For this week’s feature interview, we spoke to God himself! Simon Stainrod discussed his time at Falkirk, years that were some of the legend’s favourite seasons as a footballer, despite a glittering career elsewhere.
With a career spent at the top level of English football followed by two years in France, Brockville Park and the Scottish Second tier seemed an unlikely destination for the talented forward, but an unfortunate end to his time playing in France saw him return to the UK with Falkirk.
“That’s a good place to start, because it wasn’t on my list of things to do! I was playing in France for a team called Rouen and we’d just failed to get promotion to the top league in the playoffs. Before the playoffs I had gone on strike because they hadn’t paid the players in three months. I had a three-year contract with them, so I ended up having to go to court to get some of the money they owed me.”
“I had a choice, two teams beginning with F, one was Falkirk the other one was Fenerbahçe! My wife didn’t fancy going to live in Turkey, so I went over to Scotland to have initial talks and a look around. We played at Brockville when I was at QPR, we had a pre-season tour of Scotland, probably eight or nine years before. When I walked in the dressing room, I remember there being a big hole in the roof, and it was still there after all those years! I remember thinking, oh yeah, this is alright!”
“There were a couple of people in the dressing room, one of them was the captain, who at the time was Stuart Burgess. He was like a man mountain; I was the only person at the club who could pick him up! I couldn’t tell a word that they were saying, I couldn’t speak Scottish yet.”
Both the club and the player were convinced the move should go ahead after a six a side tournament in Musselburgh saw him blow away Premier League opposition.
“I was asked to play for Falkirk in a six a side competition, there was Hibs, Hearts, Dundee United, teams like that. We played them, in the competition there was two leagues, then a semi-final and a final, with the games about ten/fifteen minutes long. It sounds a bit big headed, but I can remember playing and thinking that it was a bit easy! I actually thought I was playing against the youth teams, but it was the first teams! I won the man of the tournament and Falkirk asked me to sign straight afterwards.”
Signing Simon was a risk for Falkirk, despite his reputation, so an odd deal was agreed that ended up costing the club well more than intended!
“The contract was a pound a week, that’s what I played for, then I got £1,000 appearance money, plus a goal bonus and a bonus for going up. I ended up costing them quite a lot of money in the end, I made about five times as much as the highest paid player at the club so that was alright!”
“You could say they hedged their bets, I got injured at the start of the season, when I did my hamstring. I thought this is good, a pound a week, I think we lost the first three games as well.”
“My first game was against Brechin away and we beat them, but it wasn’t easy. I played with neoprene shorts under my kit to try and keep my hamstring safe, I ended up playing with them all season. I probably played that entire season with a dodgy hamstring, so when anyone says, ‘he was alright, but he was slow’, there was a reason for it!”
Falkirk under Jim Jeffries were an extremely close-knit group with all sorts of unique characters, a setup which suited the Englishman perfectly.
“I really enjoyed the camaraderie between the lads, they were the best set of lads I ever played with. They had a right laugh; they all had a really wicked sense of humour. There were a couple of mad ones in there like Stephen Cody, who was completely bonkers, and of course John Hughes as well who was just off the level! There were no limits and we used to have a lot of fun, if we used to go away anywhere, I don’t think we got invited back, it was like The Who on tour!”
“We were serious about matches and training, and we had a really good manager, I can’t tell you how good the manager was. He turned up there as a new manager and he didn’t have much of a team. He kept all the right ones and he brought in some really good players.”
“I always remember Crawford Baptie played part time, but he was the best athlete we had at the club. He was the fittest, could run all day, he was quick for a big fella. He used to train two nights a week after work, sometimes Jim Jeffries would try and get him a day off so he could come and train with us! In pre-season he left everybody for dead. He could play left wing, right wing, centre forward, centre half, right back, left back, the only place I never saw him play is goalkeeper!”
“There wasn’t a player in the team that didn’t have a bit of a strange personality or something weird going on. It was like team of oddballs that were really good at football. I watched a clip the other day of a game against Hamilton, I did a bit of showing off putting my knee on the ball, flicking it over someone’s head, then backheeled it to somebody. The goals in that game were fantastic, it was like watching Man City! it was all pass and move, overlap, playing out from the back, it was very good football.”
In Simon’s first season at the club Falkirk came first in the 1990-91 Scottish First Division. The year had many memorable highlights, and The Bairns talismanic striker went through some of his favourite fixtures from that campaign.
“There was a lot of games I really enjoyed. My favourite game that season, even though I didn’t score in it, was Raith Rovers at home when we won 7-1. They had a full back playing and I owned him! I kept going over to play against him because he was useless. Falkirk winning 7-1 was a bit unheard of and it was one of my first games there.”
“Another on was against Partick Thistle. It was a tough game; we were losing 3-2 with a few minutes to go and ended up winning 4-3. It was in the cup and it was quite a big crowd, it was a nasty night, pouring down and freezing cold, like it often is in Scotland!”
