We spoke to former Bairn Roddy Manley as he looked back on a career that saw him spend five years at Falkirk alongside spells at St Mirren, Instant-Dict of Hong Kong, and Dundee.
Roddy joined The Bairns as a 19-year-old and quickly became an important player at Brockville.
“I joined Falkirk in 1984 under Billy Lamont, I went there from Knightswood Juveniles. It was funny because I had a few trials, got one with Falkirk, and when I was made an offer to sign with Falkirk, I also got an offer from St Mirren, and I later ended up at St Mirren!”
“I got in the first team pretty quickly, which was great. Billy was a fantastic manager to play under, quite a disciplinarian, but for me that worked, and I had a lot of respect for the man.”
“At that time big Brian Irvine was playing at centre-back, but there was a lot of talk of him moving on. Brian went down to York for a trial but ended up coming back up and signing for Aberdeen if I remember right, so I got in the team.”
Roddy played for The Bairns in the 1985/86 season where Falkirk gained promotion to the Premier Division. He reflected on the final game of the season that saw a dramatic game against East Fife.
“I remember we played East Fife at home. As much as I played at the back at centre-half or sweeper, Billy liked to use me to man mark quite a lot. He used to do it against Celtic all the time and I had to mark Brian McClair and stuff. This day he asked me to be tight with Stevie Kirk, Stevie was a decent player and I always remember feeling like I didn’t play that well, there was a few times he nearly scored.”
“At the end of the game, even though we got the result, I couldn’t go back out like the fans wanted, I was distraught, I thought I was rubbish! Billy came in to speak to me, just the two of us, and he made it clear all the good things I’d done and put me straight!”
“I was still quite young, and it was a new experience for me, going from juvenile football into professional football and getting promoted and all that. It was fantastic, it was absolutely brilliant! I got on well with the fans and the joy you saw from them was amazing. It set us off into the Premier League, that was us up and playing with the big boys!”
Falkirk were promoted to an extremely competitive Scottish Premier Division, a challenge the youngster relished.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was something that I always looked forward to, when we started playing your Rangers and your Celtics and all these guys. I’ve still got some old videos and stuff of some of the games that I show my kids and they can’t believe my hair was that long!”
“Every time we played Celtic, I was always man marking Brian McClair, and I always did alright. I had to mark him tight, wherever he went I went. I’ve watched some of those games and think I’m away over there, now back over there, but that was what Billy wanted. I don’t think it works like that so much nowadays, but I loved it, I loved the challenge.”
“It was just great to be out there playing professional football. I got paid peanuts, but it didn’t matter, I didn’t care about money. As you get older it’s different when you get responsibilities to think about, but as a young lad you’re signed as a professional and nothing else matters. I loved every game we played.”
One famous result from those years in the Premier Division was the victory over Celtic that ensured The Bairns safety in the 1986/87 campaign
“I always remember the day we managed to stay up when we beat Celtic at Parkhead. We beat them 2-1, it was just an amazing game. After the game myself and Sammy and a couple of other boys walked from Parkhead into the town, still with our blazers on! The number of cars with Celtic fans that stopped, there was no trouble, just congratulating you and all that, that was a great experience as well.”
“Nobody gave us an earthly chance that we would go to Celtic Park and get any kind of result, but to get all three points must have deflated Clydebank for sure.”
From a highlight to a lowlight, Roddy remembers a day to forget as he mistakenly found his own net twice in a thrashing by Dundee, but the reception of the Falkirk fans surprised the defender after the game.
“We played Dundee and it was frozen pitch stuff, it wasn’t boots it was training shoes you were wearing. We got beat six nothing and I scored two own goals. We actually missed a penalty and my dad said to me I should’ve taken the penalty and got my hat trick, that could have been a nice quiz question for somebody!”
“Big Gordon Marshall was in goals at the time, I kind of blamed him for him and he blamed me, they probably were my fault though to be honest! I always remember coming out after there were a lot of Falkirk fans there telling me not to worry about it and stuff, I was waiting on them to lynch me!”
A terrific story from his time at Falkirk involves some of the most famous names in football history pulling on the navy blue alongside Roddy and his teammates!
“Andy Nicol was a great right back and a great story I always remember is at his testimonial when we played Hearts. When I signed with Falkirk, we were part time, I was probably the third player to go full time, but this was while I was serving my time as a plumber at Yarrows. I was working before the game, so I turned up in my gear to play Hearts and I was sat in the dressing room with Graeme Souness, Tommy Burns and Kenny Dalglish, they all played in our team!”
“It was so funny, we had a metal tin for any valuables, and I was sitting there with thirty bob in my pocket, flanked by Dalglish and Souness! They started joking with Dalgleish, he was manager at Liverpool at the time, saying you must be loaded and all that, and he made this joke about how he doesn’t count it anymore, he weighs it! I’m sitting there thinking with no idea what he was talking about! It was so funny when I think back.”
“That game we beat Hearts 4-2 and what sticks out is playing with Souness and Dalglish and them coming and talking to you and taking the ball off you. That was fantastic, a really good memory.”
