Sean Fallon: Celtic stalwart as player and coach
Once he played on with a broken collarbone. 'It wasn't as if it was a broken leg!' he said afterwards
Saturday 26 January 2013
Iwas just an ordinary player with a big heart and a fighting spirit to recommend me." Such were the characteristically humble words of Sean Fallon about his often intrepid 1950s service to Celtic as both combative defender and battering-ram centre-forward – and he was no more boastful about his subsequent devoted labours on behalf of the Bhoys as shrewd coach, inspired talent scout and trusty right-hand man to manager Jock Stein during the most successful period in the trophy-laden history of the Glasgow institution.
Yet few men have wielded more influence at a football club than did the unassuming Irishman at Parkhead for more than a quarter of a century. As lieutenant to Stein his input into Celtic's ultimate glory, becoming the first Britons to lift the European Cup in 1967, and into nine consecutive League titles between 1966 and 1974, was colossal, not least because it was he who discovered most of the men who scaled those barely-dreamed-of pinnacles in the green and white hoops.
A gifted natural sportsman who had excelled as a swimmer and in triathlons in his youth, Fallon rose through a succession of junior clubs in the Republic of Ireland before enlisting with Sligo Rovers in August 1948. A year later he crossed the border to join Glenavon, based in Lurgan, then was recruited by Celtic in March 1950 after impressing for the Irish League against the League of Ireland.
Fallon made his senior entrance for the Bhoys on the last day of that season, then became a regular, initially at right-back, later shifting to the rearguard's left, with periodic outings in attack. Fearless, robust and unfussy in his play, Fallon was known as "The Iron Man" and was once described memorably as being "as rugged as his native Sligo shore", which doubtless contributed to the numerous injuries he sustained.
Though Celtic were not at their most dominant in the 1950s, still silverware was garnered, with Fallon usually making a key contribution. He helped to beat Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final of 1950-51, but his impetus was jolted rudely in October 1953 when he broke a collarbone against Hearts. Typically, after only 20 minutes absence, he returned to the fray with his arm in a sling, afterwards playing down his bravery, telling pressmen: "It wasn't as if it was a broken leg!"
However, he missed most of that season, in which Celtic won the League and Cup double, though he returned as a spearhead in the spring, scoring the winner against Aberdeen in the Hampden Park final in front of more than 129,000. He was prominent, too, as Celtic won the League Cup for the first time, beating Partick Thistle in the 1956-57 final, and then, sweetest of all, he was in the side which slammed Rangers 7-1 to retain the trophy a year later, a victory which remains the heaviest in an Old Firm encounter, the winning margin still the biggest in any senior British final.
Fallon, who collected eight caps for the Republic of Ireland during the first half of the decade – five as a full-back, three as a centre-forward – retired due to knee trouble in August 1958 after more than 250 appearances for the club, and soon he joined the Parkhead coaching staff. He proved a natural at passing on expertise, and when an old Parkhead comrade, Jock Stein, returned to Celtic as manager in 1965, Fallon's career gained extra momentum. The two men had been close during their playing days, and when Fallon was captain he had championed Stein as his deputy in the face of opposition from some within the club who had doubts about Big Jock's veteran status, and even his ability.
Stein had proved an inspirational leader after taking over when Fallon was sidelined, and now Fallon became assistant manager the chemistry between the two men was ideal. Stein was brilliant but abrasive, while Fallon spoke more softly, frequently calming upset players, soothing bruised egos while subtly reinforcing the manager's point of view.
In addition, Fallon was one of the canniest judges of a young footballer the game has known, and he unearthed most of the wonderful home-grown team which earned immortality as "The Lisbon Lions" by defeating mighty Internazionale of Milan in the 1967 European Cup final. His discoveries also included many subsequent heroes, such men as Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari, David Hay, Packy Bonner and Paul McStay.
Having been a largely unsung No 2 as Celtic accumulated nine successive League titles, won the Scottish Cup seven times and the League Cup six, topped off with the European triumph, Fallon found himself as caretaker- manager during 1975-76 as Stein recovered slowly from near-fatal injuries received in a car crash, and no silverware was collected for the first time in more than a decade. After that he was less than delighted with his demotion to chief scout and youth development officer, and in 1978 left Celtic to become assistant manager to Davie Wilson at second-tier Dumbarton.
His old skills had not deserted him and soon he was recruiting gifted youngsters such as Graeme Sharp and Owen Coyle. He remained ambitious, too, and during 1980-81, his one season as manager, he attempted to take Johan Cruyff to Boghead, though for some reason the great Dutchman opted for New York Cosmos.
Later Fallon, a man revered for his integrity, humility and sense of humour, served as a director at Dumbarton, then Clyde, but Celtic always remained his club, and last August he unfurled the Scottish Premier League flag at Parkhead on the day his beloved Bhoys began the defence of their latest title.
Sean Fallon, footballer, coach and manager: born Sligo, Republic of Ireland 31 July 1922; played for Sligo Rovers 1948-49, Glenavon 1949-50, Celtic 1950-58; capped eight times by Republic of Ireland 1950-55; managed Dumbarton 1980-81; married (one son, five daughters); died 18 January 2013.
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