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Mark Falco

Posted on 20 January 2003  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Back in the late 60s, when Jimmy Greaves, Alan Gilzean and Martin Chivers were in their pomp spreading fear and panic throughout opposing defences, a young lad from Hackney watched enviously from his East Stand eyrie, dreaming of the day he could don the famous white jersey and join the quest for Spurs glory.

Neale Harvey speaks to Mark Falco, the boy who achieved his ambition of playing for Spurs...

Mark Falco is the first to admit he was never the most gifted of footballers but as a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs supporter there was only ever one career path for a schoolboy striker who had been brought up from birth on a rich diet of Tottenham lore.

"All my family were Spurs fans so it was hard not to be one really," says Mark, 41, who proudly hosts the Gary Mabbutt lounge on match days. My dad, Michael, used to take me to stand in the boys' pen in the East Stand and it's carried on from there.

"I always heard stories about the Double team from family and friends so I was brought up with a strong Spurs affiliation. My dad followed Spurs all over Europe and I remember him going out on Sunday mornings to queue
for tickets.

"Jimmy Greaves was an obvious hero of mine but you couldn’t model yourself on him because he was a one-off - such a good player who made goalscoring look easy."

As a tall, strappingly built striker Mark made rapid progress at South Hackney School and represented both the London District and Middlesex County sides before he was spotted by former Spurs scout Dick Walker.

He joined Spurs as a schoolboy in 1974 and although the club experienced a sharp decline which culminated in relegation three years later, Mark maintains it was an ideal time to join.

"It was a tough time for the club but we had a good grounding under Peter Shreeves and Ron Henry and I think that helped advance my career because they were looking to change the playing personnel. It was a good time to stake a claim.

"When they went down Keith Burkinshaw stayed on as manager and brought them back before bringing Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa to the club. Glenn Hoddle had emerged and it was the start of a very fruitful period - winning cups and doing well in Europe.

"It was a great boost when Ossie and Ricky joined because you'd seen them on telly in the World Cup then, next minute, they were next to you on the old Cheshunt training ground offering you advice.

"They were something special and it was a dream to play with intelligent, gifted individuals."

After playing second fiddle to Chris Jones, John Duncan and Gerry Armstrong during his early years, Mark almost disappeared from view during 1980-81, making just three appearances following the arrival of Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald.

But while others might have been banging on the manager's door demanding a transfer, Mark bided his time, realising the futility of such action.

"Keith wasn’t the sort of manager where you’d go knocking on the door because he'd only say: 'Prove it. Show me you’re good enough and you'll be in'. It was the same for Crooks and Archibald and they had to play well to stay in the team.

"It never entered my head to leave because being brought up at the club I'd seen loads of players come and go. It just made me fight harder but that was always my strength and I’ve never been one to give in."

Mark's main chance finally arrived at the outset of the 1981-82 season and his two goals against Aston Villa in the 2-2 Charity Shield draw at Wembley remain a highlight. He was also on the mark three times during a stunning 6-1 aggregate Cup Winners' Cup, first round, rout of Dutch giants Ajax, a performance he says laid the foundations for our UEFA Cup success two seasons later.

But an injury suffered in a League Cup tie at Manchester United set back his progress and Mark was ultimately disappointed to miss out when we retained the FA Cup at Wembley against QPR.

"It was nice to do well in the Charity Shield and, although I remember the goals, the day went by in a flash. It was great to play at Wembley and most Spurs fans remember me for that.

"The performances against Ajax were magnificent after everybody, apart from ourselves, had written us off. They were a top side but we played our football and showed we could play by wiping the floor with them.

"We could compete in Europe and I think that style of football suited us better. With Glenn, Ossie and Ricky all being ball players we had a bit more time on the ball and could pick teams off, whereas the old First Division was more hurry-scurry at the time.

"I was disappointed to miss out on the second FA Cup win at Wembley but it took a long time to recover from snapping an ankle ligament. That was my best chance of playing in an FA Cup final but I'm not one to dwell on
the past."

After a stop-go campaign the following year, the 1983-84 season is etched in the minds of older supporters for many differing reasons.

Problems behind the scenes had emerged following the club's take-over, a League Cup exit at the hands of Arsenal didn’t help and Keith Burkinshaw's eventual decision to leave at the end of the season left many people wondering what the future held.

