Former Bairn Ian Westwater picks the best Falkirk team from his time at the Club…
Manager: Jim Jefferies
Jim was my only manager during my time with the club, but was a great manager. I knew Jim from my time at Hearts, one of the two quirks of my career is that I’m 99.9% certain I’m still the youngest keeper for any team in the Premier League. I made my debut for Hearts on the 1st November 1980 at the ripe old age of 16, Jim was the captain of Hearts at the time, so he knew of me since then.
Gordon Marshall had left to sign for Celtic and he’s a good friend of mine, whether he put a word in or not I don’t know but Ian Munro was making changes to Jim Leishman’s Dunfermline side and preferred to play Andy Rhodes at the time. Jim was aware of that and the Thursday before the season started he got in touch with me and pointed out Falkirk only had 2 young keepers on the books, so I’d be almost guaranteed games, so I signed up. I was the regular keeper to begin with, then had a few niggly injuries but over the piece and, the first 18 months especially, I really enjoyed my time with the club.
A few years later I was part of an unusual outbound deal, with Neil Duffy and myself joining Dundee and Jamie McGowan and Dragutin Ristic arriving from Dens. Jim Duffy, the Dundee Manager said we’ll do the four way swap and that will suit everyone, however he knew Dunfermline were interested and he wouldn’t stand in my way. So I had a short time there, mentoring younger keepers Paul Mathers and Michel Pageaud, but then sure enough a few months later Dunfermline came in for me and I had a really enjoyable second time there too.
‘Were you concerned about the rivalry between the teams?’
As a player you’re less concerned about the rivalries because at the end of the day you just want to play. What I didn’t quite know was how strong the rivalry was until you cross the line, not once, but twice!
One interesting thing about my time at Brockville was that I knew Gordon Marshall was highly rated and as a result I felt it may take a long time to win over fans after he left, especially given my connection over the water. I ended up winning various fans POTY awards in my first year though, so must’ve been doing something right. I thought I did equally as well the following season and yet it seemed some people were perhaps hyper-critical of my performances during my second year, when you’d have thought it would be the opposite way around.
I had a successful time at the club, the three years I was there the squad was strong, we were at Premier level or near the top of the First Division. It was a good squad and the camaraderie was fantastic, in fact it was a great dressing room. My time at East End Park was a strong dressing room too, I wasn’t sure if I would get that elsewhere, but at Brockville it was equally as strong, no doubt.
Goalkeeper: Ian Westwater (1991-94, 81 appearances)
It was a choice between me and Tony Parks and I’m picking myself. Was I the world’s best goalie? No. I was the most honest though.
My old man was a goalie too, I played when there was no coaches and my Dad (who played for Queen of the South and Arbroath) was both my coach and critic at the same time. He always said ‘be the first to admit a mistake or admit you could’ve done better’. One game that sticks in my memory is a game at Ibrox, we scored in the first minute before Mo Johnston scored with eight minutes to go to level things up. It fell to him from a free kick and he lost his balance, fell and sclaffed it and I came in after the game and said I should’ve done better only for Billy Brown to burst out laughing and say ‘it would’ve been 10-1 without you today and that’s one of the best performances we’ve seen in the sticks’!
The other quirk of my career is that I played for 20 years between 1980-2000, home and away against every club in Scotland and beat them all both home and away, with the exception of Rangers. Although we drew with them numerous times.
Right-back: David Weir (1992-96, 151 appearances, 9 goals)
Very simply put I was very lucky in my time at Falkirk. Right-back was always a strong position. We had David Weir, Neil Oliver and Neil Duffy, all strong players. Davie was a bit of class when he arrived, but a lot of people don’t realise he was actually a striker initially and was the leading scorer in US Collegiate football when he came to Falkirk. JJ converted him to a centre-half and then ultimately right-back simply because of who was available in the middle of defence. I knew he would go to bigger and better things and he’s a lovely fellow too.
Left-back: Tommy McQueen (148 appearances, 8 goals)
The only real alternatives were Chipper (Brian Rice) or Forbes Johnston. Tommy takes it though because he was so consistent and a great player. He was very experienced, had a great pedigree, was dependable, never panicked and as he was genuinely left-sided it gives the team a good balance. He could even chip in with a few penalties too!
Centre-half: John ‘Yogi’ Hughes (1990-95 & 2002-06, 253 appearances, 14 goals)
Yogi was a stick on, he’d run through a brick wall for you! A true leader.
He was a player who I felt was always underestimated, people remember him as a solid defender but often forget just how good he was too, he could certainly play a bit and was a great all-round defender. Although, the lads in the dressing-room would wind him up and tell him he overrated himself in training! Yogi was a leader of men and a genuine winner, someone that you would always rather have with you than against you.
Centre-half: Joe McLaughlin (1992-96, 103 appearances, 6 goals)
Big Joe was a classy centre-half. A silky player. He was perhaps less dominant than Yogi (who wasn’t!), but was an excellent reader of the game and had a great presence. He had played with Chelsea and you could see the composure he always had, never flustered. There were various other names in the frame here such as Brian Whittaker and Peter Godfrey, Crawford Baptie and Neil Duffy, ultimately though it’s an easy decision but given the calibre of the other names pushing for the places it shows how good they were.
