Josh Falkingham is a 27-year-old English footballer who has played for Leeds United at youth level while also featuring for St Johnstone; Arbroath; Dunfermline; Darlington. jordanburtfootball.com caught up with the midfielder to look over his career to date… Part One!
Like most boys, Falkingham was always into football from a very young age.
“Having spoke to my mum and other members of my family, I was always kicking a football about – as soon as I could walk, really. I managed to literally, as soon as I could, go to Mini Soccer and I started when I was 6 or 7 years old. I went to my local club and I, luckily, got picked up straight away by a coach who then sent me on to Leeds. I was signed with Leeds from 8 years old. When I think back, all I can remember is playing football: it has been in my blood and I think that is why I am still doing it today. It was huge [playing for Leeds]. Having grown up in the area, as well, it was a dream come true. When I was growing up, Leeds were one of the best teams in the country – playing in the Champions League and things like that. I was from the same area as where Alan Smith was from and he was an absolute legend at the club; he was scoring goals for fun and knowing someone where I was from was playing for their hometown club and doing so well, it made me want to do it as well: to represent my club, make my family proud and to this day, I still dream of playing for Leeds United as that is the team I support and I love. Myself and my dad followed them every week, we went and watched them so to play for them as well, it was just great.”
“I was lucky to be fair – I was in a youth team that had some real good players for our area (as it got divided into regions). We were in the Northern area and played sides like Man United, Man City, Liverpool, Everton… and to be fair, we were always topping our group at that time throughout all the age groups so I knew we all had a chance in the game. A lot of the lads I grew up with have had unbelievable careers; where as others don’t get the breaks and stuff like that but that is just football – unfortunately, at the time I did get released, it was the luck of the draw; a new manager came in, after me doing well under Gary McAllister, and once he got sacked, Simon Grayson came in and his job was to get Leeds out of the league they were in and that was at any cost. Thus, that had consequences for the youth lads at that time and we didn’t really get a chance: he went for more experienced, or loan, players which was a big contradiction to what was happening under Gary McAllister. Growing up, every stage and year I went, playing for the first-team became closer. Then I went full-time, then I signed my professional terms but unfortunately that never came.”
Once Falkingham had left Leeds, he found himself up in Scotland with St Johnstone.
“At that time, it was a bit of a struggle as I was only 19, a small player and my size was always a massive thing for me, fighting that off as I came through the youth ranks. I had an unfortunate trial at Bury and I honestly was sure something was going to come of it – I was there for around 5 or 6 weeks. It never did happen and at that time I had an agent who said to me “do you fancy going up to Scotland?” and then I found out St Johnstone were interested in me and had asked to take me on trial. Derek McInnes was looking for a midfielder and I never had to consider the opportunity – straight away I went home, packed my bags, jumped in my car and drove up for a trial and then everything went from there. It was a completely new experience for me – when you live in England, you know some clubs: Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibs, Hearts, Dundee, Dundee United but the other clubs, you don’t really know much about them. When I was driving up to Perth, all I knew was they were a full-time side in the Scottish Premiership which would be a great challenge for me with it being a step-up from what I was used to playing at. I was going up blind – I had no friends who had previously played in Scotland so I had absolutely no clue what to expect but once I arrived I loved every single minute of it.”
Josh’s one and only appearance for St Johnstone came in a 0-0 draw away to Falkirk, with the midfielder coming on early in the match as a substitute.
“It was my professional debut, so I remember it all. St Johnstone are, and were, a good side but it was a nothing game, in reality. Murray Davidson got an injury after 8 minutes and Derek McInnes shouted my name to tell me I was going on; it was a big experience for me at the time. What I do remember from the game was that there wasn’t much quality in it, but, I should’ve won a penalty as the keeper brought me down, but the ref never gave it. Literally, I think that was the only talking point of the game! I absolutely loved it – it was a massive moment in my career to make my senior debut in professional football. “
In the summer of 2010, Falkingham signed for then SFL Third Division side Arbroath.
