When I started my ground hopping adventures two seasons ago I’ll admit I had never heard of the West Lothian town of Fauldhouse far less its East Region SJFA club, proudly nicknamed ‘The Hoose’. Since then however I have identified Fauldhouse United‘s Park View as a vital destination to add to my ever growing list due to the club’s slick social media, focus on community work and what appears to be a rabidly loyal fan base. Yet I haven’t rushed to see The Hoose, rather I’ve bided my time, because next campaign marks the side’s Centenary season; a celebration of one hundred years in Junior fitba. What better time to pay them a visit could there possibly be?
Before heading to West Lothian however I have a task to complete; interviewing the Fauldhouse manager who’s storied career is another element that has drawn me towards this Superleague South side. Jon Connolly is a 21 year veteran between the sticks, a goalkeeper who has been signed to senior clubs both north and south of the border as well as (what may be a record) 13 Junior sides. His highly unusual career and started in 1998 when the 16 year old Connolly left the Ipswich Town youth academy in order to sign for Albion Rovers in the Scottish Football League’s Division 3. Despite an impressive 8 starts for someone of his age and helping The Wee Rovers to a comfortable mid-table finish he was gone in the summer, signing a first Junior contract at Uddingston’s Thorniewood United.
After two seasons at Robertson Park playing for The Wood many might have cast aside ambitions of a return to the senior ranks, believing that particular ship had sailed. For Connolly however a massive opportunity presented itself at the dawn of a new millennium as he was called up to a Premier League side and ended up replacing an iconic Scottish goalkeeper in their squad. By 2000 Billy Davies’ Motherwell were required to make savings after a number of years making expensive signings. With Andy Goram soon headed for a surprise move to Manchester United Connolly was brought in as an understudy to former Scotland and Celtic goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods. One wonders what was the bigger leap; Robertson Park to Fir Park or Fir Park to Old Trafford? Jon played twice for The Steelmen’s first team in his single season at the club, both April 2001 appearances against Dundee United and Aberdeen.
From Fir Park Connolly travelled to New Boghead to play twice for Dumbarton before a brief stint back in the Juniors at Cumnock prior to finishing his senior career at East Stirlingshire in 2004. From there on he went on a wild 13 year long ride through the SJFA where he had more clubs than Tiger Woods & Peter Stringfellow combined. Between leaving The Shire and his arrival at Fauldhouse in 2016 Connolly signed for Dunipace (twice), Linlithgow Rose, Larkhall Thistle, Bo’ness United, Cambuslang Rangers, St Anthony’s (thrice), Kirkintilloch Rob Roy (twice), Thorniewood (again), Kilwinning Rangers, Vale of Clyde and Rossvale.
Playing career over Connolly is about to enter his third season at the helm of The Hoose and while I’ve yet to meet the man, social media paints two very differing pictures of him. On one hand we have the persona of a loving family man, a devoted father of daughters, whom people across the footballing community are more than happy to declare a top fella. While on the other hand we have a 6′ 2″ big beardy bloke with large tattooed hands who has a bit of a ‘don’t fuck with me aura’ about him; particularly towards anyone who attempts to mess with HIS club. For an example of this Mr Hyde side look no further than the incident The Daily Record dubbed ‘Bawgate’ back in 2018. Sometime around February Connolly had agreed to let young Hoose ‘keeper Matthew Craig move to Clyde for the tidy sum of 10 match balls, Craig departed and impressed at The Bully Wee, however Fauldhouse failed to get their payment. After chasing Clyde up the club received one match ball and four replicas, causing big Jon to explode on Twitter. His outburst made the papers and beside a picture of him brandishing a torn, muddy & empty ball sack he told The Record: “I snapped. I felt like we were papped off as we are a Junior team, but my club don’t get walked over by anyone.” I hope Clyde came up with the goods, I wouldn’t want to be the person who had to deal with him if he came a knocking.
What we have then today folks is a young manager with a unique backstory and a history of saying exactly what he thinks on a public forum. Surely we have the perfect candidate for an interview, so let’s ask some questions and find out.
1. Fauldhouse United are heading into their centenary season with you at the helm for the third campaign in a row; how are you adapting to management and what are your plans for The Hoose going forward?
For me personally it’s an honour to be starting the centenary season as manager. Every season we are looking to improve on and off the pitch and I think in my time here, so far, we are doing that especially off the pitch. Last season was disappointing and we under achieved massively. Going forward we must be challenging for leagues and cups.
2. What special events are lined up for the centenary year?
At the moment there are numerous ideas but what I can say is we will be supporting the Back Onside charity (a Scottish charity supporting those affected by mental health, disabilities and challenging life circumstances) in a majority of upcoming events once finalised.
3. You’ll know well about the exodus of East Region clubs to the East of Scotland League in recent seasons. What is your opinion on this massive change to non-league fitba and why has Fauldhouse not followed the likes of Linlithgow or Bonnyrigg out of the Junior ranks?
