We spoke to former Bairn Peter Grant on his time at the club and particularly his memories from the 2015 Cup Run following on from yesterday’s Road to the Final Falkirk TV special!
Peter joined the club as a young player from Peterbrough United and managed to establish himself in Falkirk’s first team, but a change in manager didn’t make it easy!
“I had played at the youth levels, but I really wanted to get into first team football and test myself. I knew Falkirk from their time in the Premier League, I knew it was a well-supported club with great facilities, and when the opportunity came I jumped at it.”
“Gary Holt agreed to sign me before the end of the season, so I was obviously a bit nervous when he left, and the new manager came in! I played mostly reserve games up until a game against Raith Rovers when I got the nod and from then on, I didn’t really look back. The management team showed that faith in me and thought I’d done enough in the games that I’d played to get the chance to come into the starting line-up for the rest of the season.”
Two figures at Falkirk stand out to Peter from his time at The Bairns, with manager Peter Houston and mentor and now first team manager David McCracken providing the opportunities and assistance he needed as a young defender.
“I owe a lot to Peter Houston; I hold him in such high regard as a person and as a manager for what he’s done for me. He gave me that platform to go on and start my professional career and gave me the chance to flourish on the first team scene.”
Playing alongside David McCracken was also massive for me. To have that guidance of an older, experienced player was fantastic for me as a raw, young centre-half just coming in. I owe a lot to David for all that he did, and it definitely helped me to kick on at Falkirk.
Peter’s Falkirk played in an extremely strong Scottish Championship alongside usual Premiership stalwarts such as Rangers, Hibs, Hearts and Dundee United. Despite a disappointing finish outside the play offs in his first season the challenges faced improved the entire very young starting eleven, including Peter.
“It was great to go to places like Ibrox, Tyncastle and Easter Road, All the teams brought their own challenges and you knew that home or away anyone could beat anyone in the Championship the entire time I was at Falkirk.”
“The second year was when we really started to kick on, but I felt the first year was a good opener for myself and it was a good chance to play consistently. I’d had a couple of loan spells down South but nothing at the level of Falkirk, so to get that run of games against the level of strikers I was playing against definitely bettered me and it helped turn me into a more astute centre half.”
As with all cup runs it takes a while to become exciting. For Peter and most of the Falkirk team victory in the Quarter Finals against Queen of the South is where it became very real.
“Brechin we played at home, it was a tough game and I really remember it. I think I got left for dead for them to equalise and then we scored late on! We knew the early games always produce the hurdles, no matter what level you’re playing at.”
“We fired on through the rounds and it was only really before the Queen of the South game in the quarter finals that I thought about being two games away from a final. We knew it would be difficult, Queens did really well that year and they had a good group of players. Any time you go to Palmerston they make it difficult for you, but we knew it was winnable having played them so often in the league, and we had that belief in ourselves that we could beat anyone, home or away.”
“It was a really good performance from ourselves that night, and it was a great goal we scored with the cross from Luke Leahy and Sibbs with a good header to score the goal. It was only really after the Queen of the South game that I really thought ‘wow, we’re going to Hampden!’, because you obviously don’t want to think too far ahead. It was such an exciting time to know we were going to a Scottish Cup semi-final; it was a great achievement.”
After winning in the quarter’s fellow Championship Hibs side stood in the way of Falkirk and a Hampden Final.
“Falkirk is such a close-knit town and the football club’s massive. The lead up to the game was great, you just couldn’t wait to play at Hampden for the first time. It was against a team that was in our league and we’d had tough battles with earlier in the season, but we believed we could go and win it.”
“We rode our luck at times for quite a lot of the game with the chances that Hibs had, especially in the first half. We stuck with it, had a couple of chances ourselves, and second half I felt like we were really organised as a team and did well to limit them. When the big moment came it was us that took it. It was a fantastic ball in by Blair and it was a great header from Sibbs.”
“Once we got the goal, I really believed we would hold on. We defended as a team, but after the goal it was the longest game of football I’ve ever played in, it felt like a full game waiting on that final whistle coming! it was such a hot day and it was so energy sapping because you knew you were so close. The boys dug in and did brilliantly, we left everything out there and it showed after the game because we were dead on our feet! It was a fantastic performance to get that result and you could see from the players and the fans after the game that it was such a relief to get over the line, it was magic really.”
Following the semi-final came the massive build up ahead of the main event. Peter reflected on the goings on before kick-off in Falkirk’s fifth Scottish Cup Final.
“You went home that night and it was fantastic to know what we had achieved, a Championship club in a national cup final! The massive lift it gave everyone around the club and town was great, especially with missing out narrowly on the play offs that year, albeit narrowly. We knew it would spur us on and we knew we could kick on the next year.”
“That week leading up to the game was just crazy! I’ve never seen as much media around a club before, all the broadcasting companies were there every day up to the Thursday. It was full on but very exciting as well, we were a young group, and everything was quite new for us all.”
“The day of the game was mad, we left the hotel and on the way to the game it was pure excitement, you couldn’t wait to get the suit off and your boots on, it was amazing. Seeing all the Falkirk fans as we pulled up to the stadium with their flags and everything, it’s something you see on the tele with the big teams and never think it’s going to happen in your personal experience.”
