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 Two!
After leaving Arbroath in the summer of 2012, Falkingham signed for Dunfermline Athletic in the then SFL First Division, where he made the step back up to full-time football.
“I knew instantly how big a club I was joining and I still believe, to this day, even after leaving the club is that it is a proper club: it has a big fanbase; the stadium and facilities that it had; the fact it had its own training ground at the time too. As soon as I moved to the town, I knew straight away how much support and love there was for Dunfermline. Having played in the initial friendly games and then going into the competitive action, the attendances we were getting home or away emphasised to me how big a club I had joined. I knew that it was a great move for myself with all these things considered, plus the excellent manager and backroom staff that were in place too. As a footballer, you always like to plan things and getting back into full-time football was the natural progression for myself. I said a 2-year-deal at Dunfermline; my first plan was to try break into the team and show how good I was – I have always believed in my ability – before then going on to my second plan, which was playing a full season in the Championship and winning the league, giving both myself and the club the chance to move back up in to the Premiership – every year I was making a progression back up the leagues and I fully believed that with the team we had and the management staff we had in place, that this club was right for me to meet my goals. I knew how good a squad we had, that were vastly experienced and more than good enough to win that league: looking back now, it is a real shame with everything that happened because the more you think about it, the more you realise how different everything could have been personally and collectively.”
When Falkingham moved to Fife, he was joined by fellow Englishmen Alex Whittle and Callum Morris, as well as French-Moroccan, Faissal El Bakhtaoui, who all lived locally to East End Park.
“I came to Scotland with no friends whereas, now, I had guys around me that I classed as friends (and still do) every day. They were my team-mates but by the end of everything, we also became really good mates. The transition period for us, as 2 or 3 lads from England, who have just moved to Dunfermline was something new but living locally to each other helped massively to settle in and once that happens, all your worries off the pitch go and then you can play your best football as you are happy and enjoying yourself. That was huge for us all, that we all settled into the club really quick and I think that is why we did so well at the start of that season. It’ll never leave me, what happened [Dunfermline going into Administration]. It was a real shame what happened and anyone who was around Dunfermline at that time will know how tough it was, too. I was just lucky to keep my job – there were friends of mine in the changing room who had a job one day and didn’t the next, it is as simple as that. By keeping my job, it allowed me to continue playing for Dunfermline and that is what I was wanting to do, anyway.”
Talking more in-depth about the Administration era at Dunfermline, Falkingham explained:
“We played Falkirk the night of the Administrators being appointed, if I remember rightly, and that match was huge within itself. We played well, I am sure, but then, the following day, we got called into a meeting – it was horrible really, it isn’t a nice experience to be honest. It was a case of getting on with it, especially when you play football: we had a game coming up straight away, once again, and you just had to prepare and train and be ready for the next match. The fans stuck by us so we had to stick by them. Throughout the whole Administration situation, we knew the connection between the players and the fans – living in the town, I knew they were always with us, no matter what happened on the pitch. We were getting beat 3-0 or 4-0 to Partick Thistle one game, at home, at half-time and to walk off to a standing ovation was a bit surreal, as usually it’d be boo’s or whatever, but it was almost like a stand of defiance, as if to say, “we are on the player’s side”. Partick were, at that time, was one of our biggest rivals at that time and that show of appreciation really did emphasise that these supporters weren’t going to give up and this football club was never going to die. I never got to a point where I thought I needed to get away from the club, but, I did need to look towards the future as there were a couple of days where things did look ominous and we thought the gates were going to get shut for good. That was the scary thought, for me; I went to my bed at night thinking when I wake up in the morning, the club will have been liquidated, that is it in a nutshell for myself. It was a scary thought as you then think “what am I going to do now?” but thankfully the Administrators sorted it all out and the club pulled through. I never once thought about leaving, though, at all.”
The following year, after Dunfermline’s relegation to League One, the Pars found themselves comfortably finishing second behind Rangers… only for Josh to once again miss out on promotion through the play-off’s.
“It was always going to be tough, that season as Rangers were strong as they went back up through the leagues. We also had a transfer embargo on us so we did fantastically well to finish where we did that season, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the play-off’s are a lottery and we never managed to win when it mattered most, win the games that we needed to. It was a major disappointed but I firmly believe you need the luck on your side and I know some people may say that “that’s false” but for me, we just didn’t have it that year and we were still in League One. The following year, [with Dunfermline finishing 7th in League One] was probably my worst year in football. Even though with all my struggles, personally, being at a club like Dunfermline and the way we ended the previous campaign then it was the worst year of my career to date – it was the worst I have ever played and we just didn’t play well collectively either. I don’t know what happened. I think it must have been a confidence issue and unfortunately, we just couldn’t deal with the situation and it never got better. The quicker that season finished the better, I would say, for all that was concerned.”
In Josh’s last term at Dunfermline, the Englishman managed to win another league winners medal, helping the Pars gain promotion back up to the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship.
