John McGlynn is the latest member of one of Scottish football’s most exclusive clubs. The former Heart of Midlothian manager, now in charge at Falkirk, joined the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrrard by steering his team towards an invincible season as the Bairns finally escaped League One at long last this year courtesy of an unbeaten league campaign in Scotland’s third tier.

It is a remarkable achievement, and one that McGlynn has been rightfully recognised for. The 62-year-old won the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year award, voted for by his peers, earlier in the week and has been nominated for the four-man shortlist to win the SFWA’s equivalent award.

“It’s a great honour,” McGlynn says. “It’s been the icing on the cake of what has been a truly magnificent season.”

It’s hard to disagree with McGlynn’s assessment. Come the end of it all, Falkirk’s league record stood at: played 36, won 29, drew 9, lost zero. Returning to the Championship at long last was naturally McGlynn’s primary focus but as the unbeaten streak continued, he found himself tasking the players with stretching it just that little bit longer.

“We moved our targets as the season progressed,” McGlynn explained. “Ultimately we wanted to get promoted – that has to be the aim for a club of Falkirk’s stature, especially after all the time spent in League One. That was the main thing. We had to take it a game at a time, which is what we’ve done.

“However, once you get into the first quarter and we are going along very, very well, it was looking like we were going to have a really good season. Then you can look at setting other targets, and you ultimately have to do that. We said, ‘can we get to Christmas unbeaten?’, which we did.

“After that you are breaking it up – ‘can we get to the end of the third quarter unbeaten?’ – which, again, we did. The league title was within our grasp and we managed to win it on the 30th of March. We still had five or so games to go and that point the focus becomes keeping this unbeaten run going right until the very end.

“Setting little targets was important, but we were very much concentrated on the next game all the time. Confidence, belief, momentum, good dressing room, good team spirit, everyone getting involved and buying into it – all these things bring success to a football club.”

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Another part of that success has surely been the manner in which Falkirk strolled to the third-tier title. Between his time in charge of Hearts as head coach during the 2012/13 campaign and his return to management at Raith Rovers in 2018, following a spell as a scout at Celtic, his outlook on the game had changed. Now, his teams would play entertaining, easy-on-the-eye football, centred around intricate passing moves and a forward-thinking attitude.

McGlynn’s Raith Rovers and Falkirk sides have both received plaudits for the way they approach the game, and rightly so. At the end of the day, football is an entertainment business – and McGlynn’s teams provide that in spades. Playing with clear tactical identity, he says, is a crucial component of the modern game.

“I think my teams often get that description because that’s the way we want to play,” he explained. “We played some really, really good football under myself and Paul at Raith Rovers and got them into a really great position.

“It was always about trying to play… there are many ways to play football that gets you results, and I am not preaching, but I like to see something that I can identify myself with, where I can see what the team is trying to do. I think the fans now want to see that as well. They like to identify with the team and know what they’re trying to do.

“There are some of our phases of play where it’s easy on the eye, and as long as you’re attacking and the results are coming, everyone will really enjoy it. That extends to the players too – players come to us because they want to be involved in playing like that. Players are very much getting more and more like that. They want to play good, attractive football. They want to play quickly with incisive passes, looking to hurt the opposition, looking to get crosses in the box, causing excitement.

“The style is very much a big part of what makes it even more pleasing, that we have done it that way. It’s not just been a matter of 30 clean sheets and 1-0 wins.”

Falkirk finished the league season with 96 goals, and no player contributed more to the team’s attack than Callumn Morrison. The 24-year-old winger, a product of Hearts’ youth system, won League One’s Players’ Player of the Year award and it isn’t hard to see why. Playing out wide, Morrison finished the campaign as the division’s top scorer with 23 goals in total.

That sort of form led to a few other clubs sniffing around in the January window – but McGlynn was delighted to see the winger commit his future to the club in February by signing a contract extension that will keep him at the Falkirk Stadium until the summer of 2026.

“He’s been extremely important – extremely,” McGlynn stresses. “The amount of goals he has scored from his position is remarkable. He’s a winger, not a No.9, and he’s got defensive duties within that. He has got to get up and down the park and there are no easy shifts in our teams. Everyone has got to function for the team to function, otherwise it all falls down. So Callumn – like Calvin [Miller], like Alfie Agyeman, like Ethan Ross – all those wingers have got to put in a shift, both in attack and in defence.

