Craig Valentine - Alloa Legend
It’s not too difficult to imagine the sharp intake of breath in the boardroom at the Recs on Thursday 15th August 1996. That was the day when an independent tribunal ordered Alloa to pay around £100,000 for Tom Hendrie’s pre-season signings; Mark Cowan, Willie Irvine and Craig Valentine from Berwick Rangers, and Peter Dwyer from East Stirlingshire. The club felt at the time that perhaps some of the fees were excessive but the £24,000 spent on Craig Valentine must surely go down as one of Alloa’s best investments.
Port Seton based Craig began his senior career in 1992 with Berwick at the age of 22. His rather late arrival in senior football can perhaps be explained by a number of serious injuries he sustained as a youngster, with Craig suffering a broken leg on 3 occasions between the ages of 17 and 19.
Craig remained with Berwick until 1996, amassing almost 150 league appearances. Berwick were actually a league above the Wasps when Craig switched to Alloa in the summer of 1996, but he was more than happy to sign up at the Recs under his old manager Tom Hendrie, who himself had made the same move a few months earlier.
“It wasn’t really a hard decision – Berwick was a very badly run club at the time. You didn’t know what was happening one week to the next to be honest. When Tom offered me the chance to come to Alloa I took it”.
Craig was a key part of Hendrie’s new look Wasps and they made a quick impact, knocking Motherwell out of the League Cup on penalties. The Wasps made history at Fir Park that night, the first Third Division team to defeat a team from the top tier. It was just two days after that match that the independent tribunal ordered the club to compensate Berwick, but Craig denies the size of the transfer fee put any extra pressure on him personally.
“Not really – it put more pressure on Tom than on me probably! I think I ended up being the dearest and he wasn’t too happy. I think everybody was very surprised by the fees, but maybe the SFA were trying to show a bit of authority and felt Tom shouldn’t have gone back to Berwick for all the players. We were very fortunate though because we were at the tribunal on the Thursday and we drew Celtic just after that and that covered the cost of all the players I think”.
Alloa lost 5-1 to Celtic but Wasps fans will remember the scenes of jubilation when Peter Dwyer equalised shortly after half-time, before Jorge Cadete proved just too hot to handle.
The team finished 4th in Division 3 that season but progress was being made and the following year, 1997/98, the club clinched the title with Valentine as important a figure at the back as Willie Irvine was in attack. The team consolidated the following season but suffered a blow with the departure of Tom Hendrie to St.Mirren. Craig claims however that the transition to new manager Terry Christie was an easy one.
“I wouldn’t say there was a much of a change. Tam and Terry were very similar managers, obviously Tam had learned from Terry and they were very similar.” Many Alloa fans felt that the style of play changed somewhat under Christie, with the man in the duffle putting more emphasis on defence than Hendrie had. Craig feels that’s perhaps overstated. “Terry was very organised and he certainly emphasised a bit more on defence than attack, but they were very similar I would say, just very slight differences between the two of them.”
Terry Christie certainly took the best of Hendrie’s attacking Alloa team and added a stronger defensive base, built around Valentine himself. Christie’s first full season proved to be a great success for the Wasps with the team ultimately winning promotion after a fine Scottish Cup run, and of course the epic Challenge Cup win on penalties against Inverness after a 4-4 draw.
“That was a great day out”, says Craig. “Although it’s the Challenge Cup it’s a great achievement, it’s everybody out with the Premier League. I missed out on lifting the Third Division as Keith McCulloch was club captain and we agreed he would lift the trophy, so for me to lift the Challenge Cup that day as captain was brilliant.”
Alloa were building a reputation as a fine cup side and Premier League Kilmarnock were knocked out of the Scottish Cup 1-0 at the Recs, following a 0-0 draw at Rugby Park. Next up were Dundee United with the Wasps going 2-0 up, only be to pegged back to 2-2 after playing much of the second half with midfielder Gary Clark in goal after an injury to Mark Cairns.
“I always remember big Martin had a chance to make it 3-0. After that Jim Hamilton changed the game but even up at Tannadice, it finished 4-0, but there was never that in the game. We gave a really good account of ourselves but they had a bit more energy”. The 4-0 scoreline that night certainly did flatter United, with the Arabs hitting 2 late goals in each half despite Alloa more than holding their own over the 90 minutes.
