Lewis Connolly spoke to Bairns legend Kevin James in the final of our My Falkirk XI articles!
Kevin James was a product of the Falkirk youth system and went on to serve the club across eight seasons. Known as ‘Hightower’ to his teammates due to his towering 6’ 7” stature, he went on to make 152 starting appearances for the club, featuring a further 9 times from the bench. He also managed to find the back of the net on 19 occasions during his Falkirk career. He was a double title-winning central defender and former captain of Falkirk, who served the club across two spells. He was part of the side that enjoyed the famous run to the 1997 Scottish Cup final and lifted the Challenge Cup on two occasions, in the 1997-98 and 2004-05 seasons. He is fondly remembered by the Bairns support.
Joining the club
“People think I joined up from Musselburgh Athletic, but I actually joined initially from Hutchison Vale on the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) programme, but Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown loaned me out as they thought it would be more beneficial for my development to play in the Juniors against men, rather than play Under 18 football. So, at about 16 years old that’s when I went out to Musselburgh. So, I was actually at Falkirk before my time at Musselburgh.
The next season I went straight into the reserves, with it being the Premier Reserves if the first team was playing at home that day against Celtic or whoever we would play an away match against their reserves at the same time”.
What was first team preseason like and who did you look up to in the dressing room?
“The first thing I’ll say is it’s night and day compared to nowadays, or even like it was when I retired. In those days you came back to preseason to GET fit, as most guys never were. You had guys like Yogi, Steve Fulton and Big Clarkie (John Clark) who were great players but over the summer maybe didn’t quite maintain things the way players do these days, all of them were strong and powerful, but not as quick as some others and they, along with the rest of us, hated the first two weeks back as it was purely running. We never saw a ball. Nowadays that’s changed dramatically.
Thankfully I fitted in well and the atmosphere around the first team was great. I looked up to guys like Yogi first and foremost, he was a real character. He’d be right in your face making sure you were giving your best at all times, but you had to keep your eye on him as he liked to play the odd prank in the dressing room too! Joe McLaughlin was there around the same time, he wasn’t as quick as some defenders but had great reading of the game and always organised the defence really well, so I tried to pick as much of that up from him as I could. Then there was Davie Weir too, he was very unassuming and one of the best guys I’ve ever met, a model professional”.
Rejoining the club for a second spell after leaving for Hearts
”Sadly, things didn’t work out at Hearts and I needed to get playing again. Ian McCall had me at Airdrie for a year and we’d done well that year, but obviously that was the time the club hit liquidation, so all the players were released. Ian moved across to Brockville and took three others with him (Craig McPherson, Allan Ferguson and Owen Coyle) and he wanted me to go too, not only that but he wanted me as his captain and that meant a lot. Off the field Gordon Chisholm and Brian Rice moved across too. I had interest from elsewhere, but I knew straight away where I was going and didn’t think twice about going back to Brockville.
I loved my first time at the club, although as you say second time around was more successful, we won 2 league titles and a Challenge Cup in my second stint, plus the Challenge Cup in 1997 in my first stint, it was great times”.
Was it demoralising to be denied promotion in 2003 and what other memories do you have?
“There was a lot of talk around amendments to the SPL rules to make them more practical as there’s teams these days that don’t have 10,000 seats in the top flight, but we didn’t believe it would materialise. Common sense eventually came forward but not until after we’d been denied promotion and also denied the chance to groundshare just like Celtic had done a few years earlier, that was the annoying bit. So I guess we knew early doors that they wouldn’t change the rules for us in time, as it would cause them too much hassle to move the goalposts, but the thing that really stands out for me as a result of that is it shows the attitude and professionalism of the squad. To know that even if you won the league as outright champions, you’d be denied promotion based on a seat count, but to still go out and win the league regardless…. for me that speaks volumes about the players and their character.
In terms of other memories, obviously the Challenge Cup wins in both 1997-98 and 2004-05, the two league titles and of course the 1997 Scottish Cup run. I think the fact it came so early in my career and the fact that we’d been through a bad time what with being relegated previously and we couldn’t get out the First Division it just gave everyone around the club a huge lift. It was surreal, I remember we played Berwick away and I almost got sent off that night for mistiming a challenge and I got a dressing down from Alex Totten, but to then go on from that and beat two Premier League teams in Raith Rovers and Dunfermline, not to mention beating Celtic too across two games, it was just fantastic. Sadly the final didn’t go our way, due to the controversial offside decision.
The publicity of the final probably helped a bit and as a result I was also lucky enough to win a Scotland U21 cap, against Belarus. I was more or less right on the eligibility threshold around then so didn’t get the chance to win more caps, but I’m really grateful at having had the opportunity to represent my country too”.
