Football without crowds is nothing – as someone once said. Recent televised games played behind closed doors have served to emphasise that fact, and no amount of cardboard cut-outs, giant flags and banners, piped noise, artificial chanting or fans on TV screens behind the goals can make it a REAL game. You need the crowd to be there and a big crowd brings out the best in the players. Over the years, Falkirk fans have been lucky to see their team play in front of some big crowds – especially in the days before the all-seater stadia regulations came into being.
The accuracy of some of the attendances might be open to challenge, certainly in the days of turnstile entry, cash payments and the existence of certain ploys whereby admission was unchecked – and unregistered.
These include the infamous “Lift Me Over, Mister” pleas from small boys, the ever-increasing number of new (un-uniformed) recruits to the St Andrews Ambulance ranks, pipe and brass band followers, not to mention the various “inducements” to the turnstile operators to keep the foot down as a cohort squeezed through. An early example of Buy One Get One Free. Brockville crowds were always reported as being exactly to the thousand and those in the press box usually agreed on a figure and everyone stuck to it. There were no computers to check individual numbers.
For many, the 1957 Cup Final was the biggest crowd for a Falkirk match. Cynics were predicting a poor turn-out for a Final that featured two “provincial teams”, and especially after the announcement that the game would be televised live on BBC TV. The live transmission was conditional on 100,000 tickets being sold. The official attendance was 81,375 for the Saturday game. So where were the missing 18,625? Allegedly, the tickets had been bought up by the Falkirk chairman who made a shrewd investment as the TV income would be greater than the cost of the tickets. This probably explains the fact that several tickets were still available years later – absolutely intact with the counterfoils still there.
It was another Scottish Cup tie that saw a crowd of 80,000 at Ibrox for the Rangers and Falkirk in 1927. Falkirk had held Rangers to a 2-2 draw at Brockville in front of 20,233 (note the accuracy). Falkirk were unlucky not to win and were badly handicapped by an injury to left-half Ritchie. He was a virtual passenger on the left wing and Rangers equalised from a late penalty kick. Few gave Falkirk a chance in the replay on the Wednesday. Rangers were top of the league when the then record mid-week attendance was established and the two teams were evenly matched. Falkirk scored the only goal of the game through outside-right Mason with only eight minutes of extra time remaining, his swerving cross shot beat keeper Hamilton all ends up and Falkirk were through.
The 1957 replay wasn’t expected to draw a big crowd, given contemporary work-patterns, transport problems and the fact that the next day was a school day. The official attendance of 79,960 was amazing and the aftermath of that night will never be forgotten. Not many Falkirk fans actually saw John Prentice lift the cup as Hampden had no floodlights and it was almost dark when the game ended.
The next big attendance was for the 1927 Scottish Cup Semi-Final against Celtic at Ibrox. Falkirk took a great support through and the official estimated attendance was 73,000. Hopes were high, especially after beating Rangers on their own pitch, but a single goal in the 49th minute from McLean took Celtic through. Patsy Gallagher gave a tremendous display against his old team and showed much of his old trickery and ball control. Celtic were to go on and win the Cup, but Falkirk emerged with a lot of credit. Robert Thomson had been outstanding all season and the left-back was rewarded with a full Scottish cap in April 1927.
A crowd of 55,000 saw Falkirk beat Hearts 1-0 in the 1913 Scottish Cup semi-final at Ibrox. This was a remarkable attendance given that both teams were coming from the East of Glasgow and public transport was the only means of getting to the game on time. Falkirk’s foundries had started at 4.00am to allow a noon finish to enable supporters to get five special trains through to Glasgow. Falkirk were through to the Final for the first time in their history.
There are two more crowds of 50,000 plus and both were to end in disappointment for Falkirk supporters. The Scottish League Cup Final of 1948 saw The Bairns hopes dashed and older supporters still look back on this match and wonder how Falkirk had lost to a then Second Division team-East Fife. 52,781 were at the game at Hampden and saw a 0-0 draw. The warning signals were all there to see and East Fife won the replay 4-1 in front of a much smaller crowd of 30,664. East Fife were the better side and Falkirk were a pale shadow of the side that had shown such good league form.
