Exclusive Sean Fallon Jr Interview: “(Billy McNeill) would have come back for one more season, had he been asked.” 

The late, great Sean Fallon made his Celtic debut 70 years ago yesterday. To mark the occasion, Declan McConville caught up with Sean Jr, who is a popular figure around Celtic Park in his role with the Celtic FC Foundation:

1. What are your memories of your dad being around the club?

I remember match days. I used to travel with George Stein, his sister Ray and her husband, John Gartland. We’d park in the old school car park and walk up Kerrydale Street to the stadium. I remember the Celtic FC stained glass window above imposing green, steel doors and the more imposing Bill Peacock, the fully uniformed commissionaire. I was always afraid of not getting in, but I was ok – I was a regular!

I also remember the changing rooms and the massive bath. At the time, I thought it was the size of a swimming pool. The gym had loads of medicine balls, a ball suspended from the ceiling for heading practice, some free weights and a table-tennis table. Certainly not what is at Lennoxtown today!

I loved it when he took me to watch a game away from home; either to watch future opposition, or a potential signing, or the reserves. It was a great way to spend time together and talk football, particularly when dad and Jock were away so frequently.

Our next door neighbour was an elderly lady called Mrs McVey. Dad placed some of the younger players with her as their landlady. The way that dad, John McAlindon, Bertie Peacock and maybe Willie Fernie had Mary McGuigan look after them when they first came over or moved to Glasgow. That allowed dad to make sure the players were settling in and, for those that needed “a wee watching”, he was just next door!

I also remember when Jóhannes Eðvaldsson (Big Shuggy) signed. Dad had set him up in the Marie Stuart Hotel, Crosshill. Dad was going to check he had settled in and he took me with him. I just remember being star-struck… there was something so ‘Hollywood’ about him; signing international players was not the norm.
2. Did your dad have any early memories of signing for Celtic and how the move came about?

I recall him saying that Mr McGrory had watched him playing in the North. He had always wanted to play for Celtic, so when Mr McGrory spoke with him he was ecstatic. The only thing was, the offer from Celtic was less than what he was on playing part-time with Glenavon and being a baker! Fulham and a couple of other clubs were keen but Mr McGrory asked to use a phone, made a call to Celtic and came back with an offer; less than Fulham but which dad
was delighted to accept.

Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind with PROFESSOR PHIL SCRATON here:

3. What was your relationship like with Jock Stein as your dad worked so closely with him?

Well, it was Uncle Jock and Aunt Jean, the families were very close. I am still in regular communication with George Stein, who lives in Switzerland. I am also in touch with John Gartland, Ray’s son… we were very friendly as young kids. Quiet often, I had my dinner with the Steins and John on a Friday. Uncle Jock taught me Celtic songs, far more than dad did.

One story when my relationship with Uncle Jock wasn’t so good, was when he caught me out. I was maybe about 6 or 7 at the time. We lived on Menock Road, at the bottom of a steep hill. It was a busy road and I wasn’t allowed out on the road on a bike. One evening, a friend cycled round and I took the bike up to the top of the hill. Half way up, I had to dismount and push it – the hill was too steep. Anyway, Uncle Jock was gardening and he looked round and
saw me pushing the bike up the hill. He put his fist up and disappeared inside. Just as I had reached the top and had turned the bike round, and pushed off, dad came running out of our driveway. Jock had called him! Dad was not best pleased.

4. How big an influence do you think your dad had on the Kelly Kids and Quality Street Gang?

I think his influence was massive but I would prefer for others to confirm that. There are plenty of examples of these fantastic players expressing their gratitude to dad. I also like to hear them state how well dad and Uncle Jock worked together; they each had different personalities and qualities but they dove-tailed so well.

Everyone in the terraces knew him as a Legend”

– Bertie Auld

4. How hard was it for your dad during season 1975/76 when he had to take over as caretaker manager due to unfortunate circumstances?

Again, a bit patchy. He lost Jinky, Billy and the one player he was allowed to sign, Johnny Doyle, got a serious injury. He had a very young team and – as Danny McGrain says – older, more experienced players could have helped a bit more by setting a better example. One thing I found out not that long ago, was that Billy, understanding that dad could do with an experienced leader on and off the pitch, would have come back for one more season, had he
been asked. Dad thought Billy had been asked and had said “No”. However, Billy was never asked!

5. How did it come about that your dad would unfurl the flag in 2012 and how proud a moment was it for the family that your dad finally got the recognition he deserved at the club?

Peter Lawwell asked me up to Celtic Park to explain what he, the Chairman, and the Board wanted to do to recognise dad. It was a fantastic gesture and the timing was written in the stars – it was just a few months later that dad passed away. All dad’s grandchildren were able to witness the esteem with which the support and the club held him in. 60,000 singing “Happy Birthday” to him! Afterwards, Neil Lennon asked us into his office – I don’t think he realised how many we were – about 30 of us! It was also the first of the current run we are on and the fact that Neil was manager then and will be when we get the 10 – is just another wee bit of Celtic magic.

Watch Sophie Millar’s stunning rendition of ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’:

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