every season we found ourselves challenging for the top three or four, whenever we got into the top six we didn’t seem to get beaten! The character the boys had in the dressing room at that point, it was a great time to be there.”
“The European games were unbelievable. We had some great trips that’ll always stay with me and some great results. Thankfully for us we were there for five years on the trot, it was brilliant for the club.”
All throughout his career Tam has struggled with injuries. From a persistent groin issue at Falkirk that saw him unable to sleep and taking jags to just get through games to ligament damage at St Johnstone, he has struggled more than most. Despite his difficulties he has worked through them and now lends his experience to younger players who are struggling with their own spells on the side-line.
“I suppose it’s part and parcel with being a footballer, you aren’t going to get many players who can go through their career without having injuries. It does test you, not only physically, but mentally as well, when every season you’re out for three or four months you do think why me. It is tough, and it takes a strong person to come back from long term injury. The people around you, the staff, players and your family, help, but I can’t say it’s easy.”
“A lot of the time when you get injured you feel isolated, like you’re not part of the team. Whenever I’ve been at clubs and boys have picked up injuries the first thing I’ll do is go and sit in the physio’s room with them for 15/20 minutes in the morning, try and have a laugh with them and make sure they’re feeling all right, and then keep in touch with them and make sure they’re staying positive.”
“One of the things we need to look after is players mental health and that’s the kind of thing that can affect that. If they’re sitting there on their own while everyone else is out doing what they love and they can’t, it can impact you.”
After leaving The Saints it was Dundee United for Tam. During his two seasons with The Arabs he spent time at Partick Thistle and Brechin City before leaving United at the end of his contract. Last summer, without a club, Tam found himself contemplating retirement, but the project being undertaken at Kelty Hearts was enough to persuade him to return to the playing side of things.
“I’d left United and thought I had something in the pipeline, but it fell through, and because I’d held out on it for so long there didn’t seem to be much there. I contemplated retirement in the summer to do some coaching, but my agent phoned telling me Barry Ferguson wanted to speak to me. He was really honest about what they want to do at Kelty, the ambition of the club, and said they wanted me to be part of it.”
“I’m delighted that I made the move here. At the club there’s some right good players, who could easily go and play at a higher level, but they’re at Kelty because they believe the manager, the staff and the owner all have ambitions for bigger and better for the club.”
Scottish football was rocked in 2016 with the death of Chris Mitchell. The former Falkirk, Bradford and Queen of the South player took his own life after struggling with depression and anxiety. In Chris’ memory the Chris Mitchell Foundation was established by Chris’ family to raise awareness around mental health and wellbeing in Scottish professional football.
As a close friend of Chris’ from their time together at Falkirk, Tam has been a dedicated supported of the Foundation since its inception.
“I knew Mitch from when we were young kids growing up. It was a shot to the heart when I heard the news about what happened. His anniversary’s just past, it’s something we’ll always remember. What I must say is he’s got one of the strongest families I’ve ever met, they’ve been absolutely brilliant. It’s great to be a part of the charity and support them in whatever way I can.”
“They’re doing some great work for football players in specific, like I already touched on the mental side of football can be difficult, I don’t think people realise the pressures that players are under; you can be at the top of the mountain one week and the bottom of the earth the next again week. It’s a really tough environment to be involved in and there’s times when you do question yourself, and unfortunately for Mitch he didn’t see another way out.”
“Through his family they’re making sure there’s an opportunity for players to come and speak, to show them there is another way out. If the charity they’ve set up in Chris’ name can save one players life, then Mitch’s name will never be forgotten, and his charity will have done its job. It’s amazing stuff and any way I can support it I will, any time they ask me to do anything I’ll step up and do whatever I need to help out, because Chris was a big part of my life, and he always will be.”