BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Craig Sibbald can remember the moment Falkirk were condemned to years of toil in Scotland’s second tier as if it were yesterday.
Needing a victory against Kilmarnock to stave off the spectre of relegation, and with the score tantalisingly balanced at 0-0, Ryan Flynn found himself eight yards out with the goal at his mercy after latching on to an Enoch Showumni flick-on.
Salvation was calling.
Flynn, however, lashed his volley over Alan Combe’s cross-bar and sunk to the turf in disbelief. A season which began in the Europa League ended with the club relegated to the old First Division.
Among the supporters in the away end at Rugby Park that fateful afternoon was a 15-year-old Sibbald, a lifelong fan and already part of the Bairns’ youth academy at that point. The feeling of devastation hit hard.
Six years and 11 days years later, the gifted midfielder is determined to secure a return to the Premiership and, in doing so, gain a semblance of revenge over Kilmarnock.
Indeed, should he feature in both matches against Killie, the deciding leg in Ayrshire will represent his 200th appearance for Falkirk. Perhaps the stars are aligning for the youngster.
“Maybe it’s a wee bit of fate that it’s Kilmarnock, that’s what some folk have been saying,” said Sibbald, who only turned 21 on Thursday despite being on the verge of securing a place in Falkirk’s Hall of Fame.
“I was at Rugby Park as a fan on the day we were relegated, I remember Ryan Flynn missed a last-minute chance and that was gutting.
“I was at the game with some friends and my mum and dad. It was a massively tense occasion, it was horrible in the end – but it’s brought us to this point and we want to take the opportunity get back up.
“I turned 21 on Wednesday and Sunday will be my 200th game, if selected. So it’s a big week. I can’t think of a better way to mark my 200th game than promotion.”
A Premiership place would also serve to make amends for the darkest day of Sibbald’s professional career, losing last season’s Scottish Cup final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“The cup final was horrible last season and you don’t want to go through that again. It’s a huge incentive to get that win,” he continued. “That was the lowest I’ve felt in football. It was all or nothing – and it’s the same again this week.”
Sibbald cites the atmosphere at Friday night’s dramatic 5-4 aggregate win over Hibernian as the most raucous atmosphere he has ever experienced at the Falkirk Stadium.
He hopes the home fans will have similar cause to recreate the Brockville bear pit this evening.
“It was unreal,” Sibbald added. “We were totally buzzing when the goal went in. That was the noisiest I’ve seen the Falkirk Stadium. The togetherness of the fans was incredible and it was brilliant with everyone singing ‘Amarillo’ at the end.
“The players and the supporters have the same goal, to get back to the Premiership, and hopefully we can make that happen.”