Roddy played at Brockville alongside many other Falkirk greats and he loved the old stadium when he played for The Bairns.
“Oh my God! It was amazing! I loved it, I loved the before a game because you felt like the fans were right on top of you. It was fantastic, you could talk to them from the side of the park or when you were doing your warm up. I thought it was an amazing place to play.”
“I always remember when I signed there, and I was sitting in the old wooden stand thinking this isn’t great up here! But when you start to play and getting involved with the fans it was incredible.”
“There was a game that we played against Celtic, we lost it in the last couple of minutes, Mo Johnstone scored, and we lost 0-1. I show my kids that and you see the fans round the side of the pitch, you wouldn’t get away with that nowadays, it was mobbed! It was great to have a full house at Brockville and I loved playing there. “
“There were a lot of great games, I remember some fantastic night matches against Rangers and Aberdeen and the like. I think we were a match for most teams at Brockville, probably because of the size of the pitch, we used to sometimes bring the pitch in a bit to make it that bit more of a battle. Fergie was the manager at Aberdeen in the early days, great memories and great games.”
After nearly 200 games for The Bairns Roddy moved to St Mirren for a fee of £250,000, a club record at the time.
“I think it sits at third or fourth highest now, but it was at the time. A lot of people don’t remember that as part of that deal was there was a player involved as well, so it was me to St Mirren and a player plus 250 grand to Falkirk.”
“It nearly didn’t happen because I was supposed to be going down to Leicester. They wanted me down for a week, but Jim Duffy thought they’d be better just signing me and said I should talk to St Mirren.”
“I wasn’t looking to speak to anyone at that time. I was thoroughly enjoying my football and everything about Falkirk. Even so I wouldn’t say I was forced into it, there was a bit of money in it, and I said I’d go and speak to them. Next thing I knew I was signed for St Mirren!”
“It didn’t work for me at St Mirren, it just wasn’t for me. They spent a lot of money on me, but it just didn’t work out. I still look back to all my time in football and reckon my best time, and certainly the most enjoyable time, was at Falkirk.”
While playing for St Mirren Roddy became seriously unwell after an operation, a situation which threatened far more than his football career.
“I had a wee cyst that grew onto the side of my knee and it grew onto my cartilage, so I went for an operation to get it taken out. I caught an infection, which was horrendous. I managed to get back but by that time they had cleared out every bit of cartilage from my knee, it was just bone.”
“At the time it was really scary. It was supposed to be just a case of getting this cyst taken off and next thing I’ve got this infection in a hospital room for about 30 odd days. Every day was taking bloods and getting poison out my knee, they just couldn’t sort it. I only remember little bits of it, but my wife told me that they got someone in to do my last rites, that’s how bad it was.”
After struggling to come back from the massive trauma his body had been through the Glasgow native moved from Paisley to far more unfamiliar territory in Hong Kong side Instant-Dict.
“I couldn’t train every day and was coming to the end of my deal with St Mirren. They tried to sell me to Preston, and I went down, but I didn’t fancy it. I got a deal to go to Hong Kong and though ‘right, I’m going to go for that!’ and I had two years there.”
“It was good, I played for their national team, played for the league select team, and I got to travel around the world. It got me thinking I could still play again, but when I got home, I realised my knee wasn’t up for it anymore and my days were numbered.”
After a successful few years in the Far East Roddy decided on another try at Scottish football, re-joining former Bairns boss Jim Duffy at Dundee.
“When I got back it was great to get to the League Cup Final in 1996 with Dundee. I had one season there, Jim Duffy phoned me when I was Hong Kong asking if I wanted to go back and I thought I’d go for it, forgetting why I was out there in the first place!”
“I could only train a couple of times a week because my knee kept blowing up like a balloon, but we did well. We got ourselves up there, I always remember the Dundee derbies, then we got to the cup final as well where we really should have won that game against Aberdeen.”
Since an exit from football perhaps more hurried than he would’ve liked Roddy has been extremely successful in the world of business and shown talent in far more than just football!
“There’s been lots of stuff that I’ve been involved with! I’ve been in recruitment for years; I’ve done really well with my recruitment company. I’ve got a company Spohrt which is actually a training company where I work with businesses and put kids into apprenticeships which has really taken off now. I try to get involved in the football side of it, there’s a Scottish football apprenticeship that runs now but I’d love to get into that, because I think I could offer more that there currently is offered there.”
“I was in transport with Tom McQueen who was a former Falkirk player as well, so there’s a lot! I’ve done alright and I’ve worked hard. It’s one of those things with footballers where you come to the end of your career and all of a sudden you don’t know anybody, because no one wants to know you then!”
I’ve got all that experience so I try to pass it on to a lot of younger players and people in any walk of life, how things can change and what you need to do. Let’s be honest, a lot of young players all they know is football, but it’s important to know what else they can do and that’s what I want get across to players.”
Roddy’s time at Falkirk was a big part of his career and to this day he has a lot of time for the club.
“I’m very close to Sammy and when we talk about football we always go back to Falkirk; we always talk about Falkirk and it was all great memories. I love the club, and everybody involved with it, and it was most definitely my best time involved with football.”