THOUGH known almost exclusively for his time at Celtic, Sean Fallon enjoyed an eventful, if largely unfulfilling, spell at Dumbarton. The positions of manager, assistant and director were all held, and the Irishman proved that his talent-spotting instincts were as sharp as ever by snapping up two unknown teenagers, and future internationals, in Graeme Sharp and Owen Coyle. Yet his short stint at Boghead is remembered not for these inspired signings, but for a transfer that failed to materialise.
Today, 33 years to the day of the news breaking, we look back on Dumbarton’s unlikely pursuit of the great Johan Cruyff in this extract from ‘Sean Fallon: Celtic’s Iron Man’.
ON December 9, 1980, the day the world awoke to the news that John Lennon had been shot dead outside his New York apartment, the reports on the Scottish back pages were every bit as shocking. Morning coffees across the country would have been spat out at the mere headline: ‘Sons in for Cruyff’.
It is a story that Gerry McNee remembers only too well. “I was with the Express at the time and I got a call in the evening, very close to the first edition deadline, from a contact I trusted. ‘Dumbarton are trying to sign Cruyff’, he told me. But when I got in touch with the Express to tell them to hold the back page, I had a hell of a job trying to convince them that it wasn’t an April fool.
"I remember phoning Sean during a reserve match at Boghead to confirm the story with him and, typically of Sean, he was up front about it. ‘Yes, we’ve spoken to the boy,’ were his famous words. It was a massive story.”
Massive, and almost too outlandish to believe. Johan Cruyff, a record three-time Ballon d’Or winner and the graceful, elegant personification of ‘total football’, had been the great player of the 1970s.
Dumbarton were a club mired in mid-table mediocrity in Scotland’s second tier. Why on earth would this superstar, at 33 and still with life in those legendary legs, consider playing his football at Boghead?
Had Fallon, having worked for so long with a master in media manipulation, and remembering the coverage generated by Celtic’s pursuit of Alfredo di Stefano in the early ‘60s, simply employed an old headline-grabbing trick?
“I won’t lie to you - there was a bit of that involved. I knew it was always unlikely we would get Cruyff, but the way I saw it we couldn’t lose. At worst, it got Dumbarton on the back pages for a few days and boosted the club’s image and profile, which was very low at that time. As best, if we were really lucky, we might get a magnificent player.
"Cruyff was struggling a bit financially in those days because he’d lost all his money in a bad investment, so we felt offering him a few thousand pounds per game might tempt him. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And he did agree to meet us. I went over with the chairman to Amsterdam and found him to be very polite and knowledgeable about the whole Scottish scene.
"But although I was normally quite good at talking players into signing, that one I couldn’t manage. I set things buzzing though, didn’t I? And I think I was closer to making it happen some people think.”
Confirmation of just how close arrived, remarkably enough, from Cruyff himself. While visiting Scotland for a pro-am golf tournament late last year, the former Ajax and Barcelona star - though slightly taken aback by the question - well remembered Dumbarton’s unexpected approach.
“Was I tempted? Yes, of course,” he said. “Playing in England, or Britain, was something I had always wanted to do. But I thought I was too old at that stage to go to Scotland, where you know the weather will be difficult. When you're old your muscles get stiff, and moving to a cold country is asking for problems.”
So there we have it. If Dumbarton was only a little less dreich, Fallon would have pulled off the transfer of the century. As it was, Cruyff headed for Washington Diplomats in the star-studded NASL, while the spurned Sons boss - much to the disappointment of his players - resigned just four months later.
* The Glasgow launch for 'Sean Fallon: Celtic's Iron Man', including Q&A and signing at The Admiral Bar, Waterloo St, this Wednesday (Dec 11) before the Barcelona-Celtic Champions League game. Doors open at 5.30pm for a 6pm start. Launch to finish at approximately 7.15pm, 30 minutes before kick-off.
Since the launch of SPAIN: THE INSIDE STORY OF LA ROJA'S HISTORIC TREBLE on Friday November 15, extracts and other coverage have appeared in some of the best football sites on the internet. If you missed any of them, here's your chance to try before you buy.
The day after England's defeat by Chile, The Guardian featured this revealing extract detailing the youth strategy that has perpetuated Spain's unrivaled success.
The biggest international football site kicked up a stink with this extract detailing the friction within the Spain squad during the Clasico wars of 2011, and Jose Mourinho's role in them.
DAILY MAIL / MAIL ON SUNDAY
The story of how close Andres Iniesta was to not playing at the World Cup and the remarkable aftermath of the final was told in the Daily Mail, part of a brilliant three-day serialisation in the Scottish editions of that newspaper and its Sunday sister, the Mail on Sunday. The below extract is from the Mail on Sunday, where Graham writes a weekly column.
The great Sam Wallace used the book's prelude to Euro 2008 as the jumping off point for a fine column.
A shorter account of the DVD with which Iniesta overcame his personal crisis can be found on ESPN FC.
Sean Fallon was a man of many nicknames. It was as ‘the Mad Monk’ that he was initially known by Celtic fans, while references to ‘the Sligo Slasher’ appear in newspapers of the time. But only one name stuck, and rarely has a moniker proved more apt.