The last of the big crowds was an attendance of 52,000 for a Scottish Cup Replay against Rangers at Ibrox in 1907/08 season. Falkirk were a strong side and 18,000 saw a closely fought 2-2 draw at Brockville. Rangers won the replay 4-1.
Falkirk’s appearances in the Cup Finals of 1997, 2009 and 2015 were obviously in the days of all-seater stadia and attracted crowds of 48,953 at Ibrox against Kilmarnock, 50,956 at Hampden for Rangers and again at Hampden, 37,149 for Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Brockville’s record attendance is given as 23,100 for a Scottish Cup 3rd Round tie on February 21st, 1953 against Celtic, but in all probability, the figure was much higher. Celtic had beaten Falkirk 3-2 at Brockville in December and the game was eagerly awaited. It was an all-ticket game and the Celtic Supporters Association were not happy at their ticket allocation, calling for a boycott. There was obviously a panic as the day of the match approached and there was no evidence of any boycott. It looked as though were at least 9,000 in the ground. It was the Watson Street End that had all the problems. Hundreds of special buses had been diverted by police to come in from Larbert and Bonnybridge and were all heading up Grahams Road. The pressure of the Celtic crowd pushing towards the gates was enormous and the large exit gate was forced open, allowing scores to get in without giving up their tickets. After reaching the top of the embankment, they threw their tickets to the supporters below, many of whom had come without a ticket for the game. Some younger fans scaled telegraph poles to get in. It was extremely dangerous, and many sensed it would be difficult for police to control the crowd gathered on the Watson Street terracing. Falkirk were leading 2-0, through goals from Weir and Campbell, before Charlie Tully pulled a goal back. After relentless pressure, Celtic equalised through Willie Fernie and the excitement proved too much for the Celtic fans. The crowd surged forward and eight or nine of the crush barriers collapsed. Spectators spilled on to the pitch and the game was halted. The area behind the goal was a mass of people trying to escape from the chaos. Some were clearly injured and in pain. Others collapsed to the ground. Police and ambulancemen gave emergency first aid and tried to restore order. Loudspeaker appeals went out for any doctors in the crown and gave an indication of just how serious the situation was becoming. Some 25 spectators were taken to the dressing-room areas and given attention for their injuries. The sound of ambulance bells ringing heralded the arrival of assistance from Falkirk Royal Infirmary. Six serious casualties were taken to the infirmary for treatment. Jimmy McGrory scored the winner for Celtic and this triggered another pitch invasion.
After the match, Brockville looked like a bombsite, with the cement supports of the crush barriers battered and broken. The metal barriers were buckled and twisted, and it was a miracle that there had not been more serious injuries. Brockville Park could easily have been added to the list of football tragedies.
The Falkirk Stadium has had a few big gates, especially as the new stands came into use. The temporary addition of a gazebo during the Premier League seasons all helped boost the capacity from the original. The present capacity is given as 7,937 and yet there WAS a five-figure attendance at Westfield – but not for a football match.
Over 115 years ago, on August 15th, 1904, two separate crowds of over 10,000 attended the biggest event seen in Falkirk. It wasn’t a football match, but the arrival in Falkirk of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World.
Early on the Sunday morning of August 14th. three special trains had pulled into Grahamston station carrying 800 performers and 500 animals. By the time the locals had gone out for their traditional Sunday stroll, a tented village had been erected between Westfield and Randyford Farms. The massive canvas structure was erected quietly and efficiently and finished off on the Monday morning.
By the first dawn of Tuesday, it was hard to believe that Falkirk had staged such an event. The whole town must have turned out to see the show, and the “feel good factor” was seen clearly. There were no cases to be tried at the Sheriff or Burgh Courts on the Tuesday morning!
The vast arena was lit up by “special electric light plants”, and tickets were priced from 1/- (5p.) to 7/6d (38p.). Posters of the event do exist and are probably worth a small fortune. It was advertised as taking place at Randyford Farm, Grangemouth Road. Tickets were on sale from Callender’s Stationers, 97 High Street and from the venue itself.
Will we ever see a 10,000 crowd at The Falkirk Stadium for a football match? Who knows- we can always “Expect the Unexpected”.