There is a Falkirk scarf hanging in Jamie Swinney’s office, a scarf with a story.

“When I used to go the games with my grandad get on a bus from Grangemouth that still runs to this day,” he recalled. “One day – and not that I can remember this – I’ve left the scarf on the bus. About six months ago in hospitality, a man approached me, and said: ‘Jamie, you won’t remember me, but I’ve got your scarf.’

“I’ve no idea what he’s talking about, so I’ve said: ‘Sorry, you’ll need to explain’. He said: ‘I was your grandad’s next door neighbour and every now and again we would go to the games together. You were only a wee boy so you probably won’t remember me.’

“I didn’t remember him, but he said: ‘I’ve still got your scarf.’ For whatever reason, he’d kept it for the best part of 25 years. He said he was back in hospitality in two months’ time and promised to bring it.

“True to his word, two months later he hands me this scarf. I’ve now got a scarf I had when I was 10 and it now has a real sentimental value as the one I wore when I went to the football with my grandad.

“That will forevermore now be the scarf that I own. It’s this season that it came back, so I feel like there’s maybe something in there, if you believe in fate…”

That kid is now Falkirk’s chief-executive, but things are very different to the day he walked wide-eyed into Brockville to see his grandad’s team contest a nine-goal thriller with his dad’s team, Celtic. The odds dictated his football future would probably lie 30 minutes down the M80, but something about his local team left Swinney hooked, through good and bad.

The good has been three cup finals in 20 years, the bad has been pretty much everything about the last four years. On Saturday, however, a rejuvenated team under John McGlynn’s leadership will contest a Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden, an incredible opportunity for a League One team who, last year, recorded the worst-ever campaign in their 146-year history.

The life of a chief-executive does not leave much room for sentiment when it’s all cold-headed reason and tough decisions, but nothing about what Falkirk could achieve before season’s end follows any kind of logic.

“Football is such an emotional sport, he said. “And if you think too emotionally, then it really will cloud your decision-making and your judgement. You’ve got to try your best to apply a bit of logic to it, which isn’t always easy. I can tell you, between 12pm and 3pm on Saturday, the logical part is long gone in my mind!”

When Swinney accepted an offer to take office at the Falkirk Stadium in summer 2021, it was impossible to shut out the emotion. Having followed the club the length and breadth of the country with his grandad, here was an opportunity to leave an indelible mark on its history.

Surely an easy decision, no?

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“I initially rejected it,” he revealed. In his role as Stenhousemuir CEO, Swinney was in no hurry to leave. There was also lingering ‘disappointment and frustration’ from the closure of the Forth Valley Football Academy, a joint venture between Stenny and Falkirk, and a decision which cost him his job as a youth coach.

And then there was what had become of his boyhood club – plummeting through the leagues, haemorrhaging cash along the way, and with fans in open revolt.

“I had real concerns about the way Falkirk had been run for a number of years,” Swinney said. “There was the demise that everybody could see on the park, but I felt you could see it off the park as well.

“The club was on a real downward trajectory. I did have big concerns about how much of a mess it was in, and my fears were absolutely realised when I got into the role.

“It was actually worse than I anticipated. The other part was that I had been made redundant by the club three-and-a-half years previously, and there was still an underlying frustration and disappointment about the decision the club made to close the academy.

“It affected me personally and professionally. So when you put all that together… It took me a long time, weeks to make a decision.

“But the thing in the end that made think ‘I need to take it’, was that one of ‘I feel a could make a difference and get the club going in the right direction’.

“And, I think I would have regretted it forever if I didn’t take it. If I took it and failed, then at least I’ve given it a shot.

“My granda’s not with us anymore, but I like to think that if I can make a difference here I’d do him proud, for a start. And if I take it on, I’ve given myself a chance to make it work, whereas if I reject it then I would never know the answer to that question.

“In the end, it probably had to be a yes.”