Central midfield: Paul Smith (1991-93, 60 appearances, 4 goals)
‘Smudge’ is my first central midfielder, although he was originally a striker. He did well at other clubs too, he was fantastic at Raith and Motherwell. Midway through his career he dropped back to central midfield and occasionally managers put him wide too. He had a great engine, he said himself he was one paced but was a very experienced pro, who knew the game inside out. He dropped into holes to balance Crunchie’s runs, I played with him at both teams so know him well. I’m picking him over Eddie May so that shows how high my opinion of him was.
Right wing: Kevin ‘Crunchie’ McAllister (1983-85, 1988, 1991-93 & 1997-2002, 355 appearances, 60 goals)
The legend. ‘Crunchie’ picks himself. In my period at the football club he was a stalwart to the side in terms of both goals and assists. A true local lad and fans favourite. He usually played wide right, occasionally wide left if Jim was trying to mix things up a bit, but again for me he added a bit of difference compared to Scott Sloan, who mainly tried to use his pace. Crunchie had so many tricks up his sleeve that he could give defenders nightmares.
Central midfield: Brian ‘Chipper’ Rice (1991-96, 120 appearances, 10 goals)
My left-sided central midfielder is Brian Rice. He was one of these guys that until you played with him that you didn’t realise just how good he was. A really classy and silky player, with a fantastic range of passing. Rarely wasted a pass and adds a touch of class to midfield. He was one of Clough’s favourites at Nottingham Forest, Clough always said he’d be in his 12/13. He wasn’t quite as quick as some other midfielders in the squads but he knew the game inside and out. His game management and man management were second to none. He had a wand of a left foot and was a truly gifted passer.
Striker: Kevin Drinkell (1992-94, 67 appearances, 17 goals)
You don’t have the career Kevin had without being a good player. He was a class act. Again, he was the first to admit that he wasn’t the quickest, nor was he someone that would run like crazy like Sammy would. However, he had great game awareness, was an assured finisher and knew where the net was. Some people may think you wouldn’t have Simon and Drinks in one team but he was class and had a terrific pedigree. So despite being up against Sammy McGivern, Crawford Baptie and Richard Cadette he is the one I’m opting for.
Striker: Simon Stainrod (1990-92, 64 appearances, 21 goals)
The enigma that is Simon Stainrod. I had heard a lot about him, but had the question…’what will we get out of him?’. It soon became obvious both in game situations and on the training pitch that he did things that others simply couldn’t do. In the back of his mind you always knew he had things in his locker that no one could predict. He was a player who had a bit of spark about him and who could make a bit of difference to a game. You’d always have him in your team.
Ian McCall (1992-95, 88 appearances, 10 goals)
I could almost have two teams due to the number of good players during my time at Falkirk. Ian was exciting to watch, a winner and he did things a bit different. I really hate to use the word as I’m not trying to compare them at all, but he had a bit of the ‘Maradona’ about the way he played. A low centre of gravity, plus fantastic skill levels. He was a good man manager and game manager and you could always see him going into management. He gives a good balance to the team and along with Paul and Brian will balance the midfield nicely.
Neil Oliver (1991-99, 209 appearances, 4 goals)
I’m very serious when I say he was one of the most underrated players I played with at Falkirk. Always gave you 100% and never let you down. His biggest problem was purely self-confidence. He didn’t seem to realise the qualities he had, perhaps because of big personalities (Yogi, Ian, Simon), but was a terrific player.
Neil Duffy (1990-94, 146 appearances, 23 goals)
Similar attributes to Neil, very versatile. He played right-back, centre-half, central midfield and you always knew what you would get. JJ recognised that too. The only downside was he suffered from his great versatility, sometimes people never knew which position was his best, although the flip side to that is he was able to get in teams because he was adaptable where others couldn’t. Good honest player and like Neil Oliver was an excellent pro.
Eddie May (1990-95 & 2002-04, 184 appearances, 38 goals)
Like Neil Duffy, Eddie also suffered due to versatility, he was effective in numerous positions, but which was his best… wide? Full-back? Central midfield? Number 10? He was adept at them all and was a great player, so consistent too. It’s purely down to formation that he’s not in the starting XI.
Scott Sloan (1991-94, 75 appearances, 17 goals)
People thought he was a one-trick pony who had speed only. He had as much pace as I’ve ever seen on a football pitch, though maybe wasn’t as versatile and couldn’t mix it up as much as others, so couldn’t get in the team. His game time was often determined by formation and the big issue he had was he was so quick that often strikers couldn’t get into the box quickly enough for him.
Sam McGivern (1986-93, 153 appearances, 37 goals)
Sammy is very unlucky not to get in the team. He would perhaps be a better foil for either of the strikers, but individually the others were great. I first met him when we won the European Championships in 1982 in Finland at the age of 16/17 years old and have known him since. Without doubt he is pound for pound the best player in the air that you’ll have in your team and a great guy to have around the team too.