Gary Smith got an exclusive interview with Falkirk manager Peter Houston for Scottish Football Tips .
The Bairns’ boss outlines how he has laid the groundwork for leaving Falkirk, describes how alcohol sometimes helps, discusses his time as a scout for Celtic, tips Craig Sibbald and Kevin O Hara to reach the top of the game and compares Ian Cathro to Arrigo Saachi.
There has been a certain amount of interest in the Scottish Championship in recent seasons with the inclusion of Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and Dundee United.
With Hearts and Rangers escaping the second tier in consecutive seasons it is left up to Neil Lennon and Ray McKinnon to get their respected sides back in the top flight.
There is however another team who have come close in recent years with agonising despair last season in the play-off final.
Falkirk are eight points adrift of the joint leaders and under the stewardship of manager Peter Houston it is safe to say they are in good hands in their quest for promotion.
I recently caught up with the gaffer as we chatted over a cup of tea and discussed last season, his time at Celtic touring Europe as a scout, the young players he has worked with, his stint as Scotland assistant and even his favourite curry.
GS: Taking you back to Rugby Park on the 22nd May you travel to Kilmarnock with a 1-0 lead and the wheels come off the season as you go on and lose 4-0. What was the mood after the game and how did you react to the defeat?
PH: We actually had a night planned back here for all the players and their families, basically an end of season party. It started off very quiet with nobody feeling talkative but Alcohol helps. It helped relax everyone. I had a chat with the players and just told them we can’t change the outcome so just go out tonight and enjoy yourselves.
But it was a huge disappointment because the expectation level for us wasn’t to finish above Hibs or Rangers, the play offs was a target so when we finished second it meant we had to play Hibs.
When we beat them we had about four or five days recovery before we had to play Kilmarnock in the first leg. I felt a lot of our strength was that we always went to the end and never knew when we were beat.
We scored late on in the first game against Kilmarnock and I actually felt we were lucky to win the game but you take it and go and work towards the Sunday.
We had a game plan for the second leg but when you go two goals down in the first five minutes the plan goes out the window. At that time in the game we know if we get a goal back were right back in the tie and actually going through because of the away goals rule. The legs and the confidence was starting to go by that point though.
Kilmarnock deserved to win no doubt but I think if we had gone up to the Premier League with the squad I had at the time there would have had to have been changes in the squad and more quality.
What that means though is we would have needed more money and we have a budget here at Falkirk that I stick to which is far less than other clubs in the division like Hibs, Rangers or Dundee United.
I didn’t feel we were really ready and if we had won the play off I would have been fighting for my job at the moment.
GS: In relation to the transfer window during the summer did you feel satisfied with who you brought in especially with losing big players such as Will Vaulks and Blair Alston?
PH: Firstly you can’t replace Vaulks, the boy scored 14 goals last season and he could play anywhere on the field. Centre back, Centre midfield and his physical strength was excellent. You have to find someone to replace him so we got a few hundred grand with additions and for Will you don’t replace a £200,000 player with nothing, but it gives other guys here opportunities.
We know as a football club prior to me being here that Falkirk FC went into administration and the creditors got every penny that was owed to them which is a great credit to the club. Since I’ve come in we have run our club prudently.
We’ve sold Kingsley, McGrandles, Ryan Blair and Will Vaulks and I have no doubt if I still had those players in my first team we’d be challenging up the top of the league. We are a selling club we know that but it doesn’t stop us from trying to get into the Premier League.
GS: You had an early start to the season due to the new formatted League Cup, what was your opinions on it, did you enjoy it?
PH: Yeah I’m not against it. We didn’t qualify because we lost our first game against Stirling Albion but that was down to their players working harder than our players and it was an attitude thing.
I felt it brought a freshness because people had been treating it with a bit of contempt in recent years. The format was a bit quicker and more exciting especially with the penalty shootouts. I’ll be looking forward to it next season and will be ready for it next time.
GS: You currently lie third in the table nearly halfway through the season, is this where you saw yourselves being at this stage or are you disappointed with not being closer?
PH: I believe Dundee United’s budget is bigger now than when I left and they’re obviously wanting to try get out at the first attempt so that’s fine. Hibs can also spend more money on players wages than what we can afford that’s understandable, they’re big clubs, they’re getting big crowds in so the manager deserves the money to go out and get these players.
That’s what we’ll need to do as well. What I would say is I’d like to have more points on the board. We’ve set ourselves targets of fifteen points per quarter and I know as a manager that sixty points gets you in the play offs. That’s the kind of club we are and that’s where we should be a team who`s challenging Queen of the South, Morton and Raith Rovers. If we can do any better than play offs then were going to try because on our day we can beat anyone in this league as we’ve already shown.
GS: Speaking about Hibs, Neil Lennon is a man you know well, was he the man that brought you to Celtic as a scout? Did you enjoy that aspect of the game?