Leaving for St Johnstone
“We’d just won the league in 2002-03, then I’d had my second hip operation the next season and I was out of contract at the end of that year and was made a much lower offer from the club for 2004-05, the deal was it was a lower wage until I proved my fitness, so I thought ‘no problem’. The understanding and medical knowledge was improving and the physio at Falkirk at the time, Alex McQueen, finally figured out what the problem had been and helped me work on it during my rehab and it made a massive difference to me, for which I’ve always been grateful.
I got myself quickly back in the team and in 2004-05 actually went on to have my best ever run of first team games for the club, I played in 32 games that season compared to an average of about 20 in previous years and I actually started every one of those 32. That speaks for itself.
It got to the end of season, Yogi (John Hughes) pulled me in at the last minute, my wages had been reinstated following proving my fitness halfway through the season but surprisingly he offered much less than I was on. When I asked him why it was such a low offer, he said the reason was fitness related. I pointed out that my fitness had now been proven and there were 32 appearances to back that up and told him I was pretty disappointed to see that not only were they cutting my wages, but they were actually offering me less to play in the Premier League than I had been on in the First Division! Plus, there were some rumblings in the background that there was no guarantee of being captain the following year either and I was always really proud to be captain of Falkirk.
I left Brockville a bit surprised and disappointed and my agent told me that Coyley (Owen Coyle) wants to speak to me when I got home. Coyley being Coyley, five minutes later he’s phoned and made me feel really wanted. It was the same money as I was on at Brockville, but I just felt that the two of them had used two very different approaches. I’d worked with Coyley before at Airdrie and Falkirk and in the end it was a matter of principle, I guess I felt a bit let down at the way it was handled. I never even got to have a proper discussion and tell Falkirk what I was looking for, Yogi was old school and maybe he was just playing a bit of hardball, but it backfired as by the time he eventually came back in with a second offer it was too late, I told him it was about the principle more than the money and that I’d be leaving to join Coyley at St. Johnstone and he just looked totally stunned. It’s a shame, as I wanted to stay at Falkirk and my departure and how it was handled is probably the only disappointment in all my time there”.
Formation: 4-2-3-1. “It’s a bit of a favourite and you’ll understand why I’ve gone for this formation once you see my frontline. It reflects well on Falkirk when you see it on paper, these guys played elsewhere to a really high level and the club did well to get them. Half the team is from when I started out at the club and the other half is from my second spell, so it’s a good mix and I feel this formation will get the best out of what I’ve got”.
Kevin has opted NOT to pick himself, although when realising it was allowed he then joked “looking at it again, I’m not sure I’d actually get in!”.
Manager: Alex Totten (1982-83 & 1996-2002)
“Jim Jefferies gave me my start and took me to the club on the YTS scheme, took me through the reserves but I only played 1 first team game under him. John Lambie was a unique character, he knew a huge amount about the game which people didn’t fully appreciate, he was actually great with me 1-to-1, personally very good with me, although it didn’t work out for him at the club sadly. It was a bit frustrating under Eamonn Bannon as he had his favourites so you’d be in one week then out the next. I worked with Ian McCall at Airdrie and Falkirk too and he was very good, then came Yogi (John Hughes) & Coyley (Owen Coyle) at Brockville.
Despite all the competition, my decision is Alex Totten. Hi enthusiasm and man-management were fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, he could go in the huff if I was injured and I felt that at times but he was great to play for. His tactics were always attacking, he put trust in us and always got the best out of us. He took a genuine interest in me as a young player and helped develop me, he made me captain at 21/22 years old for one game, to give me a taste of it. He trusted me and that’s massive for a player. Coming in after a game if I’d done something wrong as a youngster he’s not going to say anything to you as he knows you were already self-reflecting after a game if you’d had a poor performance or made a mistake. Ian McCall and Yogi were the same to be fair, they all knew I’d pick it up myself. He was simply a brilliant manager….. although I’ll never forget pre-cup final in 97 down at the hotel in Ayrshire when he came down to dinner in a Hawaiian shirt tucked into his tracksuit bottoms, it was a crime against fashion”!
Goalkeeper: Allan Ferguson (2002-2006, 106 appearances)
“This wasn’t a hard one. I played with Tony Parks, Ian Westwater, Craig Nelson, Paul Mathers and they were all great keepers. However, the easiest way to explain this is I’m picking the best keeper I ever played with and I include Antii Niemi, who I played with at Hearts, in that. ‘Fergie’ is the pick. You always felt safe with him behind you, he had great shot-stopping, awareness and his throwing ability was just incredible. He has a great presence, despite being only 4’ 2”!
If there had been better advances in physiotherapy earlier then he would have played at a much higher level”.
