Where do we begin? The reality is that any look at Falkirk’s 2017/18 campaign so far would run into ‘War and Peace’ territory but seeing as though I have set myself an 800-1000 word limit on these reports then you will have to get the abridged version. Basically everything has been awful.
I will start with my own, outsiders opinion, on the recent decision to withdraw funding of the Forth Valley Youth Academy. This is something I have a huge interest in and I would recommend reading Michael Calvin’s book ‘No Hunger in Paradise’ for anyone interested in youth football and a look at how these decisions have affected some English clubs. The timing of it all also holds additional weight given the recent decisions regarding the SFA’s Project Brave (but I definitely don’t have time to talk about that). Having read many opinions and spoken to people who support Falkirk I think the overall feeling I have is one of sadness. Removing this part of a football club, to me, means losing a bit of identity. It also endangers much of the good faith people have in the community aspect of a football team, something Falkirk have a fantastic reputation for. Financially there are reasons for making this call but the ins and outs of that are above the knowledge of your average fan. The way it has all been handled has been quite poor (and it also doesn’t help that they have given this new direction a terrible title – “Towards the Premiership”). As a supporter you want your team to win on a Saturday and if this decision helps improve that then it will be seen as the correct one but it is still a move that doesn’t sit well with me.
In terms of on the park things are quite straightforward. Dreadful summer recruitment and low morale has resulted in one of the worst starts to a season in living memory. The summer signings made little sense and for me it was like watching the same film from a few years ago as Houston started doing what he had done at Dundee United in terms of recruiting players to then play them out of position whilst ignoring much of the young talent already at the club (it was almost as if he was working his ticket). Houston was rightly sacked but the problems go way beyond the manager. The performance that sums Falkirk’s season up for me was the display against Dundee United in November. The 3-0 defeat was one of the most abject performances I have ever seen at Tannadice and one which made me really wonder how bad things are at Falkirk. The new manager, Paul Hartley, has a huge challenge ahead of him and he has already begun a clear out that will continue into January. Whether or not a large influx of players can turn things around remains to be seen but one thing is certain, whatever happens this season there remains huge question marks over the current board and their ability to move Falkirk forward. This club has the fan base, the facilities and the structure to be challenging for the Championship title.
January Wishlist – A transfer window rivalling what is commonly referred to as a ‘Ross County’ is needed. The board have decided to financially back a push towards the Premiership so they will be giving Paul Hartley the freedom to do as much as he can. The problem might be in shifting players as there are a few on decent money that won’t be cheap to get rid of. Whether all of this happens in January, who knows, but there must be at least half a dozen new players on their way to Falkirk in the coming weeks. What areas need strengthened the most? That is easy, everywhere.
Player of the Season (so far) – Do I have to? It would be much easier to single out the awful performances from people like Alex Harris, Rory Loy, Myles Hippolyte et al. One bright spark (and ironic given the decision to get rid of the youth system) has been Cieran Dunne. A player with a great deal of raw talent he has managed to show some of the more experienced professionals a thing or to by putting in some consistent and reliable performances during his brief spell in the first team.
Predicted Finish – 8th. Despite all the negativity I personally think the is some light at the end of all of this. As much as it looks like it now I don’t think Falkirk will be in relegation battle come May. They should catch those above them (just) but it is safe to say that Inverness, Morton etc are probably too far away to be caught so I think 8th is roughly where Falkirk will end up. As long as Hartley can add a handful of decent additions then they will have enough to get through the campaign and then they can begin to plan for next season.
Manager Grade – Not possible to grade Paul Hartley yet. He inherited a bit of a gang (and not a very good gang) so he needs time to get things right. Despite being a Dundee United fan I actually do rate Hartley and think that he is a decent manager who needed a fresh start after becoming a bit stale at Dens. He should give Falkirk a good chance at promotion next season.
Overall Grade – F. Not much more I can add to what has already been said. The whole thing has been a bit of a mess (both on and off the field). Fans have been left in a state of disillusionment at just how poorly things have been handled in recent months and the latest decision to axe the youth development side of the club has further divided supporters. Sacking Houston should have happened sooner and the reality is the board have a lot to answer for in guiding Falkirk, a club that should be nowhere near this mess, into a complete shambles of a season.