There would be several occasions on which Fallon justified his ‘Iron Man’ title, but none more significant or celebrated than in a match which took place 60 years ago today. In this extract from his authorised biography, we look back to the day when Sean Fallon became Celtic’s Iron Man.
COURAGE and competitiveness came naturally, but it was a fanatical devotion to his club and its cause that underpinned Fallon’s propensity for self-sacrifice. “He had a genuine love for Celtic,” said Bertie Auld, who observed the Irishman as a player, coach and assistant manager. “There has never been anyone more dedicated or wholehearted. What a warrior he was. If there was a 50-50 tackle, you’d put your house on Sean winning it.”
The 50-50s were rarely the problem. It was when the odds were heavily stacked against him, the situation seemingly hopeless, that Fallon caused himself greatest damage. Take October 24, 1953. This was the day Celtic beat title rivals Hearts 2-0 and took a major step towards their first league championship in 16 years. It was also the day on which Fallon earned his Iron Man moniker.
“I picked up another bad injury that day and, believe it or not, that one was Jock’s fault too [another Stein lapse had led to Fallon nearly losing an eye]. It’s a wonder we got on so well after the problems he caused me! He’d had a chance to clear the ball but hesitated and allowed Davie Laing to steal it and run through on goal for Hearts.
"I tried to cover but I wasn’t in quite the right position, so as Laing got ready to shoot I had to throw my body in front of him. I blocked the shot but his studs followed through and crunched into my arm and shoulder.
"You can still feel the hole it took out of my collarbone. I knew it was broken, and my wrist too. There was no doubt. But it was a big game and I felt that if I could get strapped up at half-time, I could play on - at least fill a space, keep someone busy. So I went back on with a sling. I would have been useless in defence though, so they put me up at outside-left.
"I always remember the Hearts full-back telling me, ‘Injured or not, Sean, I’ll be going for everything’. We even managed a bit of a joke about it. But I can’t say I enjoyed playing the rest of the match like that. I remember being sick with the pain.”
It might not have been a personal highlight, but that injury was a pivotal moment in Fallon’s playing career. And astonishing though his stoicism was, it was the Irishman’s reaction to the ensuing praise that ensured its place in Celtic folklore. He had secured a vital win, playing on in agony with an injury that should have ended his season - and might have ended his career. It was plainly heroic, and everyone acknowledged it as such. Everyone but Fallon. His assessment? “Ach, it wasn’t as if it was a broken leg.”
WHEN discussing launch locations for Sean Fallon: Celtic's Iron Man, it soon became clear that there could only be one place. Sligo was the town where Sean's values were forged and he returned to regularly throughout his life.
So, on Saturday, October 19, 2013, the town turned out in force to celebrate the life and times of one of its favourite sons. The day began with a moving reception at the County Hall. Speeches from Councillor Pat McGrath (Cathaoirleach), RTE's Tommie Gorman, John Perry, Sean Fallon Jnr and author Stephen Sullivan brought memories of the Celtic legend flooding back.
The book was hailed by Councillor McGrath as a "remarkable achievement" and there was an overwhelming feeling of pride and relief that this incredible life had finally been captured - and so skilfully - before Sean's passing in January of this year.
With window displays in Sligo's main bookshops and stocks of the book disappearing quickly, it was clear that Sean's legacy will live on for a long time in the town.
After a busy book signing in the town centre, it was off to the Showgrounds to take in Sligo Rovers' 3-1 win over Drogheda, with Stephen and Sean Jnr introduced to the crowd at half-time.
IT was fitting that we handed over a hot-off-the-press copy of Sean Fallon: Celtic's Iron Man to the book's editor, Hugh MacDonald, at Ferrari's restaurant in Glasgow.
It was at the same establishment that Fallon and Jock Stein dined regularly as Celtic team-mates back in the 1950s, shuffling salt cellars around their makeshift tactics board as they started to form their coaching brains.
In this extract from the book, which is out next Tuesday (October 8th), Fallon talks about lost afternoons in Glasgow's famous Italian cafe.
"We’d always get together in Ferrari’s restaurant at the top of Buchanan Street. All the Celtic players would go there for lunch and, afterwards, Jock, Bertie [Peacock] and myself would sit there for hours, talking football. We were a bit of a trio back then, and would work on moves and systems for our area of the park. We’d also talk about games coming up and any players we felt were dangerous and could steal a goal. It all helped.
"Neither of us was a drinker or big socialiser, so football was our big passion. We’d never tire of talking about the game and I was always impressed by what he had to say. We had very similar ideas about football. Jock was clever and a great communicator too – much better than I ever was. We became good friends very quickly.
"Our ritual was always the same: lunch in Ferrari’s, talking football, and then off to the Paramount Cinema across the road to see what films were showing. We both loved westerns, although that was one area we did have a bit of a disagreement. Jock thought no-one could beat John Wayne, whereas I was more of a Gary Cooper man."
Fallon, Ferrari's menu and a salt shaker (above)