Published: 17th November 2023
Falkirk-native Craig Sibbald is relishing the opportunity to return to the stadium in which he cut his teeth in senior football but insists all sentimentalities will be sidelined when the whistle blows on Friday evening.
Born and raised in the shadow of The Falkirk Stadium, the midfielder harks back to the days of his youth and early infatuation with football
Speaking to broadcaster BBC ALBA, he began: “It’s always good to go back to where I made my debut. I used to go to all the games with my mum, we were season-ticket holders - I loved every minute of it.
“I played with Young Falkirk every Saturday and Sunday as a kid. I still stay in the area where we trained so when I drive past it triggers fond memories.”
Earmarked as one of the area’s budding youngsters, Sibbald soon progressed into the Bairns' Academy ranks.
“Then, I got selected for the pro-youth side when I was eight which was based at Stirling University. I had loads of brilliant coaches and I’ve still got friends who I talk to now from that youth team.
"I was in the pro-youth set up until I was 16 when I made my debut - that was a dream come true. It meant everything when I started playing regularly with the first team”
Challenge Cup Glory
Coincidentally, Sibbald’s bow for his hometown club came in the Challenge Cup. Entering the fray five minutes from time against Brechin in the early stages of the 2011/12 campaign, he helped Falkirk see out a 2-1 triumph at Glebe Park.
This would be the first step on the long road to Challenge Cup glory, with Falkirk going on to raise the trophy aloft.
A fresh-faced Sibbald played 86 minutes of the final as former United defender Darren Dods’ header just one minute into the match was enough to see Steven Pressley’s side over the line. Falkirk remain the most successful club in the tournament’s history, having been victorious on four occasions.
Sibbald resumed: “I never imagined I would’ve played over 300 games - it’s surreal especially at the age I was. I’ve mainly got good memories of my time there, for example, playing in the Scottish Cup Final."
Arguably, Sibbald’s finest moment for his boyhood club was punching their ticket to Scottish football’s showpiece event in 2015. His bullet header in the closing stages of a Last Four matchup with Hibernian was enough to send Falkirk into the Final.
Despite ultimately losing out to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Sibbald remains one of few players to have represented the club in a major cup final.
Due to his extensive contributions in Stirlingshire, the 28-year-old is anticipating a fairly hospitable evening under the lights. This has been the case throughout the majority of his subsequent career after departing, aside from an unfortunate tumble back in July!
“I’d like to think I’ll get a warm reception. We played there at the start of the season and it wasn’t too bad, apart from when I fell!”
Tannadice Career High
Shifting focus back to Tayside, the positive culture implemented at the DUFC Training Centre on a daily basis has laid the foundations for a successful season, according to Sibbald.
“It’s a good place to be given the fact we’re unbeaten and top of the league. The Gaffer is on at us every day to keep the standards high and that’ll be no different on Friday.
“The run we’ve been on has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my career. Having that winning feeling is unbeatable. It’s really enjoyable coming in every day because everyone is so close - we’re all pulling in the right direction.
The necessary shake-up of the playing squad throughout the transfer window also helped exorcise the demons of last season’s relegation.
“It was a bit of a restart. We’ve recruited well with big-name players like Ross Docherty, Kevin Holt, Declan Gallagher and Louis Moult. You can see the impact they’ve had this season.
“It’s massive for us to continue the winning mentality. We want to keep building the character around the team.”
The Challenge Ahead
John McGlynn’s men are one of only five sides in British professional football yet to lose a league match this term. Dundee United, Celtic, Mansfield Town and Portsmouth complete the list.
Sitting three points ahead of Hamilton Academical at the summit of the League One table, Falkirk are eyeing a return to the second tier for the first time since 2019.
“They’ve had form similar to ours, albeit in the league below, but it’ll be the same as the match at the start of the season - a really tough game that we’ll need to be ready for.
“It would be nice to see them back in the Premiership eventually. Personally, I believe that’s where they belong. They’re going the right way about it this season, and long may it continue in the league”
The Terrors have already faced Friday’s opposition this season. During a Viaplay Cup Group B clash, Kai Fotheringham capitalised on a defensive error from the hosts notch his first senior goal for the club.
That first-half strike saw United emerge 1-0 winners, but wasn’t enough to salvage a place in the knockout phase.
“I can’t wait to get going. I’m sure it’ll be a good atmosphere with it being a Friday night. You want to win every game you play in so why not go and get a medal in this competition?
“The main objective is promotion but anything else we can get is a bonus.”