LEEDS UNITED may not have been celebrating in May, but one Whites-mad family and an aspiring young footballer in particular most definitely were.
Taking a bow was former United midfielder Josh Falkingham who, just a year-and-a-half on from his world being shattered when he was freed by his boyhood club, was able to savour a moment of history.
On the very day – May 7 – that Leeds’ play-off dream was finally extinguished at QPR’s Loftus Road, 20-year-old Falkingham was enjoying a rare old party with Scottish Football League minnows Arbroath, with the Red Lichties lifting their first prize in their 133-year history when they joyously paraded the third division trophy.
It had been a long time coming and while it was a campaign to savour for the Gayfield outfit, more toasts were afforded Falkingham – Robert Snodgrass’ boot boy for part of his time at Leeds –- one of the leading stars in a 2010-11 campaign that will be talked about forever and a day in one small coastal town in north-east Scotland.
Falkingham, who contributed nine goals from the engine room, was named the club’s young player of the year ahead of being acclaimed nationally as the SFL’s young player of the season at a glittering awards ceremony in Glasgow, having also won the monthly vote for January.
Having re-signed at Gayfield for this season, Falkingham, who hails from Woodlesford, is hoping to make waves again and is targeting back-to-back promotions with Arbroath, while being identified by the Scottish media as one to watch in 2011-12.
Proud dad Paul, among a minibus load of supporters from Leeds who attended the game in late April which saw Arbroath clinch the title with a goal from his son in the priceless victory over Angus rivals Montrose, said: “Josh’s main goal is to try and get back into England to find a league club again.
“But for now, he is quite happy making his name and climbing the ladder which he thought he’d fallen off. He’s done ever so well at Arbroath and only missed one game last season as the club won the championship and winning the Scottish League’s young player of the year award topped things off.
“An article in the Scottish Sun has also tipped him to be the ‘next big thing’ this season and I’m just hoping he has another season like the last one.”
Falkingham was released by Leeds in November 2009.
His release ended an association with United which lasted over a decade, with Falkingham signing on with the club’s academy at the tender age of eight having previously starred for Rothwell Town Juniors.
He subsequently progressed through the academy at a rate of knots in his eight years at Thorp Arch before signing a two-year scholarship, the eventual precursor to being handed a first-team squad number (33) with fellow starlet Andrew Milne by ex-Whites boss Gary McAllister in the 2008-09 season.
On two occasions, McAllister named the young schemer in his first-team squad, for the home FA Cup first-round game with Northampton Town in November 2008 and the league game at MK Dons the following month.
The latter proved a fateful one for McAllister, with the game being his last in charge and despite current manager Simon Grayson giving Falkingham a six-month contract and the homegrown product playing his part in the club’s reserve league title that campaign, he was ultimately shown the exit door.
Opportunity eventually knocked north of the border at St Johnstone, with a glowing reference from McAllister – who nurtured him at Elland Road – to Saints boss Derek McInnes. This earned the player a trial at McDiarmid Park, with the schemer impressing and signing on until the end of the 2009-10 campaign.
Falkingham just missed out on a dream spring debut at Celtic Park following an injury crisis and despite impressing during his time in Perth, budgetary constraints meant he couldn’t be given a longer-term deal.
The future lay in Arbroath, with Falkingham’s talents having captured the eye of newly-appointed player-boss Paul Sheerin –- fresh from leaving Saints in the summer of 2010.
he hasn’t looked back since and in a place more famous for its Arbroath Smokies, it’s the sizzling exploits of its football team that was the talk of the town in 2010-11.
On life after Leeds, Paul said: “Josh is a massive Leeds fan. He came through the academy system and had been at Leeds since he was eight – he was only one or two in his age group to get (full-time) deals.
“He was distraught when told by Simon Grayson that the club wouldn’t be renewing his contract as he is Leeds through and through. But after two days of being down, he picked himself up and said he was going to battle on. He’s a fighter and what he’s proved since has shown that.”