A pleasant afternoon overall at Celtic Park on Saturday, although that was mainly down to events off the pitch more than the quality of football on offer. With the crucial Champions League qualifier against HJK looming on Wednesday I would have liked to have seen a more polished performance. Even though the Hoops pretty much dominated for 90 minutes the team looked ponderous for much of the game and weren’t able to turn their possession into clear cut chances often enough. Over now to Neil Lennon to come up with the selection and tactics than can get us a result in Finland.
It was good to see a healthy number of away fans in the visiting section for a change. If Aberdeen want to make this a regular feature as Aberdeen travel round the country then Hen Broon will have to at least try to provide some entertainment for them. This coming season, more than any other, it’s important for every club to make an effort to get supporters through the turnstiles, and parking the bus just won’t do it.
The post-apocalyptic world of Scottish football minus Rangers didn’t look nearly as scary as Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan were leading us to believe. A comparison of last season’s opening day fixtures to this season’s looks something like this:
Celtic v Aberdeen (1-0) 48,251
Hearts v St. Johnstone (2-0) 13,022
Dundee United v Hibs (3-0) 7,267
Kilmarnock v Dundee (0-0) 6,523
Ross County v Motherwell (0-0) 4,828
Total attendance: 79,891
Rangers (IA) v Hearts (1-1) 49,083
Hibs v Celtic (0-2) 12,523
Aberdeen v St. Johnstone (0-0) 10,001
Dundee United v Kilmarnock (1-1) 6,232
Dunfermline v St. Mirren (0-0) 5,035
Motherwell v Inverness (3-0) 4,190
Total attendance: 87,064
A drop off of around a thousand fans in attendance that I reckon could be accounted for by the fact that Celtic’s home game had an early kick-off to accommodate live TV coverage thereby deterring some of our far-travelled fans and not providing enough of an incentive for some of the floating voters to leave their armchairs for the afternoon. As the mainstream media will probably avoid the subject of SPL attendances this season unless they begin to tail off dramatically and therefore lend some weight to their pro-Sevco agenda, we’ll be keeping a beady eye on them here at NTV Mansions.
Wonderful to see the legend that is Sean Fallon having been chosen to raise the league flag (at 90 he looked a sight more sprightly than some of those that were on the pitch). Sean joined Celtic on 27th March 1950 from Glenavon for the princely sum of £27,000 and made his debut against Clyde at Shawfield in a 2-2 draw during which he had the unfortunate experience of scoring an own goal in the 34th minute (Fernie and Tully were Celtic’s scorers, the latter in the 88th minute). He made up for that the following season when he made 35 appearances for the first team, including one at right back in the ‘51 Cup Final, a 1-0 win against Motherwell. “As I walked off Hampden Park,” he said, “I felt I had got everything out of life I had ever wanted. I had become a member of the famous Celtic FC and holder of a Scottish Cup badge, all in one year.”
As a full-back he became renowned for making miraculous goal-line clearances. Curiously, his other position was centre-forward, where he played against Aberdeen in the 1954 Cup Final, scoring a thunderous winning goal after running on to a Fernie pass.
These days it’s not unusual to see players writhing around waiting to be evacuated by helicopter in scenes reminiscent of Oliver Stone Viet Nam movies, all helicopters and plasma bags. All because they’ve ripped their sock. Sean Fallon earned the nickname The Iron Man at a time when even the average Scottish professional ate a pre-match of granite sandwiches washed down with mugs of molten lava. As a hobby in his native Sligo, young Sean used to participate in long-distance open-water swimming events in the North Atlantic, winning the Henry Cup in 1947.
He was made captain of Celtic in 1952 but a chronic problem with his arm meant long spells out through injury. He chose Jock Stein to take his place, a gesture that was never forgotten by the future Celtic manager. It was a broken collarbone sustained in a league game against Hearts that led to one of Sean’s oft-quoted remarks. Returning to the field with the broken limb in a hastily constructed sling, he went out on to the left wing and finished the game. “It wasn’t as if it was a broken leg,” he said. Presumably if it had been he would have been forced to go in goal.
Not that he was completely indestructible. He admitted to me at a supporters function once that he had to off during a game – possibly one of the more full-on encounters with Rangers – because had, quote, “A bit of blood coming out of me eye.”
My father used to recall an incident when, during a match against Rangers at Celtic Park, Sean was on a collision course with one of the Rangers hard men, Sammy Baird. They converged on each other from a distance like that famous black and white film of two steam locomotives hurtling towards one another along a single track. Grown men winced as the pair got closer and fathers shielded the eyes of their children lest they would be traumatised for life by what they were about to witness. When the dust settled, Sean was brushing himself off while Baird lay prostrate waiting for the St. Andrews ambulance men to finish their Woodbines and come to his assistance. He was certainly in no fit state to assist himself.
In his book Talking With Celtic (Breedon Books 2001), the late great Eugene MacBride prompted Sean to retell his version of the incident:
“I broke his collarbone. The reason for that, it was his own fault. He came in square to me, stupidly. Three years before that he was playing with Clyde. I was playing right-back. It was a muddy night at Shawfield and I had fallen in the goalmouth. Next thing, I got a kick in the back of the head. I looked up and saw Sammy running away. Sammy used to run with his chest out. Big guy, Sammy. But the following week he was transferred to Preston. The manager at Preston at that time was Scot Symon. Three years after that particular incident at Shawfield Rangers appointed Scot Symon manager and he brought Sammy back with him. And that was the first opportunity I’d had, for I always remembered the kick in the head when he was wearing a Clyde jersey. Stupidly he came in square, broke his collarbone and his shoulder and was carried off. Yet, strangely enough, Baird was quite a nice guy off the field. I met him socially several times, a nice guy. But on the field he’d that wee bit in him, you know.”
Is it just me, or is there a metaphor in there for the present day Celtic – Sevco situation?
His playing career came to an end in 1958 because of a knee injury, ten months after having played his part in the eight goal thriller of a League Cup final in 1957 (and having his name echoed a million times over as schoolboys learned the litany of that team, “Beattie, Donnelly and Fallon…”) but his association with Celtic continued, not least as assistant manager to Jock Stein, where he was able to bring to Celtic Park players of the calibre of Tommy Gemmell, Lou Macari, Davie Hay, George Connelly, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain…
Glossing over his shabby treatment at the hands of the then Celtic board of directors, he left the club in May 1978 to become assistant manager – and later a director – at Dumbarton. While he was at Boghead he heard of a promising Dutch player who was, at the time, in the middle of a contract dispute with his club, Barcelona. Sean went to Holland to see if he could use his renowned Blarney to tempt him into turning out for the Sons. “I’ve spoken to the boy Cruyff, and he says he’ll get back to us,” Sean told the papers. Dumbarton are still waiting.
Cruyff ended up going to the LA Galaxy. What on earth was he thinking about? Why this unwillingness to swap the Ramblas for the Renton? If travelling was a problem I’m sure Dumbarton would have put him up in a single-end in Partick and gone halfers on a Transcard to make the travelling easier.
There were a few legends walking round the pitch a half-time on Saturday; not too many of them have as many stories as Sean Fallon. It’s time somebody wrote a book about him.