Happy Birthday to the Sligo Swimmer

2 Nov

Good Evening.

Luck– everyone in life needs a little luck. Sometimes you do not recognise luck when it comes a knocking– sometimes it seems like bad luck yet turns out to be good. Sometimes it is another persons luck that ultimately benefits you and turns out to be that his or her luck becomes your luck.

Any Student of history will tell you that there was very little luck on offer when the allied forces attempted a landing at Gallipoli during the great war. Not only was the planned landing a failure, but it is now thought that it was always doomed to failure– even before it started.

Whilst the Dardanelles campaign is perhaps most famous for being the first major military action undertaken by ANZAC troops, it is little realised that there were many many others there as well.

Eric Bogle’s song “And the band played waltzing Matilda” describes the horror and the aftermath of the Turkish onslaught of the allied troops. Dum Dum Turkish bullets ripped through the flesh and bought death to thousands.

An estimated 120,000 men ultimately perished These included more than 80,000 Turkish soldiers and 44,000 British and French soldiers,and over 8,500 Australians. Among the dead were 2,721 New Zealanders, about a quarter of those who had landed on the peninsula. Overall there were in excess of 500,000 casualties.

Beside this, general conditions were terrible with blazing heat by day, and months later sub zero temperature by night. Dysentery, Diarrhoeal and Enteric fever were widespread affecting 145,000 troops. There was not a lot of luck about— and it seemed that luck had deserted one young soldier when his shoulder was ripped to shreds by the dreaded dum dums.

Yet for this man, Lady Luck was present– and indeed would remain present for ever more really. He did not die, and was shipped home instead– or at least he was shipped away from Gallipoli— eventually returning to his homeland— but not before a series of operations and a long convalescence in another land— Scotland!

In between Hospital treatments the young man would be allowed to leave hospital, and found himself going to Celtic Park to follow Glasgow Celtic. He took in what he saw, the atmosphere, the crowd, the play and the ethos of the club. He drank it in and kept it with him– even after he went home.

The young man married, had a family, went into politics in his home town and even went on to become Mayor– twice. He is long dead now and has a street named after him in his home town.

His name? John Fallon. Former Mayor of Sligo, War Veteran, husband, father, and Celtic fan.

So it came to be that a young Sean Fallon grew up in Sligo and came to hear about the famous Glasgow Celtic. His father told him of the club with the big heart, which helped people out, which played great football and had this huge support.

The Marist educated Fallon was already a Celtic fan by the time Lady Luck appeared for the benefit of the Fallon family for a second time.

Sean was an excellent swimmer– all his family swam

However the story goes that the young Sean’s sister, Lilly, got into trouble in the waters of Lough Gill one day and was in danger of drowning. Fortunately, a young man jumped into the water and saved Lilly, and as a reward and an appreciation, was invited back to the Fallon household.

This young man’s name was Joe McMenemy the son of Celtic legend Jimmy McMenemy. Obviously the topic of Celtic came up and when Joe returned to Scotland he made a point of sending young Sean a Celtic shirt and a copy of Willie Maley’s book “The story of Celtic”.

It is from that background that Sean Fallon would later admit that he would have played for Celtic for nothing had they asked.

I have no intention of going through Sean’s stats as a player or even an assistant coach. He would probably agree with my fathers description of Sean as a player– which is meant to be complimentary. The ould fella describes Fallon the player as ” All blood and snotters– but as hard as nails!”

However, it is Fallon’s attributes away from the Field of play that are worthy of the absolute highest praise. My impression is that Sean Fallon is the personification of a unique quiet dignity, a presence that speaks volumes without words or dramatic action.

It was Sean Fallon who decided to make Jock Stein– someone who was seen as a makeshift, washed up, stand in at Celtic park—- his Vice Captain– perhaps to the astonishment of certain team mates including his best friend at the time- Bertie Peacock.

That action was to be reciprocated years later when it was Stein and not Fallon who was named as successor to Jimmy McGrory. Fallon seemed to be the heir apparent, but gracefully stood aside to allow the legend that was to become “Big Jock” take control. Sean could have stormed out, taken the huff or whatever, but instead was more than happy to remain serving the club that he loved so much in any capacity offered.

I have heard him interviewed and at times this elderly man just reeks of unintentional phrases that shout Celtic FC. He talks about the loyalty of the fans, even through the lean 50′s and describes how it was “most important” that they got rewards like a day of “Hampden in the sun”.

Similarly, it was “most important” that Stein’s team gave the next generation of fans “something to dream about” in Lisbon. It is also ” most important” that everyone at the club remembers that it was founded by a Marist Bother and that the club is meant to do good things for people who are not so fortunate in life!

It was Fallon who persuaded Ronnie Simpson to come to Celtic, and who had to swiftly persuade a young David Hay and his dad to leave a hotel and come with him to sign for Celtic instead of waiting for the man they had intended to meet– another ex Celt called Tommy Docherty who was trying to get young Hay to sign a contract that very day…….. with Chelsea.

Any number of players will testify to Fallon’s gentle and dignified way of persuading them to come to Celtic Park– not least Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish.

However perhaps the story that most emphasises the idea of “Lucky Sean” rubbing off on someone else is the one where he took a walk through Bellahouston Park.

It is said that he came upon a Sunday football game where jackets were being used for posts. A Bounce game between a group of young men, a bunch of friends if you will.

One young player is said to have caught his eye, and eventually the young man was called over by the genial Irishman and asked if he would be interested in trying out for Celtic? Within weeks, the young man had signed to play for Celtic,signing for manager McGrory on January 7th 1965.

His name was Jim Craig.

We are often told of the ills of Scotland. We have recently been reminded of alleged bigotry in football even between club officials. Sean is living testimony as to why that does not need to be. If you ever get the chance ask him how he became a member of Pollock Golf Club? He was proposed by someone he considered one of his closest friends— Deedle Dawdle– Willie Waddell– whom he refers to as simply “Deedle”. Opponent on the park, close friend off it!

One time Sean’s luck failed him== that was when he failed to sign Johan Cruyff for….. Dumbarton….. but as he says himself you have to give the fans something to dream about! You had to try!

Luck– everyone needs a little luck and sometimes someone else’s luck becomes your luck.

There may have seemed nothing lucky about a bullet in the shoulder in 1916, but that bullet brought a man to Glasgow who would later tell his son about a football team called Glasgow Celtic– and that son proved hellish lucky for Celtic– for Jock Stein, Danny McGrain, Davie Hay, Kenny Dalglish, Jim Craig and everyone who has worn a green and white scarf or stood on the terracing from the 50′s onwards.

Sean Fallon is 90 today and still lives in the south side of Glasgow.

Stay lucky Sean!



2 Responses to “Happy Birthday to the Sligo Swimmer”

  1. pmarsh22 November 3, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Nice, I hear there is a book in the pipeline, hope to see it soon.

  2. Martybhoy November 3, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    BRTH…….your writing is sublime!!

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