With a glut of gifted young players coming through and Steven Pressley in charge Falkirk's fortunes are rising
In this frenzy of the January transfer window, it may seem curious to outsiders that some of the strongest focus from England on a Scottish club can be found in Falkirk. Steven Pressley's team are not even at the summit of the First Division but have a batch of young, already first-team players, who are deservedly attracting wider interest.
In excess of 20 clubs, largely English, have been represented at Falkirk's recent home games, endorsing an excellent youth academy system. Murray Wallace, Jay Fulton and Craig Sibbald are among the teenage players who have impressed this season.
Their promising development has coincided with a notable turnaround for Pressley, the manager with whom the Falkirk board admirably kept faith despite a failure to earn promotion back to the top flight in May. Falkirk have this season progressed to the final of the Challenge Cup and the semi-final of the League Cup, as well as clawing themselves back into a championship race.
"The great thing is, the young players are at that age of ambition where they are so desperate to prove themselves," Pressley says. "Everything is in front of them, which brings a real energy and ambition to the football club. Young players bring a hunger. And when fans see an energy and desire in their team, they will accept a lot of things. When I came to this club, this was the age group they all talked about as the strongest at the academy. So they were known."
Pressley's sincerity and forthright nature made him an obvious leader as a player. Whether linked to those traits or not, and in a fate which befalls so many characters within Scottish football, he has been demonised by those who do not know him properly since moving into the dug-out.
When appointed by Falkirk, Pressley confidently predicted the club would not be relegated from the SPL. What was lost on his detractors is that it would have been headline news had he said the opposite. Three months later, as demotion occurred, the manager sensibly shrugged off those who sought to laugh last.
"I'm of the belief that managers shouldn't be heard too much with regards the team when they are doing well," he explains. "You should be heard more when the team is under pressure. That's where a manager needs to earn his corn. A real manager when the going gets tough can stand up and take the heat."
Pressley himself has a grievance with Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Premier League, and the clubs therein who categorically refuse to contemplate a meaningful expansion to the top division. As Pressley rightly acknowledges, the league is smothered by its dependance on a television deal which depends on four Old Firm matches every season.
"Chairmen at football clubs pay lip service to supporters, they aren't interested," he says. "They are only interested in guaranteed revenue, which is the TV money, and everything else is a bonus. They need to flip that round; their biggest concern should be how many supporters they can bring through the gates.
"Eventually, something will happen with TV, stadiums will be empty and you will never bring these supporters back. Football will always survive without TV but it won't without supporters."
And so an expanded league format? "If you only play the Old Firm twice, a club could go on a run of winning games where they launch a serious challenge to them. I don't think the Old Firm want a serious challenge, I think they are happy with this [current] situation.
"I don't think they are an example to anybody at this present time as how to move football forward. They haven't developed any of their own players, really. One or two? If they had been successful in Europe, then yes we could start looking to them. But they haven't been that.
"Their methods of buying in players and starving [of opportunity] Fleetthe young players aren't working so we shouldn't be looking to them to lead us forward. We need people at the top end who aren't just prepared to look after their own jobs, but have the real interests of Scottish football at heart."
As an influential captain at Hearts, Pressley famously read out a public statement which pointed to "significant unrest" within the dressing room. Now, he can recall the fractured state of the Tynecastle club under the ownership of Vladimir Romanov, a scenario which only occasionally seems to have improved since Pressley exited Hearts in 2006. There will be no return for the Scottish Cup winning captain of earlier that year while Romanov is in charge.
"Never, ever," he confirms. "Because I am a man of principle. I stood up for what I believed in and against a regime that I didn't believe in at all with the way they treated people, the way they want about their business. "For me, if you stand up for something then you have to see it through. I saw things at that football club, values that I just didn't believe in. I wouldn't go back on that, which is why I would never work under that again."
Pressley's current scenario suits him just fine. The progression of Falkirk's youngsters justifies boardroom faith.