“Since going into League One, I knew the club was in a false position but it just shows you how hard you will get it when you are down in those divisions. It ain’t as easy as clicking your fingers and winning a league, it isn’t like that at all. It was a long-time coming, in the end. That season, we got off to a great start, built momentum and the confidence came flooding back to us. I’ve always said that momentum can pull you through and I think it did as for the majority of that season, we wiped the floor against most sides, to be honest. We won the title in style, for me, with 6 or 7 games to go and we were the first club in Scotland – maybe even Britain – that season to win a league outright; considering the season we had previously, it was a fantastic achievement. I am disappointed with the way things ended at Dunfermline. The way things were handled – especially after everything I have been through with them. However, that iis football: if you feel sorry for yourself in this sport, you’ll get forgotten about. These things happen, but, as I say, I would have liked to have left the club in a better way, especially as we had just won the league. More than anything, I just wanted to say goodbye and thank you to the supporters, to be honest. At the time of playing my last game for the club, I didn’t know if I would be playing for the Pars again. If I had known, it would’ve been a great way for me to end my spell there and I would have been happy as it would’ve given me a chance to say thank you to everybody who supports and works at the club but unfortunately, that was taken away from me and I was unable to do that,”
Talking of why Falkingham has such a strong bond with the Pars faithful, the 27-year-old said:
“I think I got off to a flyer, really. The first few games were big derbies I think at the time: I scored away to Cowdenbeath in the first match and I am sure my first home match was Raith Rovers as well. I think with me scoring and also nearly getting sent off I think I kind of endeared myself to the supporters quite quickly. It was great start for me, at the football club, and it was a special connection I had with the fans – the way they supported me throughout everything was incredible. Now that we are a year or so down the line, I think the fans know how much they and the football club means to me. I do still support Dunfermline; I have great friends that are still there and it is one of the first results I look for on a Saturday as I want them to do good. If I could get up more often I would, but with my footballing commitments on a Saturday also, it is difficult to get up to games and the town, but if or when I can, I will do so.”
On leaving Dunfermline, was going back down to England always the likely options for the midfielder?
“No, to be honest. I wanted to stay in Scotland. I feel I have unfinished business up there with the way everything ended. I would never rule out myself coming back up to Scotland, although, in saying that, I am now settled back home again now. I am playing for Harrogate right now but football is a funny old game – I have some great memories of my time in Scotland and I would never rule coming back up, in any instance. I am always one who, whenever I speak to someone about Scottish football, I try to explain to them that there are a lot of proper football clubs and really nice stadiums up there and until you go and experience it, you don’t realise that. When I initially came up, to when I left, my perception of the standard and everything surrounding the game up there is different now, in a positive way. At the time, I left it as long as possible to try get a deal in Scotland but nothing came up and then come September – when it was well and truly into the season – I signed for Darlington. I was willing to come back up to Scotland, for a trial or sign for a team as that is where I was known for my football so I was planning to stay in Scotland but the longer it went on, I knew I needed to get back playing football and getting my name about and that is why I signed for Darlington. It was part-time and I always told them from day one of me signing that I was looking to go back full-time if I could, as quick as possible. They were happy though because it meant I needed to play well and consistently for them; it was a good side I played for and we had a good season – we got into the play-off’s but we weren’t able to play in them as the club wouldn’t get promoted due to ground regulations… that is just another tale from my career! It was another funny end to a season for me but my main objective was to get my name about again in England and ultimately, by coming back home, it has allowed me to seek out my next opportunity with Harrogate. I left Darlington on good terms as I had already made my plea about going back full-time and their manager, Martin Gray, said “that’s football, no worries”. I then ended up signing for a rival, in Harrogate, but they were a rival who were full-time, so, for me, it was perfect; it is closer to home too with Harrogate being closer to Leeds.”
What is Josh’s overall ambition this year, as he takes on a Player / Under 21’s Manager role at the National League North side.
“The ambition is to get into the National League, basically. We have started really well, we are top of the league and hopefully we can continue that on and get promotion now. In terms of getting the coaching position at the club – it was just a case of meeting the manager, Simon Weaver, in the summer and I explained I was keen to get into the coaching side of things; he was able to offer me the Under-21’s role as they are only part-time so I can work separately with them at night. I have been given full responsibility of that team which is brilliant, it was a perfect opportunity for me, at my age.. I have got my UEFA B Licence and I am now looking to gain my UEFA A Licence: I felt it was important to do the training and gain the experience just now, while I am younger, than waiting till the end of my career. They are in a regional league and there are around 14 teams in the division. It kicks off in September and you play all the Under-21 sides in your local area. The Under-21’s is the direct step behind the first-team squad so the manager and our assistant, Paul Thirlwell will take a close look at things and for me now, my main aim with them is to help them break into that first-team and hopefully play alongside me! That is the progression; I want my team and my lads to make their way and forge out a career as a professional footballer at Harrogate, first and foremost.”
A massive thank you to Josh for all his time and support in allowing me to conduct this interview. All the best to Josh for the future!