This article originally featured in MEHSTG Vol. 2. Issue 14 - April 2000
Despite a few severe setbacks in the first half of the 1978-9 season (including a 1-4 loss against Aston Villa in the opening home fixture, a 0-7 defeat at Liverpool soon after and the 0-5 capitulation against Arsenal at White Hart Lane on the Saturday before Christmas), Tottenham did well to finish the campaign (the first since promotion to Division One had been achieved) in a safe mid-table position.
However, the team was lacking a good reliable goalscorer.
The previous season’s leading marksman, John Duncan, had only managed two early season games (his last for the club) in the 1978-9 season. His place at the top of the scoring charts was taken by winger Peter Taylor, with eleven league goals. Joint second were Glenn Hoddle and Colin Lee, with seven apiece. So, in the penultimate game of the 78-9 campaign, manager Keith Burkinshaw gave a debut to six foot tall centre forward Mark Falco, in the away fixture at Bolton Wanderers. Falco had signed as an apprentice at White Hart Lane in 1977 and upgraded to full professional a year later. Spurs won 3-1 at Burnden Park and Falco scored one of the goals (Jimmy Holmes and Ricardo Villa got the other two).
Although he didn’t play in the final game of the season, Mark was back in the starting line-up at the beginning of 1979-80. After Spurs were beaten in each of the opening three games, he was relegated to the substitutes bench for a match and then returned to the reserves as Burkinshaw settled on Gerry Armstrong and Chris Jones as his first-choice attack. Although Mark returned for a brief spell in the first team later on in the season, by the summer of 1980 it looked like his career with the club was over with Burkinshaw splashing out on forwards Steve Archibald (an £800,000 signing from Aberdeen) and Garth Crooks (£600,000 from Stoke) during the close season. The manager was obviously not happy with the strikers at his disposal and spent what was a large amount of money in those days to bring Archibald and Crooks to White Hart Lane. The pair went on to score thirty six goals between them in their first season together, at the end of which Spurs won the FA Cup (because the year ended in “1” of course).
Falco bided his time in the reserves with only the odd appearance in the first team. However, at the start of the following season he was back as Crooks was out with a long-term injury and at least Falco knew he was first choice after Archibald and Crooks. Mark scored twice in the 2-2 Charity Shield draw against Aston Villa at Wembley and played in the opening eight league games of the season, scoring four times. Despite being out for a while through injury, it still turned out to be Falco’s best season to date in terms of appearances as he started half the league fixtures. The dream pairing of Archibald and Crooks was less successful after their blistering first campaign together, with Burkinshaw obviously still not too enamoured of Falco and out came the cheque book again with the prolific Ipswich Town forward Alan Brazil joining Spurs early in 1983, a few months after we had farmed Falco out for a loan spell at Chelsea.
Although Brazil was a success to start with, scoring the goals that helped Spurs qualify for the UEFA Cup at the end of the 1982-3 season, overall his time at White Hart Lane was not very successful. In the second match of the 1983-84 campaign, at home to Coventry, Spurs had already used their one substitute (Falco on for the injured Brazil) when Archibald picked up a knock and said he couldn’t continue, reducing us to ten men and probably costing the side victory (the final score was a 1-1 draw). However, Archie was well enough to train the following morning, leading Burkinshaw to question whether he had been badly enough injured in the Coventry game to merit coming off. A slanging match between the two was unfortunately staged in the sports pages of the tabloid press and Archibald was dropped. The beneficiary in all this was Mark Falco, who took Archie’s place in the team. Even when Archibald returned to the fray a few games later (but still not on talking terms with the manager, a situation which continued for the rest of the time that the pair were at White Hart Lane), Falco retained his place.
The big-money signings Brazil and Crooks only made rare appearances. Perhaps Keith Burkinshaw started to appreciate the value of Falco to Tottenham, a tall strong forward, reminiscent in some ways of the legendary Martin Chivers, who had knuckled down and repeatedly bounced back despite disappointments during his time at the club. In the UEFA Cup game at White Hart Lane against Bayern Munich (who had knocked us out of Europe the previous year) in December 1983, with the aggregate score delicately poised at 1-1 and only a few minutes of the second leg left, Falco swivelled and placed an exquisite shot into the corner of the goal at the Park Lane end to send us through to the next round, one of his best and most important goals for the club (in the same year he had scored two memorable goals in the 5-0 thrashing we gave Arsenal at the Lane). Later in the UEFA Cup competition he scored a vital away goal in the semi-final at Hadjuk Split, a tie which we eventually won on the away goals rule after a very nervy second leg. Falco played a major part in helping Spurs win the UEFA Cup for his first taste of major success (he hadn’t appeared in the 1981 or 1982 FA Cup Finals and also missed the 1982 Milk Cup Final defeat against Liverpool).
In the 1984-5 season Mark Falco had an excellent season and started all forty two league games (scoring twenty two goals in the process), all eight domestic Cup ties (three more goals) and every UEFA Cup tie (eight games, four goals). The striker should have been the leading scorer for the 1984-5 League Champions, but from a very strong position at the end of March, we blew our chances of winning the title and finished in a very disappointing third position. By the start of the 1985-6 season, the three big money forward signings (Archibald, Crooks and Brazil) who had been brought to the club over the previous few years as they were preferred to Falco, had all gone. Falco, however, had seen off the challenges and remained, now an established first team player and the club’s top scorer. However, more forwards had joined the club (Clive Allen and David Leworthy), but Mark still retained his place (Allen was missing for most of the 84-5 campaign).
In the summer of 1985 Spurs splashed out on yet another striker, Newcastle’s Chris Waddle (who had scored a cracking goal for the North-East club in a defeat at Spurs the previous December), but Falco still finished top scorer in 85-6. Clive Allen began the 1986-7 season in astonishing form and kept going for the whole campaign, ending with 49 goals, thus Falco had been usurped by a player in a freakish run of astonishing form which lasted for just the one season and, no longer the main striker, he soon lost his first team place. Mark made his final appearance for the club, as a substitute, in the 2-0 home win over Everton in September 1986. The following month he joined Watford where he scored on a regular basis.
Although he was not the most skilful of forwards, he was big, strong, brave, always gave maximum effort and scored regularly. He also made Spurs a nice tidy profit when he left. He went on to play for both Glasgow Rangers and Queens Park Rangers later in his career and whilst he was with the latter, he scored the only goal of the game, late on, to condemn us to a defeat at Loftus Road at the end of the 1988-9 season. Mark finished his league playing career with one season with Millwall before joining non-league Worthing. Nowadays he is back at White Hart Lane coaching the Juniors at the club and no doubt regaling them with stories of when he was Tottenham’s top striker back in the Eighties.
Back to homepage