What's gone wrong at Falkirk? How the Bairns have lost five managers in four years - and what's missing
What’s gone wrong at Falkirk? It’s a question asked with a recurring frequency – and increasing incredulity – with each passing episode.
The latest, a 6-0 drubbing away at Queen’s Park and the departure of Paul Sheerin as manager, follows the club’s ridiculed fans’ forum, last season’s late collapse in the promotion chase and the on-going third-tier status for a team with a four-figure fanbase of top-flight proportions.
But how did it get here – managerless, miserable and fifth in League One? Falkirk fans have asked the question with bemusement, hoping each episode marks the nadir and an upturn in fortunes. Others looking in from the outside remember a Premier League team 11 years ago; Scottish Cup finals; picking points off Rangers, Hibs and Hearts – away.
Since Paul Dixon – ironically now a Falkirk player – headed Dundee United’s winner in the 2017 play-off semi-final and denied the Bairns another chance at the Premiership return they so yearned for, it has been a downward slide. Few realised or expected it to cap the last high-point event of the club’s recent history.
Six months later the club sacked Peter Houston, who had led them beyond the regular season in each of his three campaigns, and abandoned a youth development programme they’d earned both respect and reputation for.
Perhaps crucially they would also, within nine months, have lost a knowledgeable influence behind the scenes – the departure of Alex Smith who, after a six-decade association with Scottish football, emigrated to Australia to spend his retirement with family Down Under.
Having the decorated, trusted and respected sage in the background acting as technical director, assistant manager, confidante and sounding board became a source of comfort and advice for players, staff and fans.
Smith preached two pillars of patience in his managerial career – faith in young players to prove themselves and, heavily involved in the the league managers’ association and Scottish Football Association’s coaching courses at Largs, he advocated loyalty to team managers.
Smith’s departure coincided with the timing of the club’s change in policy – no youth academy and transfers only. Attempts to re-instate a model, of sorts, are ongoing but will take years to re-establish, if it ever reaches the heights again.
But it is Smith’s other influence – of loyalty and perseverance in management that is missed most at Falkirk – now a hiring and firing club, dismissing five in four years. With each new broom comes sweeping changes, and the following clear-out is never quite replenished to previous levels.
Since Houston’s departure just 50 months ago, Falkirk have had four permanent managerial appointments, two interim spells and a global pandemic.
Paul Sheerin’s reign of just 191 days was 1011 days less than Houston’s and still considerably shorter than Ray McKinnon’s 443 and Paul Hartley's 329. The co-management experiment of former players David McCracken and Lee Miller lasted less than 18 months and incorporated the six-month suspension of the game.
The average tenure as Bairns boss stands five days more than a year – inclusive of pandemic-related shutdowns.
Amidst permanent flux, the demands and desires of the fans – for promotion and success – remain the only constant and with every passing week and episode, that seems as far away as their old technical director is.
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