Friday, 18 January 2013

Farewell to the man of Iron
Sean Fallon 1922-2013

Lough Gill stradles the counties of Sligo and Leitrim in the west of Ireland and is by any measure a place of great beauty. Its connection to Celtic Football Club is both accidental and important. Celtic legend Sean Fallon’s sister, Lilly, got into trouble in the lough and was in mortal peril when a visiting Scottish tourist dived in to rescue her. Needless to say the grateful Fallon invited the man to his house and the two got talking. Joe McMenemy told Fallon that his father, Jimmy, had once played for the famous Glasgow Celtic. Fallon, a Gaelic sports fanatic and keen swimmer listened with interest. When a parcel arrived at his County Sligo home some time later he opened it and looked at the Celtic strip Joe had sent to him and a book by Willie Maley; ‘The Story of Celtic.’ Fallon was smitten, the whole idea of Celtic fired his imagination. He knew that playing ‘Barrack’ games like football would spell the end of his Gaelic games career as the GAA frowned upon what it considered a British game. Despite this he joined several Irish clubs and impressed the Celtic Scouts enough to be invited to Glasgow to try his luck with the Hoops. His natural fitness, toughness and no little skill made Celtic warm to the young Sligo man. He made his debut in 1950 and soon earned the nickname the ‘Iron man’ for his ability to give it out and take back without complaint in the tough, physical world of 1950s football.

Celtic were struggling in the early 50s as Rangers, Hibs and Aberdeen fielded teams which seemed to beat them at will. Jimmy McGrory’s team had an opportunity to give the fans some cheer in 1951 when they appeared in the cup final against a dangerous Motherwell team.  Fallon helped Celtic to a hard fought 1-0 victory to send the Celtic fans in the 120,000 crowd home happy. By 1954 Celtic had won the double and the fans hoped better days were here to stay but alas the title eluded them for 12 long years after that. There were still some astonishing displays such as the unforgettable 7-1 demolition of favourites Rangers in the 1957 League cup final or the unlikely Coronation cup triumph.  However, Celtic tended to sell their better players at that time and go with youth. For Fallon, tough as they were, the 1950s were a time when he proved to be a reliable player who wore the Hoops with pride and distinction. The Celtic warrior once broke his collarbone playing against Hearts and returned to the field with his arm in a sling to complete the game. He also welcomed to Celtic Park a veteran Centre Half who some openly stated was past it. Indeed Fallon recognised the man’s leadership qualities and made him his vice-captain. The man was called Jock Stein.

As injury and the passing years affected both men’s playing careers, they often talked about management and the sort of football they’d like to see their teams play. A long lasting bond formed between Fallon and Jock which was to prove very beneficial for Celtic FC.  It is now a matter of record that the greatest era in Celtic’s history occurred when Jock Stein and Sean Fallon led Celtic to 25 major trophies in 11 astonishing years. Jock, who was once asked to be Fallon’s Vice Captain, returned the compliment by asking Sean to be his Assistant Manager. They guided Celtic to unheard of success culminating in that victory in Lisbon.

Sean Fallon loved Celtic. He was involved as player and manager in 29 major trophy wins and was the last living link involved in the 7-1 game and the glory of Lisbon. He had the heart of a Lion and fought till the end in every game he played for his beloved Hoops. It brought immense joy that this son of Sligo, like Walfrid before him, brought much honour and distinction to Celtic. He was proud indeed to be asked to unfurl the league flag at Celtic Park in the Summer of 2012 and received a rapturous welcome from a home crowd who recognised the contribution this great Celt had made to our club. When Celtic won their 9 in a row, Sean was there. In the heat of Lisbon, Sean was there. When it was seven past Niven, Sean was there. This great Celt once said of his career with typical modesty…

"I was just an ordinary player with a big heart and a fighting spirit to recommend me."

He was more than that, much more. He was a man who loved Celtic as much as any of us who stood on the old terraces or who sit in our big new stadium. A man who never shirked a tackle and gave 100% for the Hoops on every occasion he wore that shirt or prowled the dugout with big Jock. The Celtic family remembers a great club servant and man who fought Celtic’s corner with passion, pride and skill.

Rest in Peace Sean, our man of Iron. What stories you, big Jock and Jinky will be sharing now.


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