“I liked him from the start.”
In tracing his friendship with Jock Stein, Sean Fallon had to look back almost six decades. And no matter how many questions he faced about his old pal – and heaven knows there were plenty – the Irishman never failed to wax lyrical.
“Jock was a master,” he would say. “There are so many things that go towards making a great manager and, to me, Jock had them all. His reading of a game was second to none and he could pick up on the smallest details quicker than anyone I ever saw. And what always impressed me was his knowledge of the game and the way he could communicate that knowledge to the players. Whenever he criticised someone, and he wasn’t shy in doing that, he would explain why. That’s so important, especially for younger players. Everything had a point with Jock.”
But while Fallon would passionately extol the professional virtues of his old vice-captain and managerial partner, his most vivid memories were of a close friend and trusted confidant.
“Neither of us was a drinker or big socialiser, so football was our big passion,” he said. “We became good friends very quickly. Our ritual during our playing days was always the same: lunch in Ferrari’s restaurant, talking football, and then off to the Paramount Cinema across the road to see what films were showing. We both loved our westerns.”
That friendship was later fortified as Stein and Fallon became the most potent of managerial duos. And when the pair weren’t taking in a match or holed up in their cramped office, they would be on the golf course together, at the seaside with their families, or out for dinner at a couple of favourite haunts.
“We were close for years, even after we both left Celtic,” said Sean. “It helped that our wives got on very well too. Every Saturday night, we’d all go for a meal to the Vesuvio or the Beechwood, and that was when Jock would loosen up. He could be quiet in company sometimes and he was always wary of what he was saying when he was around strangers or people he didn’t know well. But he really did relax when it was just him and myself with Myra and Jean. You saw the real Jock then, and he could be great company when he was like that. When the restaurant was closing, he wouldn’t want to go home. He’d have talked through the night if they’d have let him.”
Amid all these happy memories, though, was the Irishman’s altogether darker recollection of September 10th 1985. It was on that date, 30 years ago today, that football lost a true giant and Fallon an irreplaceable comrade. “When they said Jock had passed away, I nearly died myself,” Sean recalled. “He hadn’t always kept well, but you just felt he would always be around.
“It was very difficult getting used to him not being there. I felt I had no-one to talk to about football any more – not the way Jock and I used to talk about the game anyway. That’s what I missed the most and what I still miss to this day. I spent almost every day with Jock for a long, long time, and we went through a lot together. When he died, I lost a great friend. It took a long time to get used to the fact that he was gone. But I look back on all that time together with a lot of happy memories. More than anything, I feel very fortunate to have known him.”