From our point of view it’s purely a financial perspective as the club doesn’t generate a huge amount of money. Also with our financial situation it’s a gamble to jump into an unknown situation especially in our centenary year. Most importantly; I believe Fauldhouse Unitd can be here for another century in the Juniors. I totally get the likes of Bonnyrigg, Linlithgow etc going and I hope they do progress into the senior leagues.
4. Last season you guided the club to a SJFA East Region League Cup Final only for the team to fall at the last hurdle. Afterwards you publicly called out at least one player on Twitter for no showing the final and letting down the whole club; what can you tell us about that match against Pumpherston that will set the record straight?
It was the club’s and a lot of player’s first cup final in a while it is a massive occasion getting to any final. Then to be messaged by a player 1 hour before kick-off to say he was unwell when I had him starting the game put us on the back foot before the game even started. Discovering he had been out drinking all night was a disgrace. He didn’t just let me down he let his teammates and the club down massively. I couldn’t hold back my frustration as it’s just pathetic I was more gutted for my players and the committee who work hard to pay this boy all season.
5. You don’t seem afraid to air your grievances on social media whether it is regarding the recent cup final or the aforementioned ‘Bawgate’ incident, however such public comments have lead to responses accusing you of being unprofessional. How do you respond to such criticisms?
I dont mind criticism it’s part of life. But the incidents you mentioned undermined my players and club so I’ll back them up publicly everyday of the week. Bawgate for instance I tried to sort privately but the guy thought he was being a smart arse and taking liberties so I called him out. I wear my heart on my sleeve and say what I’m thinking without trying to sugar coat stuff to be politically correct. Too many fake people for my liking these days, I would rather someone be straight with me than try to appease me.
6. Looking back at your playing career and its very beginnings, how did a Glasgow lad end up down at the Ipswich Town academy and what brought you home to Albion Rovers? What did you learn from your brief time down south?
I was with St Johnstone since I was 13 till 16 played u18 and reserves then so went on trials at other clubs on school holidays etc… I had a choice of Leeds United, Ipswich, Hearts and St Johnstone but I loved it at Ipswich they were massive on youth players coming through. At the time Kieron Dyer and Richard Wright where two who were in the first team at 17. We had a goalkeeper coach Malcolm Webster who got the best out of me and his methods I use today as he treated every keeper individually which was refreshing. So when it was time to leave school I had a meeting with St Johnstone boss Paul Sturrock who actually advised me to give Ipswich a crack which I did. I got selected for Scotland youth and came up the road often for squad meetings without actually getting home to see family which I found difficult. At Christmas I trained with Albion Rovers, who were full time, to keep ticking over and they found out I was home sick so Vinny Moore the gaffer said he would pay the 10k to bring me to Albion Rovers which at a young age to be offered first team football was massive in my eyes back then.
7. How did your move from Thorniewood to Premier League Motherwell come about? Did it come as a surprise or were you actively seeking a return to senior football at the time?
I was on loan to Thorniewood from Albion Rovers as a new manager came in, we didn’t see eye to eye and I had signed a 4 year deal because of money involved. Back then there was a loop hole if I played juniors for a season I became that club’s player because of the retention rule. Thorniewood manager and my friend Tom Spence told me this so it was an easy decision to join them and try get a move full time again which I did thanks to Tom and Thorniewood.
8. You only managed a couple of dozen senior appearances at a handful of league clubs; is this a regret that you have? Would you have liked to have had more of a career in the SPFL?
Of course I would have but I only have myself to blame for wrong decisions and a poor attitude. What people dont know is from 10 years old when I started football I made every single decision myself as my father passed away when I was 6 and my mother worked two jobs to support me and my younger sister. Anything football was through my own choices.
9. So what the hell was your career in the Juniors all about? Why did you have such a nomadic existence? What prevented you from settling down at a club for longer than a couple of seasons at most?
Again the moving about clubs was sometimes me chasing that dream of moving up again and a lot down to being over opinionated and poor attitude. I actually regret nothing as everything has been a learning curve on and off the pitch. It wasn’t till later I discovered I was suffering from depression which explained some of the behaviour issues I was confused about.
10. There is no doubt that you are the devoted family man people can see on social media and too many folk say your a great guy for it not to be true. Does the ‘other’ more scary Jon Connolly actually exist? Should people avoid getting on your wrong side?
I do have a angry side more so in my youth with losing my father. I was always angry and aggressive. Theres been a handful of times I’ve over stepped the mark on and off the pitch and plenty of regret but I have realised that probably too late but use it in my man management of players as I’ve been there and made the mistakes probably more than most but as long as you learn from mistakes then that’s the main thing. There are people who think I’m a ranter and raver at my players constantly but that’s far from the truth if anything I maybe dont give them it enough when not doing well but I am always trying to be positive and encouraging to my players who I will defend everyday of the week.
11. Finally… Did Clyde give you those 10 match balls?
Clyde were excellent with us once proven conversations had taken place and they helped massively. Plus we have a great relationship with them thanks to my friend Chris Fahey who is GK coach there now and I’ve had friendly games with Clyde and good chats with Danny Lennon too so our relationship is very good.