Right-back: Andy Lawrie (1995-2006, 259 appearances, 17 sub appearances, 29 goals)
“You knew what you were getting from Andy, 7/10 every week and, in this formation, you’ll need people to defend well. He was an unsung hero. He was so reliable, you could trust him always, he was quiet, but he certainly knew how to defend and wasn’t one to ever get bullied. If you were in the trenches you’d want him beside you. He’s one of the fittest players I’ve ever seen, a total machine, always getting up and down the park the way he did. You sometimes don’t realise what you’ve lost until it’s gone. A great servant”.
Left-back: Jamie McGowan (1994-98, 148 appearances, 9 sub appearances, 9 goals)
“There were a few good ones to choose from. Andy Seaton broke through at the same time I did and did really well and Jamie McQuilken was great too, they were both fab in their own right, ‘Seatsy’ in the cup run and Jamie in the years afterwards. Plus there’s Tommy McQueen who was there when I was a youngster. I’m going for Jamie McGowan though.
I know Jamie is right footed, but he could play left-back, right-back or centre half and of course he set up that famous goal for me in the semi-final against Celtic, so it would be hard to leave him out my team. He could defend and he was certainly quick, blisteringly quick! Some people don’t realise just how good this guy was, he was such a good player he could play across the entire backline with complete ease and not look out of place in any of the positions.
I genuinely feel that his versatility actually worked against him in some ways because he would’ve been a master of any one position, but his flexibility meant he was never categorised in any specific position. He was invaluable though, so I’d always find a place for him in my team as his attributes speak for themselves”.
Centre-half: David Weir (1992-96, 151 appearances, 9 goals)
“I considered him for right-back too and only played a few games with him in the first team, but I always looked up to him even when he was in reserves due to his sheer professionalism. His training and attitude was superb and I think that’s been shown by the career he went on to have and the age that he played to even at the highest levels for club and country.
I was surprised it took so long for him to get in the first team, but once he did then the rest was history, he held his place despite Jim Jefferies having his favourites, like any manager.
Davie was a fantastic player, believe it or not he actually arrived at the club as a striker after his time in America on a scholarship, but I could tell you he was certainly no striker, because I’d seen his shooting in the reserves”!
Centre-half: John “Yogi” Hughes (1990-95, 2002-2006, 245 appearances, 8 sub appearances, 14 goals)
“I always thought of big John Clark as more of a right-back for some reason, perhaps because we had guys like Yogi and Joe McLaughlin around too. Big Joe I really learnt a lot from, Ollie (Neil Oliver) was superb too. However, you’re setting up a team to go and win a game and although we had differences in the end purely around the handling of my departure from the club, as a player I’ve got to say that Yogi was superb. He really brought about a great team spirit in the dressingroom too. He was a great player, with everything you’d look for, he was quick, strong, great in the air too, it was no surprise when he attracted interest from Celtic and Rangers.
His only downside as a player was he thought he was Franco Baresi due to wearing Copa Mundials!
At the end of the day, Davie Weir and Yogi… you’re not getting passed those two very often”.
Centre Midfield: Andy Gray (1995-97, 38 appearances, 5 sub appearances, 1 goal)
“I played with Scott Mackenzie for years and he was great, Albert Craig was a good player too, there’s so many, but Andy was the one that stood out first and then I thought of others later. He played in the back three in the 1997 cup run and he admitted himself when he first arrived he wasn’t fully fit and didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Eamonn Bannon. Then Alex Totten transformed him, he came back after two weeks of illness in England looking like a new man. You could quickly tell that he had quality others didn’t have.
He was superb in the cup run at the back, but there’s no doubt he could do it in middle of the park as he had done elsewhere in his career, but the gaffer had different options there. Andy was quick, strong, his range of passing was brilliant and he had great awareness too. He certainly won’t be outran or outmuscled in there and at the end of the day you don’t play for Spurs and get an England cap if you’re a poor player. Not to mention the infamous long throws, the only problem for me was it was knackering running up and down for them!”.
Centre Midfield: Derek Ferguson (1995-98, 40 appearances, 5 sub appearances, 3 goals)
“This might surprise a few people, but simply put he’s the best central midfielder I’ve ever played with. Stevie Fulton is just edged out despite being a good pal and playing with him at Hearts too. John Lambie signed him for a big fee, my first thoughts were that he was not just one but two steps ahead of us every time. In training and games he was so far ahead of the rest due to his vision but a lot of the time he suffered from the fact that the options he needed weren’t there, as people weren’t making those runs.
He would take the ball in any situation, was brave on the ball, again and I know it’s a theme but if there had been better physiotherapy treatments in those days then we probably wouldn’t have got him at Falkirk. I don’t think people would expect this one, but I saw him day in day out, watching him in training and in games and he was a classy player”.
