Tomorrow, Celtic face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final knowing that victory will secure the club’s first treble since 2001. When the two sides met in the same fixture in 1954, the Bhoys were chasing their first double in fully four decades. The goalscorer who secured it for them was Sean Fallon.
It was a fairy tale end to a turbulent season for Fallon, who had been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign after sustaining a broken collarbone in a match against Hearts. His refusal to leave the field after sustaining the injury – these being the days before substitutions – earned him his ‘Iron Man’ nickname. Sean’s response at the time? “Ach, it wasn’t as if it was a broken leg.”
Sent home to recuperate in Sligo, Fallon returned to Scotland in the spring to watch Celtic play Hamilton – and saw first-choice striker John McPhail pick up a season-ending injury of his own. “It left the club struggling for players,” Sean recalled. “Just as I was due to leave to go to the airport, Bob Kelly called me over and asked if I would be willing to stay and try to play. I knew the doctor wouldn’t have been happy about it. But there was no way I was going to refuse.”
So it was that Fallon, inactive for five months and seemingly out for the season, was back in the starting line-up four days later. But there was one key difference: his position. Having been injured at left-back, he was restored to the team at centre-forward. “I was very limited as a striker,” he told me. “I was good for a bit of shock value at first but, once defenders realised I didn’t have any real pace or skill to get past them, the goals would always start drying up.”
Not that season they didn’t. Celtic, eight points behind leaders Hearts in the era of two points for a win, pipped the Edinburgh side to the title with run of seven successive wins. That remarkable run was underpinned by an equally unlikely scoring streak by the Bhoys’ makeshift centre-forward. And, for Fallon at least, the best had yet to come.
A crowd of 130,060, including Sean’s beloved father, packed into Hampden to witness the concluding act. That colossal crowd saw the Iron Man from Sligo score a goal described by Bertie Auld as “the most important of that era”: the winner as Aberdeen were beaten 2-1. The mere mention of it never failed to raise a smile in the man responsible.
“It’s not every day you score the winning goal in a cup final. I never expected it to happen to me and it was something very, very special, especially with my dad there to see it. Celtic hadn’t won the double for 40 years, so it was a bit of history.
“But I must thank Willie Fernie for that goal because he did all the hard work for me. He’d set off on one of those great runs of his, beating man after man, and I just tried to keep up, get into space and hope that he’d see me. When he cut it back, I was eight yards out and couldn’t really miss. I say that, but there was a moment just after I hit it when I thought I might have got it wrong. But then Hampden just exploded and I kept on running, soaking it up.
“Willie was a good friend and we’d often laugh about it over the years. ‘My name should have been on that goal rather than yours,’ he’d tell me. ‘A blind man could have put it in from there.’ He wasn’t far wrong. But I was proud all the same. And I’m sure my dad was too. I think we both could have died happy that afternoon.”
Those were the days in which men tended not so share such emotions, and certainly not with each other. Sean, though, learned the full extent of his father’s pride in an unorthodox way, when Sligo’s town council staged a celebratory dinner in the wake of the cup final. John Fallon had been asked to deliver a toast and spoke of his son’s Hampden winner as one of the happiest moments of his life, adding “there is no prouder father than I”.
Sean attended the event with Jimmy McGrory and, for someone with a soft heart – in contrast to his Iron Man image – he did well to hold back the tears. Described by McGrory at the same dinner as “a credit to Sligo on and off the field”, Fallon used his speech to thank Celtic for exceeding his wildest dreams. “It is the greatest club in the world,” he enthused. “And more than a club, it is a home and an institution.”