Fallon, Sean (1922–2013), footballer and coach, was born on 31 July 1922 in Sligo, one of nine children (six girls and three boys) of John Fallon (1897–1980) and his wife Margaret (1897–1990; née Forde). In 1914 John Fallon quit his job in McArthur’s bakery in Sligo to join the Connaught Rangers. He was promoted to corporal and survived the fighting at Gallipoli in 1915 only to be seriously wounded at Salonica. Discharged in November 1917, he worked in Glasgow as a postman before returning to Sligo where he resumed his old trade. He became secretary and treasurer of the British Legion in Sligo for fifty years, working assiduously for the welfare of ex-British servicemen. This attracted some hostility but also considerable admiration, and from 1934 he served on Sligo Corporation and Sligo County Council until his death on 13 September 1980. He was elected mayor of Sligo in 1968. A keen soccer player and supporter, he helped found Sligo Rovers in 1928, and later served as chairman of both the club and the Connacht Football Association.
Sean was educated by the Sisters of Mercy and Marist Brothers at St John’s National School in Sligo, but much preferred sport to studying and left school at fourteen to work under his father at McArthur’s. He won trophies for sea swimming and was a strong runner, boxer and rower. He played soccer with the local St Mary’s Juniors, and later with clubs such as McArthur’s, Sligo Distillery and Longford Town; while playing for Longford he was capped at centre-half for the FAI junior international team in 1947. Not a naturally gifted player, he was always grateful for the valuable coaching and encouragement he received from a Sister of Mercy at his school who was herself a useful footballer. He also played Gaelic football with Craobh Rua and Coolera and was selected for the Sligo county team (1946–8). In a National Football League quarter-final against Kerry in April 1948 he put two goals past the legendary goalkeeper Dan O’Keeffe (qv). This raised his profile and led the GAA to insist that he cease playing soccer, but he refused. In 1948 joined Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland as an amateur and made seventeen appearances for his hometown club before signing semi-professional forms with Glenavon of the Irish League in August 1949. At the same time he worked as a foreman confectioner in a bakery in Lurgan, specialising in decorating wedding cakes. Glenavon initially played him at centre-forward and he scored regularly, but he was more comfortable in defence and moved to right-back in December 1949. He impressed in his seventeen appearances for Glenavon and was selected for an Irish League XI that was beaten 3–1 by the League of Ireland at Dalymount Park on 17 March 1950. His tough tackling caught the eye of several scouts and on 21 March 1950 he signed for Glasgow Celtic.
Celtic was the club he wanted to play for above all. It had been founded in 1887 by a Sligoman, the Marist Brother Walfrid (qv), and there were also more personal links: while Sean’s father had convalesced in Glasgow in 1917–18 he had become a keen supporter. The Fallon family’s attachment to Celtic was confirmed when Joe McMenemy, the son of the Celtic legend Jimmy McMenemy (1880–1965), saved Fallon’s sister Lily from drowning in Lough Gill and became a cherished family friend. Fallon played for Celtic until 1958, mostly at right-back, making 254 appearances (177 in the league) and scoring 14 goals. Making his debut on 15 April 1950, he helped Celtic win the Scottish FA Cup in 1951 and became club captain in 1952. A great favourite with the Celtic fans, he was nicknamed the ‘Iron Man’ for his tenacity and ability to play on despite suffering injuries. A broken collarbone received in a game against Hearts in October 1953 limited his appearances for the team that won the league and cup double in 1953/4, and the club captaincy was assumed by Jock Stein (1953–5). Fallon did however have the satisfaction of scoring the winning goal in the 2–1 victory over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final on 24 April 1954, and on his return to Sligo a few days later was welcomed by the town mayor and a local band. (He always retained a great affection for his hometown and read the Sligo Champion every week). Fallon also won two League Cup finals in 1957 and 1958. In the first, Celtic beat Rangers 7–1 at Hampden Park on 19 October 1957, a day that went down in the club’s lore as ‘Hampden in the Sun’. Despite such highlights, the 1950s were disappointing years by Celtic’s standards, with the club usually lagging behind both Rangers and Hibernian.