“Going into the game I tried to put all the emotions to one side and focus on the game, because we knew it was such an opportunity. If you’re playing a Celtic or a Rangers it’s always going to be that bit more difficult, it’s just the way it is. Inverness were playing really well that season and were a good footballing side, but it was a real chance.”
After the build up came the game, and it was so close. Inverness took the lead but Peter himself got the equaliser from a free kick shortly after an Inverness red card. Despite his heroics a late winner for the highland side was enough to see them lift the cup ahead of Peter Houston’s Bairns.
“I didn’t think there was much in the game during the first half, Inverness were a possession-based team, but we were really well organised. They had a couple of half chances that we dealt with, so when they went a goal up it was disappointing and took a bit of the wind out of our sails.”
“In the second half I think we started really well in terms of getting up the pitch and trying to impose ourselves a lot more, then especially with them going down to ten men, you think there’s a real chance of getting back into the game.”
“I managed to find myself clear in the box, it was a fantastic ball in by Blair, and I managed to get on the end of it. It was a surreal moment; I think my celebration speaks for itself to be fair! You just want to get back up the pitch to get restarted and win the game!”
“I felt we had that bit of onus then as the team that’s just scored, but then they’ve come back and counter attacked us and scored. There was still time to get back into the game but credit to Inverness they defended it well with us throwing everything at it. It wasn’t meant to be, I was just so proud of the team and how they performed that day going head to head with a Premiership team. To come so close was gutting but looking back it’s always a lift to me knowing I played in a Scottish Cup Final and scoring in one as well.”
The next season was one of the most memorable in recent memory, and Peter played a massive role in the side that split Rangers and Hibs and came so close to getting promotion.
“Coming off the back of a Cup Final it would be easy to come back and for it still to be lingering, but we definitely didn’t show that. We had a real good pre-season, added one or two but kept the core, and started the season really well.”
“We really kicked on and were really consistent. Even with Rangers and Hibs both in the league we managed to go toe to toe with them and split them up. It was just disappointing at the end because we did so well and fell at the final hurdle, but we were punching above our weight and deserved everything we got. In the end we went up against a Kilmarnock team that were very experienced and powerful, and really showed why they were a Premiership team.”
Peter suffered a serious injury that season and was ruled out for the remainder of the campaign soon after the turn of the year. Despite the setback he remained positive and got behind the team while continuing his own rehab.
“I was really disappointed when they told me what had happened. That season up till then was probably the best form I’ve been in so far in my career. It happens in football, you can’t legislate for it, and I just knew I wanted to come back in the best shape I could be to go again.”
“Having previously experienced it I was ready to attack it and come back to it, so I had a positive mindset. The football club were massive for me in helping me come back, as were Fulham were I went down to do a lot of my early rehab, and I’ve got to really thank the staff down there for letting me come and do that.”
“It was frustrating for the rest of the season because it felt like you couldn’t help the team, I just tried to give them all my support and be the biggest fan there every Saturday on top of trying to get back as quickly as I could.”
The following season saw The Bairns come close again, this time finishing second behind Hibs and ahead of Dundee United but losing to the Tannadice side in the play offs.
“I missed the first couple of months of the season because I wasn’t quite ready to come back, but the boys were fantastic, and it was great to come back into the side. We lost a few players, but we gave it a right good go again against two massive teams in Hibs and Dundee United that had budgets far superior to ourselves.”
“To split Dundee United and Hibs was massive for us and we got so far again after a really consistent season. I think it’s something we can be proud of looking back, despite missing out on promotion for another year. Even after the setbacks we had we still came back and went again and again, which says a lot about the mentality of that group of players and the management team.”
Peter’s final season at the club did not end on the best of terms, with manager Peter Houston sacked and the club in a relegation scrap. Despite this the defender looks back on his time at the club with nothing but fond memories.
“We had a number of setbacks in terms of players leaving but everyone had us as one of the favourites to go on and win the title. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the start of the league season we wanted after a really good Betfred campaign. From the St Mirren game we had a real tough six-week period.”
“Even now I can’t put my finger on why, it just didn’t click for us. The manager carried the can for us, and it was gutting for all the players after everything he’d done for us, it was gut wrenching really. He was a great person and a great man, he put a lot of faith in me and it was upsetting that he had to leave.”
“We knew there was going to be a massive transition at the club with a lot of players leaving at the end of the season, but I lookback at my time there and it was amazing. The club is so close to my heart after all we managed to achieve in those years. There’s so many fantastic people from my time at Falkirk I still speak to till this day and I really hope to see the club do well, I look out for their results every week because they’re really a very special club for me and I hope they can kick on now.”
Peter finished by reflecting on his relationship with the Falkirk fans, with whom he was a firm favourite.
“I had a fantastic relationship with the Falkirk fans, and they were great to me. They were so supportive towards me, and all the players when we were there. The backing was incredible, they’re really good people and I can’t thank them enough. When I was injured the support that they gave me and the reception I got when I came back will never leave me. They were really fantastic to me on a personal basis and also to all the boys as well, through the good and the bad.”