WILLIE WHIGHAM – LEGEND
Falkirk fans of a certain vintage will remember collecting bubble-gum cards in their youth and in particular certain sets of Scottish Footballers produced by A &BC Chewing Gum. It was a rarity for Scottish Football to be given its own sets and Falkirk players featured regularly. Early 1960s sets included players from the club like Tommy Lowrie (sic), Hugh Maxwell, Sammy Wilson, Willie Fulton, Alan Redpath and John Lambie. Some were head and shoulders shots, while others were action shots which were obviously posed for the photographer. The production company was not too clued up about Scottish Football and spelling errors were not unknown. The set from 1964/65 contained some familiar names including past, present and future Bairns. Buck McCarry, Jim Richmond and Jimmy Harrower all appeared as St.Johnstone players, while Sammy Reid was in Clyde’s colours. In those days, ‘Shire players featured too- including winger Willie McIntosh and keeper John Arrol.
A previous set had included William Wigham(sic), and the error was quickly corrected for the following season, when his card was labelled William Whigham. Willie’s first card featured a hairstyle ahead of its time with spikey greased hair. The second one, No 66 in the series, was a staged save, diving towards the camera. Willie was a great favourite at Brockville and should have earned some kind of Scotland honours.
Older fans bemoan the lack of “characters” in the modern game and Willie was certainly one of the players who is still fondly remembered, both at Falkirk and Middlesbrough, both for his prowess as a goalkeeper- and as a memorable character.
Willie was an Airdrieonian, born in the town in October 1939, and he came to Brockville from Shotts Bon Accord in 1960. It was his second attempt at breaking through into Senior football and he had played one game for Albion Rovers previously. Falkirk had been experiencing major problems finding a reliable and consistent keeper during the disastrous Tommy Younger season, and they had fielded no fewer than thirteen players in the position, one of them allegedly with the major handicap of only having one functioning eye. Willie didn’t look the part when he arrived- tall, lanky and with a Teddy Boy hairstyle. His off the park dress code might best be described as “unique”, but there was no denying his ability between the posts. He worked as a motor mechanic, and quite often arrived at Brockville covered in grease and oil. His trademark white string vest and white scarf were often commented on by team-mates. Game after game, Willie saved Falkirk from real hammerings and he brought off many saves that will be remembered by all who saw them. He was playing in a struggling team He made his Falkirk league debut on September 7th at Links Park and Falkirk won 3-2. Willie kept eight clean sheets that season and only missed nine of the 36 league games as Falkirk were finally promoted back to Division One. He continued to impress on the return to the top-flight and quickly gained a reputation for being one of the best keepers in the league.
There were rumours that he was about to be selected for a Scottish League International match, but that never happened. Various theories have been put forward for his omission, some of them hilarious- but unsubstantiated. His Falkirk career had several highlights, including a five-star display at Parkhead, where he was cheered off by the home fans after an amazing series of saves. His last game as a Bairn came at Brockville on October 1st, 1966 when Falkirk beat Ayr United 5-3. He moved to Ayresome Park Middlesbrough that month for a reported fee of £10,000 plus former Dunfermline and Scotland keeper Eddie Connachan. Willie’s first game for Boro’ was a game at Vicarage Road against Watford which ended in a 2-0 defeat. He soon became a firm favourite with Boro’ fans and, as at Falkirk, many legendary tales emerged. Many of his saves were applauded by both sets of fans, including one at Ayresome Park when he tipped a shot over the bar with what the papers described as “a backward coil”. Again, many stories are unsubstantiated, but there several eye-witness accounts of him accepting a puff on a cigarette offered to him by a supporter as he was preparing to collect the ball for a goal kick. In total, he turned out in 210 games for Middlesbrough, leaving in August 1974 and then returned to Scotland for a brief spell at Boghead, where he played 7 games for Dumbarton. His last port of call was Darlington, as he renewed acquaintance with the North-East of England and played four games in season 1974/75.
He had been a big favourite at Ayresome Park and was a member of their promotion-winning side of 1966/67, known as The Ayresome Angels. Willie was greeted at a team reunion with a rendition of his special song which rang out from the terraces, “We’ve got Willie. Willie, Willie, Willie Whigham in our goal.”
The Brockville tannoy always seem to start the Falkirk team announcements with Whigham, Lambie and Hunter- and the idiosyncratic keeper was a great favourite of the crowd. Tales of him turning up with an oil-stained vest under his jacket, after working on the Saturday morning, have since been confirmed. One of my own favourite Willie Whigham stories is of Falkirk fans squeezing into the 1066 pub after the game, only to find Willie sipping on his first pint of the day- and his hands covered in the Brockville mud. Legendary indeed. The best story, only partly confirmed, however relates to a Ne’erday game at Brockville when a team-mate had to fetch Willie from a New Year’s Eve party in Airdrie after scouring the neighbourhood for the errant keeper. Willie was soundly asleep in the back of the mini van when the Falkirk manager came up to the car and signalled that the game was off because of a frozen pitch. The team-mate smartly turned the car around and took Willie back to the same seat in the same house at the same party in Airdrie- and wrapped his hands round the same can of stale beer. To this day, Willie never knew what a lucky escape he had.
Gordon McFarlane had always been keen to do an interview for the matchday programme and finally traced Willie to his Airdrie home, sitting back as Willie regaled him with tale after tale from his career. Needless to say, Gordon was able to put his voice- recorder down as Willie kept him amused and enthralled with stories, some of which could not be printed in the programme. Willie appeared at the Millennium Dinner at the Inchyra Hotel and looked remarkably like the character we had seen back in the 60s. He still had a full head of hair and looked like he was at his usual weight. Those who had assumed he was no longer with us were delighted to see him again. He was a popular guest at the last game at Brockville against Inverness C.T. in 2003 and there were scores of older fans keen to shake his hand and show their appreciation for the many happy memories he had provided for them. The celebrations carried on well after the game and Willie held court in the Tropix bar in the High Street. When it was time to call a halt, Willie had no shortage of admirers willing to get him a taxi back to his house. The Falkirk fans refused to see Willie pay for the cab and he reluctantly accepted the kind offer. He had experienced similar reactions when he had attended the last ever game at Ayresome Park in 1996 and was given a great reception. Stories of his exploits will improve with the telling, but there is no doubt that he was a fine keeper- and quite a character.
WILLIE WHIGHAM FALKIRK CAREER
League Appearances 186
League Cup Appearances 34
Scottish Cup Appearances 10
Other Appearances 21
Total Appearances 251