The team lifted themselves from the disappointment of the cup defeat however to embark on another fine run and clinch a place in Division 1, ultimately securing promotion with a 2-1 win over champions elect Clyde. “They couldn’t beat us all season yet they still won the league so it was bit disappointing not to win the league - but it was brilliant to go up”, says Craig. That summer of 2000 marked the middle of Craig’s 8 years with the Wasps and the second 4 seasons will be covered in the next edition of ‘The Wasp’.
1999/00 was perhaps the most successful season in the history of Alloa Athletic but the step up to Division 1 the following year proved to be just too much for the Wasps. The man who skippered the team at the time, Craig Valentine, points to a mixed start to the season. He also recalls the game against Raith in the run in with both sides battling to avoid the drop – a game in which Alloa ended with 9 men and ultimately lost 2-1. “It was a great experience being in the First Division and it was just a shame we couldn’t stay up and settle in that division for a year or two”, says Craig.
Manager Terry Christie made a few changes to his squad that summer with the addition of some classy players such as Gareth Hutchison, and the team bounced straight back up as Division 2 runners up in 2001/02. The 4-1 win over eventual champions QoS in the run in remains one of my own favourite Alloa games, a clinical performance in front of a big crowd at the Recs.
The second attempt at staying in Division 1 came agonisingly close to success, Alloa ending up being relegated on goal difference despite a very strong finish to the season.
The Wasps were one of or perhaps the best part-time team in Scotland for much of the period 1999-2003 and Craig was one of the star performers. Despite that however, and despite some rave reviews in the national press, he says that there was never any real chance of him going full-time, and indeed that he was happy to remain part-time. “Everybody wants to play in the top league but I enjoyed my football, whether it was at Alloa or Berwick, I just enjoyed playing football. It suited me well playing part-time. The money wasn’t great full-time and with me working myself and playing part-time football, it just suited me better”.
Relegation in 2002/03 marked the end of an era at the Recs with Christie’s team in decline, and the manager himself departing with the club struggling back in Division 2. Tom Hendrie returned but the quality of player in general had dropped and Hendrie couldn’t work his magic a second time. Alloa avoided a second successive relegation but Craig departed at the end of the campaign – something which came as quite a shock to the Wasps supporters.
“It was a bit of both of us really, myself and Tom. Tom didn’t see me as being central to his plans, he didn’t feel I would play every game and that was it. It was a disappointment but I felt I hadn’t done well that season anyway so I wasn’t sure myself – I had a few things going on and I wasn’t sure myself to be honest. It was a disappointment, there is no doubt about it, but that’s just football.”
Alloa fans were also disappointed – and sorry that they didn’t get a chance to thank Craig for his long service. “The last game I played, it was the second last game of the season, and the fans didn’t know I was going but I knew and I knew I wasn’t going to the last game, so I asked my daughter to be the mascot and it was good for me in that respect”.
Many Alloa supporters felt that it was a bad move to release Craig and the defensive displays the following season appeared to vindicate that opinion, particularly when Alloa had a very young backline who seemed to need support from an experienced head like Craig Valentine. That’s something that the player himself does not deny. “Tom lived and died by his mistakes, didn’t he, and he didn’t last much longer after that. I was disappointed, but that’s just football”.
Craig is adamant however that his departure did not sour his relationship with Alloa or his memories of the club. “It was great. I have nothing bad to say about Alloa. It was a great club and it was great to be there. We got promoted twice to the First Division, won the Challenge Cup, we got better and better through the years”.
“I played with some great players there. Willie Irvine was a great player, Martin Cameron, Ian Little, big Stevie Thomson”.
Craig wrapped up his career with a year in the juniors with Bonnyrigg Rose but he didn’t enjoy the experience of that level. “My heart was never in it, I hated it”, he says.
Craig did return to senior football last year, helping out his former Alloa team mate Ian Little in his first managerial job at Berwick. Time constraints meant Craig could not continue in the position.
Craig Valentine started his time with Alloa as right back but as time went on was more often deployed as a sweeper, a position he preferred. Captain fantastic Valentine diving in to make a last ditch block – and putting his head amongst the boots – is one of the enduring images I have of the great Alloa teams of the turn of the millennium. Another is of Craig out jumping centre forwards who seemed to be twice his size.
Craig Valentine never scored a goal for Alloa but his outstanding defensive performances in almost 300 appearances ensured his place as a genuine club legend. There surely can’t have been many better defenders in the black and gold before he signed, and arguably there hasn’t been anyone as good since he left.