When books about football clubs are written, the focus is nearly always on players, matches, managers, league tables and cup competitions. Rarely is there mention of people who work behind the scenes, but whose roles are nevertheless vital to the successful and efficient running of the club. Dr Gillies Sinclair is one of these people. He sadly passed away on Tuesday and he will be greatly missed by his many friends in the town, and especially by those who knew him well. His was a remarkable career and his modesty and humility, as well as his self-deprecating humour, could well have been factors in him not accepting honours or formal recognition.
When the Falkirk Herald ran an article on the Falkirk Probus Club, a service organisation for retired people, the reporter interviewed several members in an attempt to obtain their views. In typical Gillies fashion, he described the group as being “ likeable elderly eejits”. Even typing this, I can hear him saying these very words, and I still chuckle at some of the stories he shared with me in our times together at Falkirk FC. I had heard of Gillies before I got to know him and people spoke highly of him as a caring, understanding and sensitive doctor in GP practice, in Grangemouth and in Camelon. Within the medical profession, he was held in the highest of esteem and he was a most influential figure in the foundation and early development of the Strathcarron Hospice. As a father with a young family to support, he took an enormous financial risk to give up his GP role and work at the new experimental hospice with a guarantee of only one month’s employment.
Gillies Sinclair was admired by all who knew him, and other tributes will be paid which acknowledge his massive contribution to the Falkirk Rotary Club and Falkirk Probus Club. In recognition of his work with Rotary, he was given a Paul Harris Fellowship, one of the highest awards in the organisation. He was especially keen to give young people opportunities to develop and thrive and his work in the Young Leaders initiative was outstanding over many years.
Dr Sinclair was appointed as Club Doctor to Falkirk Football Club at a time when the club was going through a transition phase, and he joined the Board in December 1975. His work on the medical side at the club was outstanding, and it is rare to see a club doctor invited to join the board. The first board he joined contained such well-known local businessmen as Willie Palmer, Walter Alexander and Alex Clarkson whose experience went back to the pre-cup-winning days of the 50s. Gillies gave his opinions in a measured way and his advice was always respected. He served as a Director until November 1991 and saw some of the biggest upheavals in recent history. His presence in the Boardroom was always respected, but he must have been saddened and disappointed at some of the events that took place. Many of the personality clashes and threats of legal actions would have upset him, and Gillies Sinclair was too straightforward and decent to be associated with such goings-on.
During his time as a Director, he established a life-long friendship with Malcolm Allan and Eddie Moffat and in retirement the three became known as Falkirk’s answer to The Last of the Summer Wine. Just which one was Foggy, Compo or Clegg we will never know, but the three enjoyed regular weekly lunches and Falkirk’s footballing fortunes were always the main topic of conversation. As time passed, new “younger” members joined the group, notably Alex Totten.
Gillies Sinclair was a brilliant club doctor, and he fulfilled many roles with successive generations of players. The doctor – player relationship was intensely private and personal, and he gave advice and assistance in a variety of situations to experienced professionals and youngsters alike. Today, we see club chaplains, human resources staff and financial advisers in many of the bigger clubs. Falkirk had all these support systems in place, in one man. Dr Gillies Sinclair. I never ever heard one player call him anything other than “Doc”, and he gained their respect and trust. He was open, honest, frank and, when called for, direct in delivering news of injuries and likely outcomes. I remember him recalling his most worrying moment when a player was badly hurt in a game with Morton at Cappielow and he had feared the worst. He knew what players were capable of, in terms of recovery, and he gave good advice to managers who might have been keen to rush a return to action.
Gillies was tactful, diplomatic and would have made an excellent Poker player. You never heard him give an opinion on a player or manager or criticise anyone in public. In his own way, he sometimes drew on his army experience and gave some brilliantly funny military analogies when asked for an opinion by someone who didn’t know or understand “Sinclair-isms”.
Times were changing and Dr Sinclair was not always keen to see some of the changes. He was always willing to improve the medical support structure at the club as he approached the retirement age and helped the transition process. After retiring from his role with the club, he maintained interest as a supporter and was a regular attender at games, both home and away as long as he was able to. He was an intensely private person, but once he got to know you, he was brilliant company. His stories of his life as a young doctor and in military service would make an excellent film or TV series and I will never forget some of them.
Falkirk Football Club were fortunate to have Gillies Sinclair as their club doctor, their board member and their supporter. Successive generations of players valued his advice, his support as well as his medical knowledge. He was simply a great person to know and if anyone deserved national recognition for their professional or community work it was Dr Gillies Sinclair.
If ever a person deserved a tribute at a Falkirk home match, it is Gillies. He was one of the club’s greatest ever servants, and he never once took a penny for his services.
Rest In Peace Dr Sinclair.