Sean Fallon’s sad passing fills every Celtic heart with tremendous sadness.
If ever a man was destined to play for Celtic it was Sean. In the 1940’s Sean’s sister Lily almost drowned in Lough Gill (a freshwater lake in CountySligo) and she was only saved by the intervention of Joe McMenemy who was the son of the Celtic legend Jimmy McMenemy.
Fate had it that Joe was over in Sligo on holiday and the Fallon family gave Joe a warm welcome after his fine deed. Joe in turn sent the Fallon’s a Celtic jersey and Willie Maley’s book by return and Sean was then destined to be a Celt for life.
Sean became a footballer with Glenavon and the call came from Celtic in 1950. Principally a left back, Sean was a versatile player who could play up front when required and had a ferocious will to win. So much so that he became famous for his hard, but fair, tackling style.
Many years ago I recall my Father and his friends discussing Sean and they spoke of the day he collided with another tough player, Sammy Baird of Rangers. It is said that when the two of them collided going for a ball it was akin to an explosion on the field of play. Sean came out first in this battle of the hard men and I put this to the back of my mind. Then earlier this year there was a thread on Kerrydale Street and several old timers recalled this tale in the same fashion. Sean Fallon seldom came out second best in any tussle.
Sean had many highlights in his playing days. In 1954 he had the privilege of scoring the winning goal against Aberdeen in the Scottish cup final and in 1957 he was part of the legendary Celtic side who annihilated the old Rangers by 7-1 in the League cup final.
Because of his good service to the club Sean was made assistant to manager Jimmy McGrory and then in 1965 chairman Robert Kelly wanted to make Sean manager with Jock Stein as assistant or have both as joint managers. As it happens Sean became Jock’s assistant and was a trusted and loyal lieutenant to the big man for many years.
There was something comforting for Celtic fans during that era when they looked to the bench and saw Stein, Fallon, Bob Rooney, Neilly Mochan and Willie Fernie, every one of them a Celtic man to the core. Never have Celtic had more learned men in charge of their playing affairs.
Sean’s signing of the younger players through the years became the thing of legend. In 1965 he poached young Davie Hay in an Edinburgh hotel under the nose of Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty, a fact that the Doc rues to this very day.
The stories of Kenny Dalglish tearing down his Rangers posters in his house have become grossly exaggerated through the years. Any allegiance to another team would not have concerned Sean but what should have been his concern was the fact he left his wife, Myra, in the car whilst he negotiated the young Dalglish’s signature. And this was on the night of his wedding anniversary when they were on their way out for a meal ! This was another example of Sean’s devotion to Celtic.
Many players have spoken about Stein’s abrasiveness through the years and Sean was the ideal man to mediate and make others see reason and the Celtic players held him in the highest regard. Despite being in the background his importance to Celtic’s greatest ever period of success should not be under estimated.
In 1975 after Stein’s near fatal car crash Sean was made caretaker manager for the 1975/76 season. His first act was a considerable one, to persuade the restless Dalglish stay for the next two seasons. Although Celtic finished the season trophy less they had performed well in spells during a period of great transition where they had lost the services of Stein, McNeill, Johnstone, Brogan and Connelly for various reasons.
As was the way in those days the Celtic did not always treat their great servants with the respect they deserved. In 1976 Sean was demoted to chief scout with Davie McParland appointed as Stein’s assistant manager. He later said that this had ‘hurt deep in the heart.’ In 1978 Stein was replaced by McNeill and Sean moved on. He was not sad at any personal loss but sad that Celtic had lost the ‘Sligo connection’ as Brother Walfrid had been born in Sligo and Sean was enormously proud of the club’s Sligo links.
Over the years Sean was always a popular visitor to Parkhead, none more so than in August of last year when he unfurled the League flag at Celtic Park, always a great Celtic event. Only a matter of a couple of months ago he was in St Mary’s for the celebration mass to commemorate Celtic’s 125th year and looked in fine fettle.
Sean Fallon’s passing leaves Celtic much for the poorer. A fine player, a faithful assistant and a great Celtic man to his very core but more importantly he was total gentleman, a devout family man and a man who no one ever had cause to speak ill of.
All those years ago after his departure from Parkhead, Sean was offered a significant sum of money to serialise his life story in a Sunday newspaper but he declined as he would not criticise Celtic in any way. Such was the measure of the man.
In 1967 the Irish airline Aer Lingus presented Celtic with an Irish wolfhound dog as a gesture for winning the European Cup. Afterwards the club were perplexed with what to do with the dog until Sean volunteered to take it into his care. But only after he had negotiated a small wage rise with the parsimonious Celtic board in order to help feed the dog’s considerable appetite.
God bless you Sean for everything you did for us, from the 7-1 game to Lisbon and all the other great times you helped bring to Celtic Park.
Farewell to the iron man.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him
May he rest in peace.