At 25-years-old, Willie Falconer signed for Boro in 1991 and made his home debut on August 17th against Millwall in a 1-0 win. Ten days later he scored his first goal for the club in a 3-0 win over rivals Newcastle United at Ayresome Park. Falconer, a tall striker scored 12 goals in 52 games for Middlesbrough before going on to sign for Sheffield United.
A memorable moment in Falconer’s Boro career, which some of the older generation Boro fans might remember occurred at Old Trafford in 1992 when Willie had a great chance to put Boro into the final of the League Cup with a header, but Peter Schmeichel somehow tipped it over the bar.
I recently contacted Willie to ask him to take part in a QA with me and here’s what he had to say. Enjoy!
You joined Middlesbrough from Watford in 1991. Can you tell us the details surrounding the move?
WF. My contract was up so I reported back to Watford who wanted to re-sign me, so I ended up on a pre-season trip to Norway. I spoke to a couple of clubs and said I would make a decision when I returned. During that trip, the manager Steve Perryman told me about the interest from Boro. When we returned I travelled up and spoke to them. My thoughts were – it seemed a good set up, decent squad of players and the club were bending over backwards to try and sign me.
Who was the manager who took you to Boro, and what was your relationship like with him?
WF. Lennie Lawrence was the manager at the time and I had a really good working relationship with him. Lennie and one of the nicest guys in the game, John Pickering his assistant, worked really well together.
Can you remember your debut for Middlesbrough, and how did you play?
WF. I think my first game was against Walsall in a pre-season friendly and I managed to score a diving header. My league debut was against Millwall at Ayresome Park. It was a typical first game of the season played at 100 miles an hour and we got a 1-0 win.
Who was your biggest influence on your Boro career and what advice was given to you at the time?
WF. Probably Lennie. I had a bad knee injury, which kept me out for about three or four months – he knew when to give me a few days away from the physios room and rehab work when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel returning to action. Eventually, I got back into action but its only now you look back and know he was spot on.
What was your favourite match you played for Boro?
WF. Probably not a classic but it meant a lot at the time. It was the last game of that season away at Wolves, which we clinched promotion to the Premier League, winning 2-1. The atmosphere was brilliant and the after match party was even better.
What was your favourite all time goal for Boro?
WF. My favourite goal was probably the one I scored against Plymouth in a league game the year we got promoted. The ball fell to me about 25 yards out (as the years go on I think it could have been about 35 yards out!) I managed to catch it on the half volley and it flew into the top corner past Peter Shilton who was in goal for them at the time.
Who was your best mate at Boro?
WF. My best mate was Paul Wilkinson. We had played at Watford for three years together and it was just coincidence that we signed at the same time for the Boro. We still keep in touch. In fact, he was up in Glasgow last week to see me – he is still as laid back as a deck chair.
Who did you room with on away games and are there any amusing stories to tell?
WF. My room-mate was Wilko – who I shared at Watford as well so I had a 5-year sentence with a serial snorer.
What was the best piece of advice given to you while at Boro?
WF. Stay out of the Mall nightclub in Stockton.
Who was the best player you played with in your time at the club?
WF. Very hard to pick one individual out at that time, but if you pin me down I will go for goalkeeper Stephen Pears who was at the top of his game.
Did you have any nicknames and who give you them and why?
WF. This is probably for the older supporters, who remember a character from Coronation Street called Albert Tatlock who was always moaning about everything. John Hendrie gave this to me because he said I liked a good moan during games when things weren’t going well. To be fair he was right, that’s how Albert stuck for a while.
Who was your toughest opponent while playing for Boro?
WF. There were a few players I came up against especially when we played in the Premier League. One week you would be up against Roy Keane and Bryan Robson at Man Utd and the next it would be Gary Mcallister and Eric Cantona at Leeds. So you knew to get a good night sleep on the Friday because you would be tested the next day.
What was your feelings of Teesside and what did you think of the area?
WF. I had no problems with the area. The supporters wore their hearts on their sleeves and were always good to me at the stadium and in the town.
What was your relationship with the Boro fans like?
WF. I would like to think I had a good relationship with the fans, they were always good to me. I always gave my all on the pitch and it was good to pop up now and again with a few goals for them.
Did you have any pre-match superstitions?
WF. Never really had any real superstitions. I was always quite laid back before kick off, I would sit and read the programme or a newspaper 10 minutes before we went out while listening to some of my team-mates throwing up in the toilets or block tackling the dressing room wall.
You left Boro in 1993 to join Sheffield United. Did you think it was the right time to go?
WF. It was a strange one. We had just been relegated from the Premier League and a few of the players contracts were up including my own. I had spoken to Lennie and he wanted me to re-sign. I was happy enough to stay but never got to the stage of signing (back then it was a different set up when contracts finished), a week before the season started he told me that Dave Basset had been in touch and the club had accepted a fee. It was a good financial package offered by Sheffield United and obviously Premier League football again, but it never felt right. I played most of the games for them for about six months and then moved up to Celtic. I would have stayed at the Boro if a contract was produced earlier.
Who was your footballing hero as a kid?
WF. It was probably watching Kenny Dalglish on the box at Celtic before he moved to Liverpool, would be my first impressions of someone you wanted to emulate.
What are you involved in these days, are you still involved in football?
WF. A friend and I have a property rental business in Glasgow and Aberdeen. I look after Glasgow and he looks after Aberdeen. I was in at Motherwell coaching the youth team for nine years, but I left about five years ago to look after the property side of things.
What did you think of the team you played in at the time playing for Boro?
WF. The team I played with were all honest pros, we had a really good team spirit on and off the park, which goes a long way to grinding out results week in week out. Lennie and his coaches were good at man-managing a big squad of players.
And finally, Willie, can you tell us what it was like to play for Middlesbrough and what the club means to you?
WF. I had a great time at the Boro, both on and off the pitch with great people and have a lot of good memories. I still look out for the Boro score every week.
A huge thank you to Willie Falconer for taking the time to talk about his time at Middlesbrough and thank you to Shaun Wilson for player stats.
Up the Boro!
Stuart Whittingham (@originalwhit89)