PH: It had to have Lenny’s blessing obviously but it was John Park who brought me there. Me and Lenny have had our run ins in the past when I was at Dundee Utd but I’ve got to know him well since and we get on well now.
I loved my time there. I was travelling around Europe at these under 17s and under 18s Championships. I was at Benfica for eight days, I travelled through to Malta for 8 days. I watched young Denayer of Belgium.
I then travelled north to Vigo and watched Germany, Spain, Lithuania and Denmark. It was a great opportunity and experience for someone who is older and gave me an insight into that side of the game.
As managers we are put under an immense amount of pressure and big clubs can come in and buy your best players so that’s good to know I can turn to the recruitment side of the game and find players on that network.
I was sent to watch Stefan Johansen at Stromsgodset where he was playing as a sitting midfield player and was excellent that night. It wasn’t long after that he signed for the club but that was my first job as the scout.
The recruitment side of things is definitely something that I would like to get back into again, not sure who with or when I will want to go and do that.
GS: Talking of the younger players you’ve worked with especially at Dundee Utd in Jonny Russell, Gary Mackay Steven, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Gauld amongst countless others
PH: I gave Armstrong his debut at the same as john Souttar, Gauld and Ryan Dow so they all gained first team experience under my time at United.
I put Souttar in at sixteen years old against Aberdeen and we drew 2-2 which gave him confidence as he came through it well. Gauld and Dow we had to get smaller kits for them as the kit we had was too large for them.
I love to see young players get opportunities but also I like to see them get opportunities at bigger clubs, I’ve said to the boys in the dressing room if your only ambition is to play for Falkirk then you’re no use to me.
You should have drive and determination to step up the ladder. In my opinion Craig Sibbald and Kevin O Hara will be the next ones to get a big move.
GS: You were assistant to Craig Levein at Scotland also how was that for you and how did you feel it went at international level.?
PH: It was a huge disappointment the way it turned out but I loved my time there. The players were great there but ultimately it’s based on results.
I look at the national team the now and I believe that Gordon is doing the best he possibly can. A lot of people have criticised him recently but I really admire him as a coach and a manager.
There’s a lot of new projects trying to get off the ground at the moment but something needs to change and when we aren’t playing well we always look to some other country for guidance.
The basic fact is that kids aren’t playing football on the streets anymore mainly because they get chased or there’s too much traffic about.
I spent my days as a boy in Cranhill and all you did night and day was play football, anything that resembled a ball you played with.
The main interest for kids isn’t football anymore. They’ve been taken over with technology like Ipads, Laptops and games consoles.
I still think we need more facilities, there was an indoor centre we used one winter at Dundee utd and they’re able to cut it into separate smaller pitches so why not use that and get the kids on these pitches.
In terms of me and Craig`s time at Scotland nobody remembers the good he did they only ever remember 4-6-0 against the Czech Republic. His name is dirt in certain cities in Scotland.
They don’t realise he was the one who started the performance director position at Scotland and also was forcing through schemes and developments for youth football.
GS: You mentioned the performance director position. Have you got any thoughts on Austin McPhee who did apply for the job? Would he have been better placed there rather than assistant to Ian Cathro?
PH: I don’t really know much about him and I’ve nothing against people who haven’t played the game at the top level like Cathro. Saatchi was the same. Arrigo Saatchi said about his non playing career -you don’t expect a good horse to be a jockey or a jockey to be a good horse, basically it’s a case of let’s find out if I’m going to be good enough. If you’re willing to put yourself at the forefront then it takes a big character to do that.
GS: Finishing with a few questions from the fans via twitter based on you bringing John Rankin to the club…why?
PH: When you lose a player right at the end of the window you have to bring a replacement for him and I found out John Rankin was available to come in for Vaulks who went to Rotherham. John did a magnificent job for me at Dundee Utd. He’s a fit lad who, in my opinion, could add to the squad and I think he has added to the squad. He did have a bad game on Saturday and got substituted so maybe that’s what the fan who asked the question is referring to, but what I see in training is what I want to see for Falkirk.
GS: Do you miss Top flight management?
PH: Obviously my aim is to take this club back up to the Premier League and I hope to be in that position at fifty-eight with two magnificent coaches in James McDonagh and Alan Maybury.
I’d like to eventually pass it on to them but I still feel I have the ability to manage in the top flight and you only have to look at my record in the top flight. My aim is to get us into the Premier League and pit ourselves against the top teams and managers.
GS: What is your favourite curry and what is the indian sign that you have over Easter Road?
PH: Well I’m unbeaten as a manager at Easter Road under Falkirk and for me it has to be a chicken madras with naan bread. If you had to ask me which I preferred between a Chinese and Indian I`m passionate about spicy food and there’s this Indian in Baillieston where I always go and the guy who owns it knows what I like and how I like it cooked.