Right wing: Kevin ‘Crunchie’ McAllister (1983-85, 1988, 1991-93 & 1997-2002, 319 appearances, 36 sub appearances, 60 goals)
“An easy choice. Anyone that ever played with Crunchie in his career and who is picking their best XI and doesn’t pick the wee man shouldn’t have played with the club! Probably for that era he’s the first name, possibly the second being Yogi, that would be on your teamsheet.
Crunchie was Crunchie! You could have your backs to the wall and be getting hammered for 85 minutes and suddenly he could produce a moment of magic and you’ve gotten away with a 1-0 win. He was always a team player, he would work just as hard as anyone or even harder, great attitude. He looked after the young boys off the park too and he certainly wasn’t scared to pipe up with his views in the dressing room when needed, plus his performances on the pitch could win a game singlehandedly. A fantastic player”.
Left wing: Chris Waddle (1996, 4 appearances, 1 goal)
“Eamonn Bannon signed him and he only came up on a Friday, he didn’t train with us at all during the week, only on a Friday, but as long as he turned up and did his bit that’s all we cared about! He was only with the club for a very short period, but what a player! D
He had a whole different level of technique, ability and awareness. He played with clubs like Marseille and Spurs which speaks for itself. He was at the end of his career when he joined the club but the skill doesn’t leave you, nor does movement, just the legs……. plus he’d thankfully ditched the mullet by then! I had other options but he edges out Craig ‘Hagi’ McPherson and Hagey (David Hagen). God rest him, but we always joked together in the dressing room that if Hagey had a brain he would’ve been one of the best players around, he’s unlucky to miss out but for this purpose I just can’t leave that level of quality out the team”.
Forward: Maurice ‘Mojo’ Johnston (1995-1996, 44 appearances, 8 goals)
“This might be surprising again for some people as they may think of him as more of a centre forward and there was plenty competition. Richard Cadette was a great finisher and there were great candidates such as Scott ‘Crabbo’ Crabbe, Lee Miller and Frank ‘Macca’ McAvennie so I had a lot to choose from, but I went with Mo Johnston.
Mo had great technique, knowledge of the game and awareness. He could sit in that number ten role where he liked to get himself some space, he would be able to pick out the runs from Waddle and Crunchie, plus he could play up top and finish as well.
I was a bit star struck when Mo arrived but I tell you what, despite him having a great career and having played at clubs like Celtic, Rangers and Nantes I’ve genuinely never seen anyone train harder than he did, he was a total professional. I never saw him as a direct number 9 as he always wanted to drop in to little pockets to get the ball and turn, so in this formation he’d be ideal for that role”.
Striker: Owen Coyle (2002-03, 47 appearances, 24 goals)
“As I said above Richard Cadette was a great finisher and there was plenty competition from Crabbo, Macca and Lee and if I was playing a different formation then Lee would be playing as he had lots of great abilities, but simply put there’s only one best finisher I’ve seen and it’s Owen Coyle. He was so consistent, just like Crunchie and also like Crunchie he too had a phenomenal workrate. Defences never got a moments peace when Coyley was playing, their workrate and runs would help Waddle too. You just knew if you could stick the ball in the box then Coyley would score.
He made it look so easy due to the finishing ability he had. Great awareness, very rarely did he ever snatch at a shot. He was always so composed in front of goal, as his goal in the 4-0 win over Hearts shows perfectly and he could finish with both feet. Perhaps his heading isn’t the best compared to some…… but I’ve got Crunchie coming in with his height at the back post!”.
Craig Nelson (1996-98, 41 appearances) – “a dependable keeper and brilliant in ‘97 cup run, when his confidence was up he was really great, like so many players”.
Lee Miller (2000-2003, 2015-18 & 2019-present, 122 appearances, 52 sub appearances, 53 goals) – “a great all round centre forward and is unlucky to miss out but I’m sure when he sees who is in front of him he’ll understand. He was young when I was there but I could see his attributes and he’s a great guy too”.
Mark Kerr (1998-2003 & 2015-18, 230 appearances, 23 sub appearances, 11 goals) – “Kerzo is technically a great player, plus has a great engine too. If he came on with his abilities and enthusiasm he’d do well. Like Lee, he’s unlucky not to get in the deep-lying two, but again when he sees the players I’ve gone for I hope he’ll understand”.
Steve ‘Baggio’ Fulton (1994-95, 32 appearances, 3 goals) – “a great player, Stevie had a magic left foot, also a strong contender in my thoughts and very unlucky not to get in based on his sheer technical ability”
Russel Latapy (2003-09, 163 appearances, 34 sub appearances, 30 goals) – “I played with so many players that I’d almost forgotten about the ween man, but with his skills he could come on for Mojo in that number 10 position. A genuinely great player with brilliant skills, so in a last-minute switch he now just pips Richard Cadette”.
Stats kindly provided by bettermeddle.org