It’s another blast form the past in this week’s feature interview as Bairns legend Crawford Baptie discussed his career and time with Falkirk.
Crawford started his career in the junior leagues and was spotted by chance when the then Bairns boss Billy Lamont saw him play.
“I was playing junior football with Cambuslang Rangers when I was 19, then from Cambuslang I went to Larkhall Thistle, then from there to Baillieston Juniors. I played in two Junior Cup finals with Baillieston, but we got beat in both, and then just at the start of 1984 Billy Lamont signed me for Falkirk.”
“Billy’s son Paul was actually playing with Baillieston and I think Billy came to watch him one day and noticed me and thought he would take a chance! I was a midfielder from my school days, so Billy definitely signed me as a right sided midfielder.”
Crawford immediately felt at home in a Falkirk dressing room full of larger than life personalities, and he enjoyed himself on the pitch in those early days as well.
“Billy just kind of dropped me in the dressing room saying, ‘this is Crawford Baptie, he’ll be playing today’ and just left me in there with the boys! Everybody started just coming up and saying hello, they were great. I settled into the team nicely and we started picking up points.”
“I couldn’t believe it when I first played. My first game for Falkirk was at Brockville against Hamilton Accies, and we won 6-4, It was a hell of a game we played. I managed to score on my debut, and I thought is this what professional football is like? Junior football was kind of rough and ready, you seemed to get a bit more time on the ball in the First Division! I settled in quite well. I was fit enough at the junior football, we were quite a fit team at Baillieston, so I just kind of arrived and that was me.”
“Some of the characters that were at Falkirk at the time, it was great. I was working in Glasgow and Peter Houston was the manager of a bar in Bellshill. For training he told me to head over to his work and we’d car share. There was me, Peter Houston, Jimmy Dempsey and we used to travel up together, they were brilliant times, really good.”
Crawford left Falkirk in 1987 as he was moved out to Motherwell, but the move did not work as intended and he was quite happy when the opportunity to return to Brockville presented itself.
“I was quite happy at Falkirk, but they did a swap deal for Rab Stewart with him going to Falkirk and me going to Motherwell. I never really settled at Motherwell and when Dave Clarke came in as Falkirk manager, he brought me back.”
“I was desperate to get away from Motherwell by the end. Tommy McLean had made it clear that I wouldn’t be in his team because I wouldn’t go full time and we just didn’t see eye to eye. I’d fallen out of favour and was playing with the reserves, so when I heard Falkirk had come in for me, I just thought it was fantastic and couldn’t wait to get back.”
With a reliable career as an Arnold Clarke manager, going full time was never really an option for Crawford. Despite the problems this had caused him at Motherwell the new management team of Jim Jeffries and Billy Brown were much more accommodating when The Bairns made their own switch to a full-time setup.
“When Jim Jeffries came in the club was going full time. I got on brilliantly with Jim and Billy Brown and they got me in and offered me full time terms, but I said no, I was 28 and a manager in a garage with a company car and all that.”
“He said it wasn’t a problem, and he arranged with Hamilton Accies so that I trained there two nights a week, Monday and Thursday. My mate was playing with Pollock Juniors, so I trained with them on a Wednesday, and so that was my training!”
“I would just turn up on a Saturday and Jim would tell me if I was playing and take me to the side to talk through set pieces and everything, because obviously that got done at the training ground on the Friday. They would explain what they wanted done and that was fine, it worked out great for the both of us.”
It’s clear Jim Jeffries rated the big man, something he puts down to his versatility and attitude to do whatever needed done.
“Jim knew my strengths and weaknesses, he knew he could have me on the bench and if things weren’t going well maybe throw me on up front, or just put me at the back if somebody got injured. I was a good utility player for Jim.”
“I always remember he phoned me one Thursday night before we were going to Celtic that Saturday asking how training was, and I thought right, I’m not playing! It turned out he said we didn’t have a right back, so he asked if I fancied playing there! What are you meant to say, no? I said of course, aye I’ll give it a try!”
“That’s what it was like, he knew he could ask me, and he knew I’d never say no. He asked me to play everywhere and I always said I’d give it 100% and see what happens!”
Across a career where he played in almost every position, from front to back, Crawford reckons he enjoyed his spells up front the most.
“Probably my favourite position is when he started putting me up front. I think the pressure was off of you; if you made a mistake up front you lost the ball, but there were ten guys behind you that could get it back, if you made a mistake at centre half it could be a goal.”
“I also quite enjoyed it when I got a few goals myself!”
Despite being a part time player, Crawford’s fitness was known to be at an extremely high level even compared to his full-time teammates and was even remarked upon by Simon Stainrod in last week’s feature.
“I knew I wasn’t the best player, so I had to make sure I was fit. As a part timer I was coming up against the likes of Mark Hateley; these guys are supremely fit with their dieticians and their training, you’ve got to be physically fit to match them. That’s why I did the extra training. I felt I was fit enough to play; it was just sometimes the skill I lacked!”
Falkirk achieved tremendous success under Jim Jeffries, and the First Division title he won with the club is one Crawford holds dear.