“For Callumn to score so many goals is awesome. We felt like we might lose him in January because his contract was running down and there was a fair amount of interest in him, but thankfully he stayed – and thankfully after that he signed a new contract. We’re delighted to have him for the next couple of years, fingers crossed.

“He has supplied a lot of goals as well. We could have scored a lot more with the amount of crosses he was putting into the box. He is very, very quick and he uses his pace well. He has a lot of power in his shots, which gets him a lot of goals, and his deliveries are excellent. He very much ticks all the boxes you would look for in an attacking winger. He’s been phenomenal really.”

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Morrison has always been regarded as a talented player, but one that perhaps needed to produce more consistently to make the most of his talents. This season, he has done just that, but McGlynn says that it’s not down to any tactical masterstroke on his part. Creating the right environment has been crucial in Morrison’s development – and now Falkirk are reaping the rewards.

McGlynn said: “I think the dressing room has brought the best out of Callumn. When we came in, you could probably say that Callumn was quite quiet and a little bit introverted to begin with. But then guys like Gary Oliver, Stephen McGinn, Calvin Miller, Brad Spencer – they’ve just brought a personality to the dressing room that has got Callumn really feeling comfortable. He has come out of his shell a little bit and I think that comfort in the dressing room has brought out the best in his football.

“It’s great to see that. There’s a lot of things that go into it but I would certainly compliment the dressing room as that’s played a massive part. Don’t get me wrong – they’re playing wee tricks on each other and Callumn is very much at the heart of that! But if it’s made him happy and allows him to play the best football of his life, then I’m also happy with that.”

With Dundee United’s promotion to the Premiership and Livingston’s relegation to the Championship now confirmed, next season’s second tier is likely to be without a clear favourite for the first time in years. Airdrieonians, Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers all still harbour hopes of gaining promotion via the play-offs, while Ross County and St Johnstone could yet get dragged down.

There are still lots of moving pieces, and McGlynn is understandably reluctant to make grand predictions about what next season has in store as a result. But as one of the biggest clubs in the lower leagues – Falkirk had the twelfth-highest average attendance of any SPFL side this season – McGlynn expects to be challenging at the top end of the table. If the season were to start tomorrow, he insists, he and his players would be ready to meet the new challenge head on.

At Hearts, third place and a cup run is like success. Everyone knows it’s very difficult to split Celtic and Rangers but it has been done. I was there myself in 2005 when we managed to do that so it’s not impossible but it is very, very difficult. Steven has done an amazing job to get to third comfortably. Securing European group-stage football is obviously another box ticked but it is not easy. He’s got to take enormous belief and a lot of credit going forward.

John McGlynn on Steven Naismith

“With the greatest of respect, Livingston coming down isn’t the same as a Dundee United, Kilmarnock, Dundee,” McGlynn explained. “It’s not a Hearts or a Hibs, who have both been in the Championship in recent years. Everyone is thinking it’s going to be open and it may very well be. You can’t really argue with that, to be fair.

“With the greatest of respect to Davie [Martindale] and Livingston, they don’t carry five or six thousand fans and so they are going to take a big hit in not having Celtic and Rangers filling out three sides of their stadium. That’s going to have a massive impact on them, albeit they will have parachute payments from the Premiership – and I’m sure Davie will spend that wisely.

“Even looking at who goes up, I’m not sure. Airdrie, Partick and Raith Rovers could all go up. Will St Johnstone come down? Will Ross County come down? There’s still a lot of ifs and buts. If County come down, and I don’t think they will, then they are a team that yo-yos up and down but [chairman] Roy MacGregor manages to get them back up quickly.

“Our ambition and aims are to be competing at the top end of the table but we will come to that. We will have our pre-season, we will get organised, we will get fit, and we will get our pre-season games in. We’ll hopefully do well in the League Cup group stages and then very boringly we will take it one game at a time in the league.

“There is no point getting too high when you win or too low when you lose in the Championship. That’s going to happen in this league, and no one is going to go through this league without losing a game. That’s never going to happen. You’re going to have to be realistic about the ups and downs.

“We’re going up with a winning mentality, which is massive. And we are going up with virtually the same squad, more or less. So there is consistency there and continuity. We are ready to go. We could start playing Championship football tomorrow because the squad is ready and prepared to go.”