All of the former Falkirk players we’ve interviewed over the last year have had nothing but the fondest memories of Falkirk Football Club; the fans, the players, the big matches. This week’s interviewee is no different despite his rocky start at the club back in 1995.
Having played for a number of big clubs south of the border such as Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, Andy Gray arrived at Falkirk as a player with a lot of English First Division experience.
With a playing career spanning such clubs, I naturally began by asking Andy how his move to Falkirk materialised.
“I played in Scott Nisbet’s testimonial when I was playing in Spain and John Lambie was there. Something was said about me wanting to go back home so they came and watched me play a game and told me if I got out on a free they’d take me. I said to CA Marbella – my club at the time – that I wanted to go home and so I left when my contract was up.”
The switch from Marbella to Falkirk was a move that seemed to happen so quickly and Andy had agreed to join the Bairns before seeing his new playing environment!
“I didn’t see the facilities before I went. I don’t think I’d have joined if I’d seen the facilities. Brockville was a typical old school stadium. When I first came to Falkirk I think it was the worst winter they’d had in so many years too. It was freezing, it snowed, you couldn’t train.”
Not the most ideal start to life at a new club. At that time, Falkirk’s form wasn’t looking too great either and the team was going through a period of change that seemed a bit hectic to the newcomer.
“When I joined the club they were in a bad position and John Lambie left, it was a mad time. We had a lot of older experienced pros whose contracts were up. I had just signed a two year deal just as a lot of players left. Then Eamonn Bannon came in as manager and I didn’t get on with him.”
John Lambie leaving just as Andy had joined was unfortunate as it made Andy’s start to life in Falkirk far less enjoyable than it should have been with him and new manager Eamonn Bannon clashing from the get go.
“All Bannon wanted to do was run us, run us, run us. Bannon was fitter than all the players. He was a top drawer runner but everything with him was about overworking, it was a bit over the top. I would argue with him in his office and he would always look to fine me because I was on decent money.
“In my contract I could have Mondays off. After a Saturday I’d go back to London and come back for training on Tuesday. The rest of the time I would stay in a hotel in Glasgow. The weather was bad one time and he tried to bluff me out because I’d said I couldn’t get on a plane. He said “I’m going to check with the airline” and all that. He did everything he could to make it uncomfortable for me but the lads were brilliant, it was a good set of lads and they’d just laugh whenever I got called to the office.”
Andy’s miserable time as a player under Bannon didn’t last very long fortunately enough and, in1995, Falkirk appointed a manager who made Andy’s time at Brockville a lot less miserable.
“It wasn’t a happy time when Eamonn Bannon was there but then he got sacked. In came Alex Totten and I started to enjoy my time there. I think after one game I earned Alex’s trust and that was around the time we went on that Scottish Cup run.”
Falkirk’s 1996/97 Scottish Cup run is famous in Falkirk and remembered fondly among not just the supporters, but the players and everyone involved with the club too. Despite not winning the final, players and fans alike have nothing but wonderful memories of the run and it’s highlight – beating Celtic over two legs in Glasgow.
“The run was phenomenal. We used to stay in a hotel in Troon, that was our release, it was brilliant training there. Obviously we played Celtic and we did really well and we all thought that was our chance. Whenever you play a side like that you want them to have an off day so you can take advantage of that. We had that opportunity on the Saturday but I think we were stronger in the second game.
“Yeah we lost the final but to be honest with you I think sometimes if you go on a journey like that, the result at the end of it doesn’t really matter, it’s about the experiences up to that point. That’s what makes it more memorable.”
Andy was no stranger to being part of a memorable cup run. During his time at South London club Crystal Palace – where Andy spent many years over two spells – he embarked on a remarkable FA Cup run which saw Andy head home a very late equaliser against a then high-flying Liverpool to make the score 3-3 and take the game to extra time. Palace would go on to seal their place in the FA Cup final after a winner from Alan Pardew.
Despite the change in level and surroundings, Andy saw parallels between the two cup runs.
“I suppose it was similar because in those semi-finals we played a top team in Celtic and a top team in Liverpool. To get to that prize you had to play a top team. Our final was beating a team like that.”
One contributing factor to the success of the Falkirk team during that period – and one most of the players involved bring up – was the support from the Falkirk fans. Always praised highly by former players for their support, Andy was of the same opinion as his former teammates.
“The Falkirk fans are second to none, they’re very passionate and loyal. It’s unbelievable for a small town. In the first semi-final it was a burglar’s paradise because I think everyone in Falkirk was out that day.”
Despite his bumpy start not seeing the facilities first, a horrible winter and an unhappy time under Eamonn Bannon, Andy got through it and ended up enjoying a happy and successful spell in the navy blue. From being involved in terrific matches, to loving the fans and being part of a great dressing room with good players, his time at Falkirk ended on a much happier note than the beginning.
“Falkirk has a history of producing players and being involved in good games. My time there was great, I enjoyed it in the end. The fans were great, the players were great.”