“The 1990/91 season was just fabulous. The players we brought in were tremendous, real quality football players, and it was just great to be involved at that time. “
“I played at the back for most of the season, then it came to the final game at Meadowbank and I think Sammy McGivern had an injury. Jim pulled me aside and said he wanted me to play up front, so that was me and we all know how it worked out! It was a fabulous day, then to look forward to going on to play in the Premier League, it’s just what you want.”
“That’s the only medal I’ve got from playing senior football, my Championship medal with Falkirk, it’s a prize possession.”
Despite The Bairns gaining promotion to an extremely tough Premier League there were some excellent results in those years.
“It was tough. Yes, we had a great team in the First Division, but you’re moving up another level. You can plan as much as you want, we’d always say we were going to do this or that and I’d go back into work on the Monday and all the Rangers and Celtic guys would say all we did is defend, I’d say that wasn’t what we planned to do! Every week you were looking forward to the game, but you were up against real quality players.”
“I think one of the best results we had was the 6-0 game against Hearts. When you look at the team they had, it was a really good side, but we just clicked that day. I don’t know what happened!”
“That was my first game back after I broke my ankle and was out for six months! He wanted me to go up front and see what happened. I think every one of our players was at the top of their game that day, we just annihilated Hearts!”
Crawford’s last season at the club as a player coincided with Falkirk’s relegation from the top tier after an injury struck campaign that went down to the wire.
“Unfortunately, we had to go to Motherwell and win there to stay up, which didn’t happen. That was really a bad time getting relegated from the Premier League. I remember I just felt for the supporters, if we’d only just beat Motherwell, but it wasn’t to be.”
“We brought Joe Mclaughlin in that season, and Joe was a cracking player, but that season Yogi got injured for a long while, I broke my ankle in the first game with the reserves after Joe arrived, and I think Joe was side-lined for a good while as well. I think we were the highest scoring team to get relegated, Jeffries always wanted to attack so we’d get beat 3-2 or 4-2, we just couldn’t get the wins. You had three centre halves out for months, so that didn’t help us, and I honestly think we’d have stayed up without those injuries.”
“Breaking my ankle, it was one of these things. I played in the reserves against Dundee, we went in for a 50/50 and unfortunately my ankle went, it wasn’t a bad tackle. It was disappointing because I was getting to 33/34, I didn’t know if it would maybe be my last season at Falkirk and I wanted it to be a really good one, and suddenly you’re out for six months with a broken ankle. I managed to get back for the last two games, but sadly we didn’t get the results we needed.”
Crawford departed Falkirk after nearly 250 appearances for the club in search of game time as he approached the end of his career, playing for several clubs as he again showed his fitness in playing till 40!
“As it turned out Jim did offer me a contract, but I had spoken to other clubs because I was due to be out of contract. Hamilton were keen to sign me, Ian Munro wanted me to be captain. Jim offered me a two year contract, said he wanted me, but the thing was Jim wanted me because I was a great squad player for him, I could sit on the bench and come on up front or in defence.”
“I was 34 and I wanted to play football, I didn’t want to just sit on the bench and maybe get a few games. Ian Munro was saying that if I was fit, I would play, so I signed a two year deal with Hamilton.”
“Although I regretted leaving Falkirk, it was probably the right decision. I was playing every week, and I played right up till I was 40. As a player all you want to do is play football, and the older I got I moved places that would get me a game.”
The Falkirk legend’s association with the club didn’t end with his football career as he left Arnold Clark after 20 years to become General Manager of The Bairns.
“I played a charity match at Falkirk and I was approached by someone saying that Falkirk were going to be advertising for a General Manager and asking if I would be interested. I spoke to the club and put a CV in and got an interview, then I got offered the job.”
“That was a big decision to make, sitting down with the wife, I had a secure job as an Arnold Clark manager. There was good talk around the place and the new directors that came in were running the club the way it should be, so I thought you can’t say no, you’ve got to give it a chance.”
“We went there, and it was tough, we had to make redundancies and that wasn’t nice but the club was haemorrhaging money. We started on commercial work and slowly but surely, we started to get more people in, and more people trusting us, and more people spending money and taking hospitality. The first dinner we ran after I came to the club, I think we made £2,000, the season I left we had the dinner at the Inchyra Grange; we made £30,000!”
“Martin Ritchie just said a few things, he just said I needed to decrease costs and increase revenue, simple! We made big strides, it was definitely a learning curve for me, but an enjoyable one.”
Crawford is still extremely fond of the club he spent nine years with, and the fans that hold him in such high regard.
“You always look for the results, you chat about it with guys like Sammy. There was a speaker’s night with a question and answer session with Kevin, myself and Sammy. That was a fabulous night! Catching up with Sammy and Kevin and having a few beers talking about the old times, and meeting loads of supporters at the dinner that I met through my time at Falkirk, it was great to come back for that.”
“I’ve got a Falkirk supporter that’s a good friend, he’s a season ticket holder. We’ve always kept in touch since I left and he always says to me ‘Crawford, you’ve got no idea how much you’re liked here’. At the end of the day I gave the club 100%, because that’s what you give, and if people like you for that then that’s fine with me!”