The Herald: Falkirk have Scottish Cup glory on their mindsFalkirk have Scottish Cup glory on their minds (Image: Gordon Terris)

Mere months after Swinney arrived, the entire board resigned following a disastrous AGM which further deepened supporters’ festering resentment. He was tasked with picking up the pieces.

“I don’t believe it was one mistake or one person making a bad decision,” Swinney said. “Falkirk were, not that long ago, in a Scottish Cup final. They were, not that long ago, 90 minutes from the Premiership when Kilmarnock won the play-off second leg.

“You don’t just go from that to sixth place in League One by chance, or one bad decision. That was five or six years of serious decline.

“Why did it happen? It’s probably an overall mismanagement of the football club, not one individual or decision – lots of bad decisions and mistakes in a short space of time which led to this incredibly sharp decline on and off the park.

“The first year here was… extremely tough. It is one record as our worst ever season; worst on the park in terms of league position in 146 years, and the worst-ever off it, we lost £1.2million.

“To say that year one was beyond difficult would be a fair statement. The club hit its lowest ebb.”

Before anything could be mended on the pitch, however, there had to be reparations with a despairing fanbase, one that had been left dumbfounded by the scale and speed of their club’s freefall through the divisions.

Broken trust, however, does not return overnight.

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“I do remember being asked by the board what I felt was the single biggest thing we had to change quickly,” said Swinney. “I said: ‘The relationship with the fans is at its lowest ebb. They don’t trust the board, or the people running the club – whether it’s chief-executive or sporting director, they have no faith in us.’

“There was an unbelievable disconnect that had built up over years, a real ‘them and us’ situation, where the fans effectively detested the board. There was a real issue there.

“I said that was going to be the biggest thing to fix. Our fans are the biggest asset – we have a really good fanbase – but if they are completely disconnected, you’re going to really struggle.

“Unfortunately, building trust again is not something you can do overnight. It can take months, it might even take years.

“Thankfully, where we are now, the fans are certainly a lot more back onside.”

Adventures that wind their way to the Scottish Cup semi-final certainly help morale. The joyous aftermath of a quarter-final win at home over Ayr United did not project the image of a club which had spent years lurching from one crisis to another, instead it fostered a growing sense that Falkirk may finally have found their way again.

“You need the fans with you,” Swinney insisted. “And that has been missing at this football club for years. That night against Ayr felt like the club was getting back to being what it can be.

The Herald: Swinney has been CEO since joining from Stenhousemuir in summer 2021Swinney has been CEO since joining from Stenhousemuir in summer 2021 (Image: Gordon Terris)

“You had 5000 absolutely backing the team to the hilt, and the players reacting to the supporters.

“Everybody left feeling this club is getting there now. It’s still not problem solved – we’re in League One and we need to get out, but we are at least on the right track.”

Jamie Swinney the Falkirk fan is intoxicated by the cup run and all it entails. Jamie Swinney the chief-executive knows the priority remains escaping the third tier. A full-time operation in a predominantly part-time league is not ideal business. In fact, Swinney himself says it is completely unsustainable.

This weekend, though? It can all be put on the backburner for the 8000-plus bound for the national stadium in search of glory. Neither club expects to fill the 50,000 seats, but the notion that the venue should have been downsized rankles with Swinney.

“Fans of other clubs, certain people in the media saying it shouldn’t be at Hampden,” he said. “I’ve never heard so much nonsense in my life. You ask supporters and 90 per cent, maybe more, want their day at Hampden.

“You ask players and it’s probably 100 per cent want their day at Hampden. You ask me and it’s Hampden all day long.

“It doesn’t matter how many are in the crowd, those that are in the stands and on the park can’t wait for it. It would not be the same if it was played somewhere else.”

And once they’re there, who knows what might happen next.

“The Scottish Cup could make a huge difference, financially, over the next couple of years for us,” said Swinney. “It feels a bit remiss to say… but there is a very, very, very small chance we could go and win it, at which point you’re entered into Europe.

“That is way beyond anybody’s wildest dreams – there’s nobody in this building thinking about that actually happening. But, at the same time, it’s football…”