But a UEFA Cup run that began in September with a 14-0 aggregate win over Drogheda began to snowball and caught the imagination of the Spurs faithful.

Mark became a central figure as we marched past Feyenoord, Bayern Munich, Austria Vienna and Hadjuk Split before facing Anderlecht in a two-legged final showdown that culminated in a dramatic penalty shootout in front of over 46,000 at The Lane.

"They reckon the UEFA Cup is the hardest one to win and in the first round Feyenoord had Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff in a team of household names who were telling the Dutch papers what they would do to us.

"But we beat them 4-2 at home, when they didn’t get a kick in the first half, and it was one of those nights when everything went right. We did the double over them in Rotterdam and just enjoyed ourselves. The preparation for our European games was thorough, but very relaxed and there were enough players in our team for the opposition to worry about. Everyone talked about the likes of Feyenoord and Bayern Munich but forgot about us.

"We'd lost to Bayern the year before and were 1-0 down from the first leg. Then Karl-Heinz Rummenigge should have scored in the second leg at The Lane but ballooned his shot over.

"That's when we thought we had a chance and after we’d taken the lead I was lucky enough to score our second from 18 yards after Glenn put the ball on a sixpence.

"We went on to beat Austria Vienna and Hadjuk Split, where I scored our away goal, and they were great days. Supporters used to travel on the plane with us and there was a great spirit, with no cliques. It was a good group and that’s why we won things.

"Anderlecht were a great side then, with Enzo Scifo along with most of the Belgian national team, but we should have won the first leg of the final in Brussels instead of drawing 1-1. The draw actually put us under more pressure at home, especially when they scored first. But they say your name's on the cup and we were destined to win it that year.

"We had to equalise and I remember trying to cause a bit of mayhem in the box when Ossie hit the bar before Robbo (Graham Roberts) barrelled through to score late on. With his strength he’s probably the only one who could have scored that.

"Everybody remembers the penalties and I took our second. We'd practised that morning but it was still a long walk up and it was a relief when it went in because you’re millimetres from being a hero or a villain.

"Then Tony (Parks) saved the last kick and it was chaos. It was electric that night, with the ground packed, and, as a Spurs fan, it's great to win things for the supporters because they pay a lot of money and it’s nice to reward them."

The victory also provided a fitting send off for Burkinshaw who, along with Shreeves, Mark holds in the highest esteem and keeps in touch with.

"Winning the UEFA Cup for Keith was very special and it got a bit emotional after the game. Being a typically blunt Yorkshireman, he was having none of that but, after Bill Nick, he's probably the most successful manager Spurs have ever had.

"Keith was strong, hard, forthright and straight as a dye. He was a good figurehead, who liked to keep things under control and you knew where you stood with him because he never lied to you. Peter was the same. They complemented each other and worked very well as a pair, with Peter acting as his foil and doing the delicate bits like keeping everybody calm.

"They were both tactically aware but players like Glenn, Ray Clemence, Steve Perryman and Ossie also had a big say and the wealth of experience was unbelievable. Everybody could have their say and we won things because no-one held a grudge."

After Burkinshaw's departure Spurs flourished briefly under Shreeves and went close to ending our league title drought in 1984-85, only falling away from eventual champions Everton in the final weeks of the season.

Mark finished top scorer in each of Shreeves’ two seasons at the helm but found himself surplus to requirements following the arrival of David Pleat in 1986 and joined Watford for £300,000 in October 1986. After overcoming the shock of leaving after 12 years at The Lane, Mark top scored in his one season at Vicarage Road before moving on for spells at Glasgow Rangers, QPR and Millwall.

Injury forced him out of the professional game in 1991 but he enjoyed two successful seasons at non-league Worthing under Gerry Armstrong before quitting for good in 1994 as back problems took there toll.

Nowadays, Mark lives in Braintree and works as a representative for Ductclean UK Ltd. But he is back at The Lane every week in his capacity as a corporate host and also enjoys turning out as a centre-half for Martin Chivers' Ex-Spurs XI.

Of his days at Spurs, he says: "I was probably the only one who didn't have an international cap but to play over 200 games was no mean feat. My goalscoring record was good and I'd like to be remembered as someone who tried hard.

"I wasn't the most skilful but I always tried my best."