Rival skippers Darren Young of Alloa Athletic and Dunfermline Athletic’s Josh Falkingham both reckon that the spirit that exists in the Pars dressing room means that the First Division Play-Off Final is far from over despite the Wasps’ 3-0 first leg advantage.
The East End Park side are in the middle of a financial crisis and the implications of a 15 point penalty for entering Administration and making a host of experienced players redundant has made their First Division status perilous.
Young knows that the Fifers can rally and overturn their lead on Sunday as the 34-year-old experienced what happens when a Dunfermline squad have their backs against the wall.
Young said: “I spent 5 eventful seasons at Dunfermline where we got the club into a really high position in the league, played in Europe, reached 3 national Cup Finals, a Challenge Cup Final and also suffered relegation.”
“We had an issue with a shortage of money as well. It was similar to what has happened to them this season but not as bad. Everyone took an agreed percentage of a wage cut and forfeited bonus and appearance money.”
That move created a strong bond as Young explained: “The upside to the cuts was that it created a real tightness in our squad and we performed well. Their players have that tightness again this season and they are playing for their careers and their livelihoods so they will give it everything to overturn that score-line.”
“However we have the chance to be promoted and have to look to take it. We cannot let the spirit that Dunfermline have get in our way.”
Despite never playing in a Play-Off game ahead of this season Young was an interested observer when the SFL brought Play-Offs to Scottish football back in 1995 when Aberdeen took on Dunfermline.
The Dons won 6-2 on aggregate with 3-1 wins at both Pittodrie and East End Park to keep their place in the Scottish Premier League with Young saying: “I was a schoolboy signing for Aberdeen at the time so I was not really that close to it. I looked for the score coming in and wanted Aberdeen to win.”
“I am glad they did as it meant that I became a top flight player there a year later against Hearts as a 17-year-old.”
In 2003 Young swapped sides and now he is in the Play-offs for real as he explained: “We won the title at Alloa last season. I had come second with Dunfermline and Dundee in the First but there was no other route to the SPL. Thankfully that is not the case in the Second and Third Divisions.”
Young has a major incentive to ensure his side are playing in the First Division next season as he explained: “It would be terrific and it would make up for missing a lot of games the last time I was there as I had a recurring calf injury. I thought at one time that I may have to chuck football but the physio at Alloa has been terrific with me.”
“Last season I played in over 30 league games and this year I am at 25 however I have been coming off the bench a lot recently. That has been very frustrating but we finished the season in second place and defeated Brechin to win through to the Play-Off Final so I cannot complain too much.”
“I got half an hour in the first leg against Dunfermline and want to be involved again on Sunday.”
Young, who came on as a substitute in Wednesday night’s first meeting, is looking to get his boots dirty at his former home for the first time since he left for Dundee in 2008 and he said: “I have been back to watch a couple of games there but this will be my first competitive appearance at East End Park.”
“It will be special if I play on Sunday as I have a lot of great memories from my time at East End. I enjoyed good years there and of course my brother Derek was at the club at the same time.”
If Alloa win through the Young brothers could well be on the same park again, just as they were this season but on different sides, with elder sibling Darren saying: “If we get promoted we could have another series of Young versus Young contests. He was in the Queen of the South team that just sneaked the Second Division from us by 25 points.”
“I am not sure if he is signing on again for them but if he does and we get promoted it will be terrific to face him in the First Division. Neither of us played at that level last season so it would be great if I could join him in making the step up.”
As well as playing for Alloa Young combines playing with working in the community programme at Alloa as he explained: “I work within the Wasps Community Club and it is great as it is full of the next generation of Alloa fans. They are all season ticket holders and I am the Head Coach, the Technical director and most other jobs as well.”
“The kids are all 4 to 16 years old and we have teams for them and also for the girls that come along as well. It would be great to bring First Division football to them.”
Falkingham on the other hand wants to lead his men to a second stirring comeback in a week after they made it through to the Final with a 6-1 win over a Forfar side that finished with only 8 men last weekend.
They faced a 3-1 deficit in that game and 22-year-old Falkingham said: “That was a bizarre game in a bizarre season. It all adds to the drama and we never make things easy for ourselves. The play-offs sum up the mad season we have had but we showed a great spirit last weekend and will need to dig deep again.”
“I never envisaged being in the play-offs this year, no-one would have, and it is through no fault of the players that we are here. I signed a 2 year deal in the summer and was confident that we would progress to the SPL”
Falkingham added: “That is the saddest part of all this as we had a group of players that could have got us there and we showed that in the first half of the season. On January 5 we beat Dumbarton 1-0 and went to the top of the First Division. 2013 had just begun and we were top of the table and look at things now.”
Despite the score-line Falkingham is ensuring that his men are up for the fight as he explained: “We had lost the first leg at Station Park last week but we will take confidence from the second one. Winning 6-1 is great in any game and doing it in a game when the future of the club is at stake was crucial for the players. We had let ourselves down in the first game at Forfar and we had to show that we were better than that. We can do that again.”
“The fans have stuck by us and we all know that we could be remembered as key players in the club’s history if we can complete the job and keep us in this Division.”
The former Leeds and St. Johnstone player has suffered Play-Off disappointment before and he said: “I tasted it with Arbroath last season and we never completed the job in the Semi-Finals and we lost to Dumbarton. It was a sore one to take especially as we had taken the lead down at their place.”
“What turned out to be the winning goal in the first leg came from an indirect free kick when our goalkeeper leapt high in the air to make a save from a wayward passback so that was sore as well.”
“In the second game we battered them and their goalkeeper Stephen Grindlay was superb. Nothing we hit was going past him that day.”
Falkingham is therefore hoping to meet a less inspired shot-stopper in this game as he said: “It is important to me as the captain of Dunfermline to keep us in the First Division. The armband has stuck with me since administration and despite the circumstances it was a proud moment for me to be given the responsibility. I am desperate to keep us up.”
“I like to think that I am a leader and I have always been vocal on the pitch. You need everyone to be a captain on the pitch all the same at this crucial time. I was probably made skipper as John Potter and Craig Dargo spend a bit of their time coaching and Andy Geggan was out injured when administration happened.”
“At 22 I am the next oldest player and even at a pretty young age I know that it is important that we do not feel sorry for ourselves. We probably did have a bit of that at Forfar and were 3-0 down at half time. It was a tough half but we showed courage and fighting spirit to get back into things at East End Park.”
Falkingham reflected on a turbulent period by saying: “It is not the season I envisaged when I came here last summer but to be honest that seems a lot longer ago. It has been a crazy season, a tough one, but I am a great believer that everything happens for a reason. For all this to happen at such a young age will help me later in my career.”
“My career record is Third Division and then Second Division with Arbroath before First Division with Dunfermline. I hoped that sequence would continue and it would be SPL with Dunfermline. Now I will be happy if it goes 3,2,1,1.”
The Yorkshireman finished by saying: “I started off at the bottom of the SFL and do not want to start heading back that way. However I know that losing the Play-Offs could have wider implications than that for this club.”
“I saw coming to Scotland 3 years as a great opportunity to better myself and I am still glad I came up. I have loved every minute of it however the least few months have been challenging but hopefully we can end this season on a real high.”