YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW
Falkirk have played several games against Army sides over the years- and not just the British Army. Bairns’ stars have also played in Army teams with great distinction and against some of the most famous names in the game when they too were engaged on their own equivalent of National Service.
Having played games against sides representing the Canadian Army and the Polish Army, Falkirk featured in several matches in the Fifties. The Festival of Britain was in full swing back in 1951, and the club were involved in a match against an Army/R.A.F. Select at Brockville on Wednesday May 23rd. Falkirk won 2-0 with second-half goals from Devlin and McLaughlin, but the crowd was a poor one and those who stayed away missed a really good game. Maybe the staging of the match in what was effectively the close season was a mistake, but all credit to the players for making the game competitive. As always seemed to be the case at that time, George Mitchell of Falkirk was the referee. The teams lined up as follows;
FALKIRK: Barlow, McDonald, McKenzie, Gallagher, Wilson, McCabe, Brown, Somerville, McLaughlin, Devlin, Robertson.
ARMY/R.A.F. SELECT: Younger (Hibs), Cook (Hibs), McSevenny (Dunfermline), Thomson (Q.O.S.), Thomson (Aberdeen), Addison (East Fife), Thomson (Highland League), McDonald (Hibs), Frame (Dumbarton), Howitt ( Partick Thistle), Higgins (Hibs)
The 50s saw the arrival of floodlight football at Brockville and Falkirk were one of the early pioneers, especially after the television companies saw the attraction of midweek sport. In March 1955, the British Army provided the opposition for a match and the second half was televised live on BBC. Falkirk were at full strength, apart from the absence of Ralph McKenzie, and their second half display saw them run out worthy winners against a strong Army team. Falkirk took the lead through Alex McCrae in 12 minutes, after a defensive mix-up, but the Army side came back into the match and Dunlop equalised five minutes later after good play from Hannigan. The 1-1 half-time score was a fair reflection of an even contest before the TV transmission began. Falkirk ran out 3-1 winners with added goals coming from a Little own goal six minutes after the restart and a clincher six minutes before the final whistle from Forrest who converted a Taylor cross. The television audience saw an entertaining game and there was clearly an appetite for more.
The next opposition from a services side came in February 1956, when Brockville staged a Monday night game against a United Services team. Falkirk won 3-2 and later in the year faced an R.A.F. (Scotland) team on Bonfire Night. While Falkirk were struggling in the league, they showed no mercy to the RAF side and deserved their 5-1 win. The goals came from Alex Wright (2), John Prentice, Bobby Morrison and Eddie O’Hara.
October 30th 1957 saw the next game and it was an eleven-goal thriller with Falkirk running out 7-4 winners. Three Bairns scored braces- Grierson, Carmichael and Moran with the other goal coming when McCalman of the Army side scored an own goal. The army side’s goal came from Crawford (2), Borthwick and a McClelland penalty.
The games were certainly entertaining and the game in September 1958 was no exception. George Mulhall scored two quick goals to show just why the Army side had beaten Rangers and Aberdeen in earlier fixtures and a heavy defeat looked to be on the cards. Cup-winning captain John Prentice had returned to the club after a spell at Dumbarton and he was the usual driving force. Falkirk fought back from 2-0 down and ended up winning 3-2. Derek Grierson scored twice and Les Thomson converted a penalty. Jim Lachlan looked a very effective outside-left, much more comfortable than he had been at left-back on the previous Saturday.
Meanwhile several Falkirk players were on National Service and their availability for selection on Saturdays was always questionable. Quite often, taxis would arrive up Cooperage Lane at 2.00 pm with players still in uniform and some unfortunate Reserve player would have to stand down. The young Bairns were gaining valuable experience playing for Army teams and facing some real stars such as Eusebio and Just Fontaine in their own country’s services teams. They were also rubbing shoulders with some of the best of British Football talent. Jimmy McIntosh took great pride in having a picture of a British Army side which showed the two full-backs from Falkirk- Alex Parker and Jimmy himself. Included in the team photo were Bobby Charlton, Gerry Hitchens and Cliff Jones. The Army team were coached by Walter Winterbottom, and Jimmy spoke highly of the England manager’s ability and awareness. Parker and McIntosh were regulars in a strong Army side and featured in the annual Kentish Cup games against France and Belgium. Games were usually staged at Stamford Bridge or Dulwich’s ground and drew sizeable crowds. Bert Slater and John White also played for the British Army sides and they were not the first.