Until 1950 the Belfast-based IFA continued to select players born in the twenty-six counties for its international team and Fallon played for a Northern Ireland XI against a British Army XI in Belfast on 14 September 1950. When however he was selected for the full IFA international team to play England on 7 October 1950, the Dublin-based FAI protested and asked Fallon to withdraw. There was also a threat to burn down his parents’ home, allegedly from elements of the Sligo IRA. He was unsure how serious this was but could not take the chance and reluctantly declined the offer. The episode finally brought an end to the IFA’s selection of southern-born players. He went on to play eight times for the Republic (1950–55), making his debut against Norway at Dalymount Park on 26 November 1950. His most memorable international match was a 3–2 victory over West Germany in a home friendly on 17 October 1951. For his last three caps he was pressed into service as a centre-forward and managed to score in friendly matches against France (16 November 1952) and West Germany (28 May 1955).
Injury forced Fallon’s retirement from playing in August 1958, but he remained a respected and influential figure at Celtic Park, coaching reserve and youth teams. In 1962 he was appointed assistant manager to Jimmy McGrory and from 1965 served under Jock Stein. Under Stein Celtic won 9 successive League titles (1966–74), 7 FA cups (1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1975) and 6 League Cups (1966–70 and 1975). Its most remarkable achievement was beating Inter Milan in Lisbon on 25 May 1967 to become the first British club to win the European Cup. This was done by a team, the ‘Lisbon Lions’, most of whom were born within a ten-mile radius of Celtic Park, and several recruited by Fallon. In later years he also secured the signings of legendary players such as David Hay, Danny McGrain, Kenny Daglish, Lou Macari, Packie Bonner and Paul McStay. When Celtic fans voted for the club’s greatest-ever team in 2002, more than half of those selected had been signed by Fallon. He was though a modest figure, who never sought the limelight or spoke of his achievements, and many believed that his contribution to Celtic was under-appreciated. His transparent honesty and passion for Celtic were often crucial in securing the signatures of young players and the trust of their parents. Helping to create a family atmosphere at the club, he acted as a mentor and confidant for young players, who generally found it difficult to approach Stein. He was widely respected throughout Scottish football, including by many at Glasgow Rangers. His strong catholic faith was accompanied by an abhorrence of sectarianism and most of his closest friends in football were protestants.
Stein and Fallon were particularly close and socialised together with their wives, but even then spent all their time talking about football. They were often joined by a young Alex Ferguson, who was keen to learn all he could and developed an abiding admiration for Fallon. Fallon’s loyalty to both Celtic and Stein was absolute, and his manager trusted him implicitly. When Stein was injured in a car crash on 5 July 1975, Fallon took over as caretaker manager but was unceremoniously replaced as assistant manager on Stein’s return in June 1976. This hurt him deeply but he refrained from making any public criticism of his beloved Celtic, which he always referred to as ‘my club’, and stayed on as chief scout until 28 May 1978. In September 1978 he was appointed assistant manager of Dumbarton FC and manager in July 1980, and recruited the future internationals Graeme Sharp and Owen Coyle. He resigned in May 1981 and became a director of Dumbarton in 1982 and of Clyde FC in 1986.
In 2002 Fallon was awarded the freedom of his native Sligo to mark his eightieth birthday; at a celebratory dinner in the town he was joined by many former Celtic players including the surviving Lisbon Lions. In August 2012 his last public act was to unfurl at Celtic Park the Scottish Premier League Title flag won in the previous season. He died in Glasgow on 18 January 2013, aged ninety, and was buried at the city’s Philipshill cemetery. He was survived by his wife Myra, six children and twenty grandchildren. His funeral mass at the Parish Church of Christ the King attracted many of the leading figures of Irish and Scottish football, including the then Rangers’ manager Ally McCoist and his predecessor Walter Smith. The eulogy was given by Sir Alex Ferguson who paid tribute to Fallon’s enduring loyalty, integrity and humility.