We spoke to former Falkirk full back Jamie McQuilken on his early career, his time in the navy blue, and on Gretna’s rise and fall as he looked back on his time as a player.
Jamie came through the Celtic youth academy and managed to make several appearances for the first team, which was massive for the youngster after growing up a Hoops fan.
“I played for one of the local teams, Gorbals United. From there I moved onto Celtic Boys Club and progressed into the youth team and reserve team, then a couple of games in the first team. I’d grown up a Celtic fan, so I fulfilled my ambition.”
“As a young boy growing up on the west of Scotland, you’re either Celtic or Rangers, so to grow up supporting one of those teams, getting the chance to play in the first team is just a dream come true. Ironically my first team debut for Celtic was against Falkirk at Parkhead!”
“That was when Rangers were very strong. Celtic were playing second fiddle a wee bit and there was a succession of managers in the years I was there. It was a bit unsettled off the park but getting your debut was a massive thing for a young boy like myself, I just wish it had led to better things at the club.”
From his boyhood club Jamie moved Tayside, where he spent nearly two years with Dundee United, before it was back down to the central belt to Edinburgh and Hibs.
The left-back joined The Bairns from the Easter Road side after drifting out of their plans, but took full advantage of a strange caveat on his way to Brockville!
“I was at Hibs and I wasn’t going to get a renewal of my contract so I was told I could speak to other clubs. At the time Livingston were going for it and throwing a bit of money at players. I’d had no contact with them, but I’d heard of some interest from Falkirk.”
“After I’d spoken to Alex Totten and everything was agreed I went back to Hibs and told them I had a club. For some reason Rod Petrie told me I’d get a percentage of the money I was due if I didn’t sign for Livingston! Of course, I said I’d sign that no bother knowing I was already going to sign for Falkirk!”
Jamie joined up with Alex Totten’s Falkirk and felt immediately at home in the club legend’s side:
“It was really good when I joined, and I settled in really quickly. We had a good experienced dressing room and the gaffer made me feel really welcome as well. He’s probably one of the best I’ve worked under. The passion he’s got for football and for Falkirk, he’s probably got navy blue blood running through him! “
“He was always so enthusiastic, and he never stopped trying to make you better. He’s obviously been brought up old school so there were one or two times that the hairdryer treatment came out, but it was always quickly forgotten.”
“Everybody was good in an individual way. We had a dressing room full of workers and there weren’t really any big egos there. Even later when the likes of Owen Coyle came in, he played in England and in internationals, but he just got to it and wasn’t big headed or afraid to put the graft in.”
After a successful first few years at the club Falkirk’s fortunes changed dramatically, finishing ninth in the First Division after three consecutive top three finishes and only being saved by Airdrie’s financial troubles. Jamie reflected on a tough season for the Bairns.
“The season we were relegated but saved by Airdrie going bust was memorable for the wrong reasons! We were lucky, very lucky. That season we had a very young side; I think I was second oldest. We were basically playing most of that season with boys from the youth team and the First Division is the hardest league in Scotland, I’m just glad we got that second chance and we obviously kicked on the next year.”
Jamie’s final season at the club was bittersweet. While The Bairns won the league the season was also marked by being the final one played at Brockville Park, and Falkirk were denied promotion due to the SPL rules at the time.
“One of the things that stands out is breaking my wrist during the last game of the season against Inverness! That was the last game at Brockville as well, so it was an emotional day. I always loved playing at Brockville. The closeness of the fans, you could basically feel them breathing down your neck and it was a really good atmosphere. It was a great pitch to play on, with those old-fashioned stands. There was an irony in it being what didn’t get us promoted, because we were so sad to see it go”
“It’s difficult because you work all season to try and get to the next league, unfortunately it was the rules at the time. It’s not nice to be on the receiving end and be told you aren’t getting promoted when you’ve earned that right.”
The dependable defender went on to discuss another controversy of that season, the departure of manager Ian McCall in January midway through Falkirk’s mounting title challenge:
“Ian McCall came in at the start of the season and built a really strong squad, then Yogi and Owen Coyle took over halfway through and saw us over the line. They didn’t really change much, just put their own wee twist on things. We were a settled squad and because we were winning most weeks the team really picked itself!”