“They had a fella playing against me that tried to kick me all over the park, but I could have played with him on my back, he was too little to knock me about! I took the mickey out of him on the halfway line; I stopped the ball and he was trying to get it, but I was just arming him off. He’d just had enough, I think I megged him twice, and he cracked. He slapped me round the head and got sent off, I remember waving to him as he was going off!”
“The week before we won the league against Ayr, it was a good atmosphere, we really needed to win that game. It was a really good goal I scored, the chip, but the best one was Sammy’s where I clipped it in with the outside of my right foot.”
“I didn’t have to do that, but you’re either like that or you’re not. It’s not something I would’ve done at Falkirk and not at QPR or Villa, it’s just the way you are I think, if you’re a bit of a show-off! To be honest, it was the right ball to hit as well. Sammy was coming across the near post and if I did hit it with my left it would probably be a second later and too late.”
“The game against Meadowbank was a bit stressful but at the end of it, when we’d won the cup, it was brilliant. We had the karaoke and everything in the dressing room at the club straight after the game! The fans were on the pitch, it was mayhem. When we got the trophy, instead of just getting it and taking it round I just got on the table and showed it to the fans. I didn’t do it by design, like a lot of things at Falkirk it was just natural. It’s like that game at Hamilton when I put my knee on the ball, I didn’t go out on the pitch thinking about it, it just came into my head in that moment.”
During that season Falkirk had an excellent partnership of Simon and fellow Falkirk hero Sammy McGivern.
“Well somebody had to run about! I don’t know what it would be like if you had two like him! I enjoyed playing with Sammy, he was a good player and he understands the game. He didn’t just make daft runs, he worked hard and got into good positions to score.”
“He was a good finisher, not a great finisher, but a really brave finisher. If he had a one on one with the goalie I’d say it’s 50/50, whereas if you clip a ball into the near post and he’s got to get across a centre half I’d give him an 80% chance of getting there. If someone’s going to boot him in the head, I’d probably increase it to 85%!”
God’s second and final season with The Bairns was played in the Scottish Premier League, with possibly the greatest result that year coming in a brilliant 4-3 win over Celtic, in which Simon scored a sensational diving header to win it.
“We beat Celtic 4-3 and I scored the winner, a diving header. It was a cross from the left wing by Crawford Baptie with his left foot, that was one of my favourite goals. I’ve got a picture of that, it looks like I’ve just headered it, from behind the goals.”
Falkirk’s star player scored one of the most spectacular goals in Scottish Football history when he netted from the halfway line, straight from kick off, in a game against St Johnstone.
“Obviously scoring from the halfway line is a special one. I meant it, it went in like a missile right before half time and, when we came in, we couldn’t stop laughing, we just couldn’t believe it.”
“I’d noticed during the game the keeper tended to come out a little bit too far, he looked like he wanted to come and play out. I thought to myself if I get a chance I’m not going to look, I’m just going to clip one in from anywhere.”
“We were winning 2-0 and the referee gave a penalty that I thought was never a penalty. I lost the rag and was arguing with the ref coming back all the way to the halfway line. Kevin McAllister was there with the ball and I said ‘Kevin, just touch it’. So, he touched it, bang, 3-1, see you later.”
After the 1991/92 season Simon departed Falkirk for another club in navy blue, making the switch to Dundee.
“I think Jim Jeffries wanted to change things around and put a more steady team together, rather than having a maverick. I don’t think he thought he could count on me quite as much in the Premier League as he could in the division below. He was probably right; I wasn’t getting any younger!”
With a nickname like God, it’s clear Simon’s impact on the Falkirk fans is almost unmatched, but the Sheffield native revels in his role as club legend.
“I get on with the ones that call me God very well! Every now and again I’ll go onto the supporters Facebook group and post, sometimes I’ve done it and I’ve got like 3,000 replies! It’s crazy, to get that thirty year later! It’s mad how appreciative they are of me, it’s not been a disappointment being at Falkirk, let me tell you!”
“I’ve been back a couple of times, when we got into the Cup Final in 2009, I brought my son up. He just loved it, he was eight at the time and he had the best time ever. It was a great little bonding session taking him to Falkirk and him seeing the effect I managed to have on people.”
“We were walking down the street and couldn’t go past somebody without them saying either God or Mr Stainrod!”
“I’ve played in some big teams in my career, but Falkirk was far and away the most fun, and I loved every minute of it, the people were great.”
God finished by talking about the player he had most difficulty against while in Scotland, a question answered in typical Simon Stainrod style!
“The toughest player I played against in Scottish football wasn’t when I was in Scotland myself, it was a preseason friendly for Aston Villa against Celtic, and it was Roy Aitken. He was big, strong, quick, dirty and intelligent, he was a good player. Scotland started two weeks early, so he had two weeks of training on me, and he kicked me all over the field, I couldn’t get a kick!”
“When I played in Scotland, who was the most difficult to play against? Nobody!”