Scotland faced the British Army on occasion, and it was strange to see Falkirk players lining up against Scotland-and not knowing who to cheer for. One such game was played in December 1955.
Wednesday December 7th 1955, at Shawfield
SCOTLAND 3 BRITISH ARMY 1
(Reilly, Henderson, Collins) (Dunmore)
Scotland were expected to win this match easily, and indeed they would have had it not been for the outstanding goalkeeping display of Hodgkinson- and a bit of luck that the keeper carried. The Army side were knocked off their stride with a double hit in the first half. Johnstone’s cross was put away by his Hibs team-mate LAWRIE REILLY after good work from ex-Bairn Joe McDonald. Within 60 seconds, JACKIE HENDERSON scored after Collins had dummied a Smith cross from the right. The efforts of the Army keeper were appreciated by the crowd and some of his saves were clearly International class.
Ten minutes after the restart, BOBBY COLLINS scored the third after a Hibs combination assist from Reilly and Smith. The Army side had a glimmer of hope when DAVID DUNMORE scored with a header after another impressive run by Duncan Edwards. The Manchester United half-back was the star of the evening and he was obviously destined to be a great player on the International stage.
Bobby Collins was the star of the Scottish team, but for many the most intriguing clash was that between the two Falkirk players- Alex Parker and Eddie O’Hara. Parker found O’Hara a real handful early on and took a while to match him. The two obviously enjoyed the contest and shook hands with honours even.
SCOTLAND: Bill Brown, Alex Parker, Joe McDonald, Bobby Evans, George Young, Doug Cowie, Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Bobby Collins, Jackie Henderson.
BRITISH ARMY: Hodgkinson, Foulkes, Shaw, Anderson, Smith, Edwards, Willie Sinclair, Biggs, Dunmore, Jackson, Eddie O’Hara.
Referee: J.Mowat Attendance: 16,000
Scotland tried to stage trial matches and often played against Scottish club sides- including Falkirk. They also used the games against the British Army as warm-up matches. One game was held on November 12th at Tynecastle and the Army side had two familiar faces in their line-up.
Wednesday November 12th 1958, at Tynecastle
SCOTLAND 1 BRITISH ARMY 1
Scotland opened the scoring after only four minutes through DENIS LAW, and the way Herd had cut in from the right and sent in an inviting low cross suggested that the Army defence was in for a busy evening. It was not to be and the Army players gradually seized the initiative. After 32 minutes, they deservedly drew level through GERRY HITCHENS of Aston Villa who took advantage of a Caldow clearance after Beattie had failed to cut out a shot from the right. The Scotland selectors were clearly given food for thought, and ex-Bairn Alex Parker was certainly the best defender on display, closely followed by Plenderleith of Hibs.
It wasn’t a great game and Scotland only really applied pressure towards the end. Bert Slater in the Army goal was outstanding and what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in bravery, agility and anticipation. The Tynecastle crowd didn’t appreciate some of the play on offer from Scotland and made their feelings known.
SCOTLAND: Beattie, Caldow, Wilson, Mackay, Gabriel, Cumming, Hunter, Rankin, Herd, Law, McParland.
BRITISH ARMY: Slater, Parker, G.Williams, J.Williams, Plenderleith, Milne, Scott, Smith, Hitchens, Dobing, Mulhall.
Referee: J.Bissett Attendance: 11,000
The Army gave lots of young professional players a tremendous chance to play at an impressive level, travel extensively and make life-long friendships. They could look back with pride at team pictures and point out International players who were once team-mates. Falkirk players like Slater, Parker, McIntosh, Thomson, Sinclair, O’Hara, and McCarry were just some of those who benefitted from the chance to serve Queen and Country- and spend a lot of their National Service playing Football.