“At that point, I knew I needed to play games, really. I had a relationship with Paul Sheerin – he had given me a phone and was desperate for me. At that point, Derek McInnes didn’t want to let me go but from a financial point of view, the people upstairs n the St Johnstone boardroom weren’t having it, unfortunately. I got on with Derek and Tony Docherty really well and they said I could stay and train with them if I wanted to. Paul [Sheerin] was happy with this as I was only training on a part-time basis with them twice a week at night, whereas the training at St Johnstone was during the day. By Derek allowing me to stay full-time that year in terms of using their training facilities, it allowed me to keep up my sharpness and continue my development; the other big thing was that Derek allowed me to train that year with the first-team as well, which was great as they had some fantastic players back then such as Jody Morris, Michael Duberry, which helped me massively as well as learning from guys like Danny Grainger and Murray Davidson. For these guys to take me on and help me improve even though I played with Arbroath, it was a massive thing for me: I knew I had to play first-team football that season. Paul put a great team together and with everything combined it all fell into place and went hand-in-hand with each other. It was great.”
Falkingham’s first match for the Red Lichties in the Third Division was a high scoring away win against Elgin City.
“I’d never been to places such as your Elgin’s, your Peterhead’s and other tough venues like that and, to be honest with you, I hadn’t even heard of most of the teams we came up against that season until we played them, even though I had been in Scotland for a bit by that time. It was an interesting introduction to lower league Scottish football – travelling up and down the country; winning games and scoring goals. It couldn’t have went much better! I thought that war the norm!! It was a great start to my career, though, and it proved the perfect platform for me to go and learn my trade, to be honest, once I look back on it now. Arbroath are a great, little, club – the people love me, we were winning week-in, week-out and personally, my development it was everything I needed at that time:: I was in a changing room with experienced professionals such as Kieran McAnespie; Stuart Malcolm and of course the gaffer; Gavin Swankie is another… I knew if I listened to them and leant off them, I would grow up quickly and that is what I did. I had to, to be honest. I hoped in a year or two down the line, I would be good enough to make that next step and thankfully for me I was.”
“I’ll never forget those two years at Arbroath, we won the Third Division and came so close the year after – to be honest, that was and still is my only regret from my time at Gayfield; Cowdenbeath ended up pipping us to the title and then we got beaten in the play-off’s, but, we played the best football in that league and unfortunately for us, we went through a bad patch at the worst possible time while Cowden stayed strong and ran away with it to win the title in the end. For me, personally, we had the better team and we should have won the league.”
Speaking of his achievements during the two season’s he spent at Gayfield, Falkingham said:
“Paul [Sheerin] had said to me about the team before I joined so ii knew we had a really good squad, but, what did take me by surprise, and it only came apparent to me during that season, was the fact that while they had promotions throughout their 100-odd year history, they had never won a trophy, so I knew how big an achievement it would’ve been for the whole football club. That team – myself, Paul and the rest of the lads, we are now down in history as the first Arbroath squad to lift a trophy and win a league title. Once it got closer to us winning the league, it became more exciting for me due to knowing they had never achieved anything like this before in their history. The following year, if we had been offered being in the promotion play=off’s before a ball was kicked, we would’ve taken that but after 9 games and you have played every side once, I knew how good we were. We were up there all season and due to what happened the previous season, we were all confident of our own abilities as well as the collective qualities we had as a group. We had that mentality of winning every week and we had the determination to go and win another league title. Once we had passed through the Christmas and New Year period, we weren’t then going to accept being in the promotion play-off’s; we wanted to win the league again and I personally believe we should have. We played Dumbarton and their goalkeeper at the time [Stephen Grindlay, had had the game of his life. We lost the first leg 2-1 but we knew we still had a chance with the second leg being at Gayfield, but we drew 0-0. Everything we done, he saved. We created so many chances and played really well – we didn’t disappoint ourselves in terms of our performance, the difference was a goalkeeper having the game of his life!”
That summer, Falkingham moved back into full-time football after joining Dunfermline Athletic on a 2-year-deal. Read Part Two tomorrow to find out Josh’s thoughts and memories of his four seasons at East End Park, while also finding out about his return to the English game.