“It was probably one of the strongest squads I was involved with at Falkirk. When a manager leaves you think they’re going to come back to try and get their best players but thankfully the boys stuck together, and we managed to see it through.”
Throughout his time with Falkirk Jamie was in the first team almost every week. He puts this down to one thing, hard work!
“It’s something I try and drum into my own boy; don’t take it for granted, you’ve got to earn your place in the team, to work hard in training. I did always try and do my best and put a shift in, which gives you the best chance to get in the team or keep your place. With all the managers I had at Falkirk if you were putting the work in and you deserved your place in the team you would get it.”
While Jamie played for The Bairns current Falkirk manager Lee Miller was making a name for himself in the navy blue as a talented youngster. The now 45-year-old always sensed the young striker would go on to be a success.
“Lee was in the youth team when I joined. Both him and Mark Kerr broke through into the first team while I was there. You always kind of knew the two of them were going to go on to bigger and better things, and the two of them have had great careers.”
“Lee’s obviously steering the ship now, alongside David McCracken, and I wish them nothing but luck. I always thought he’d go into management, although I think even he would admit he wouldn’t have expected to do it so early in his career, when he was still playing! It’s a real pity the league was cut short because I genuinely think they would’ve gone on to win the league.”
Jamie left The Bairns after nearly 200 games at the club for a try at the SPL with Aberdeen. He remains a firm favourite among the Falkirk fans after his five-year spell at Brockville.
“It’s difficult to please everybody but I think I had a good relationship with most of the fans in my five years at Falkirk. Hopefully they saw the effort I put in when I wore the jersey, the club is still very special to me.”
“It got to the end of the season and we didn’t get promotion, and there was interest from Aberdeen for myself. If we’d got promotion I 100% would’ve stayed, but with that being the second time we didn’t get it despite earning it I really wanted to give the Premier League a shot and challenge myself.”
“Given the circumstances at the time I think it was probably the right thing to do but looking back six months down the line when I was at Aberdeen, I had one or two regrets after that.”
Jamie’s time in the North-East was cut short as injury and family illness brought an end to his time at Aberdeen. From there he moved down to St Johnstone, which brought with it a better balance after commuting to the Granite City from Glasgow for much of his time there.
The full back got back playing during his time in Perth with Billy Stark, who Jamie worked with at Celtic. The Saints narrowly lost out on promotion to the top tier but after Stark’s departure it was time to move on once again, this time to a Gretna side in the process of undergoing massive change under businessman Brooks Mileson.
“It was good, but it was strange! I went down to meet Brooks Mileson, when I first saw him, I thought he must be the groundsman! He came in with his cigarettes and his cleanliness was maybe a bit questionable, but what a guy, you’d honestly never meet a nicer guy than Brooks. After I’d spoken to him the decision was quite easy.”
“It was great. We flew through the leagues, sitting in the Second Division we probably had a lower Premier League team! Brooks’ motto was if you’re happy off the park you’ll be happy on the park, so that certainly helped things.”
After a whirlwind few years with The Anvils it was perhaps fitting that Jamie’s time with Gretna ended in a rather bizarre manner.
“I had a wee heart scare where I was basically told I’d taken a heart attack after I didn’t feel well after one of the Gretna games. It turned out it wasn’t, it was something else which mimics the symptoms, but I’d still be out for a few months.”
“Going into December I was back training and we were due to play away at Ross County. The squad was up for the boys going to be involved in the game and myself, Steve Tosh and James Grady weren’t in the squad, and we got told we were to train with the youth team.”
“The writing was on the wall at that point and that was basically it. Going into the last six months of my contract we were told we were free to go if we could find another club.”
“It was totally out of nowhere; we’d been going reasonably well. I genuinely don’t think it was money related, there were still quite a lot of boys on pretty good money at the club, so if they were looking to cut costs they could’ve cut others and saved a lot more. I genuinely don’t know to this day what the reason was!”