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1957-10-19: Celtic 7-1 Rangers, League Cup - Sean Fallon recalls the game
|Match Page | Match Pictures | Matches: 1957 - 1958 | 1957-58 Pictures|
Sean Fallon recalls the game"I remember that game as if it was yesterday.
"It was the best performance in my time as a Celtic player. Maybe it was because a lot of us were getting old and we realised we didn't have very long to make a real impact.
"We never expected to win by such a margin but as the game progressed the confidence grew sky-high.
"Everything clicked and it seemed we couldn't do anything wrong. It was unbelievable.
"We were in the doldrums, yet we never went into an Old Firm game believing we were second-best.
"Charlie [Tully] used to get a hard time from Rangers skipper Bobby Shearer. When it was over Bobby said to me 'you moved him because he was afraid of me' but I said we moved him because we wanted to win the game. It was a winning switch because Bobby used to give Charlie little room to operate in.
"Bobby was a good defender and a hard man, and so was I, but I don't suppose we would get away with our tackles nowadays although we both played within the laws of the game!"
On John Valentine, "It destroyed him but I thought it was a shame he took all the blame."
Interview: Sean Fallon, former Celtic playerI MUST say, it feels odd asking Sean Fallon about Celtic's first-ever Scottish League Cup triumph, given that he would go on to sit side-by-side with Jock Stein in the dugout in Lisbon. It's a bit like saying to Orson Welles: "Yes, yes, Citizen Kane, greatest movie ever, blah blah. Now, tell me about those sherry commercials..." But the League Cup is what we've gathered in Newton Mearns to discuss, and Fallon, a lovely old man with a craggy face, a rasping Irish brogue and a wife who's sat on the edge of her seat in case she's needed as a prompt, is too polite and too modest to attempt to seize hold of the agenda. Trouble is, if I'm feeling disconcerted, so is Fallon. "It's so long ago, son," he says. "In my career I got too many kicks in the head, and too many times I had to head that big heavy ball away. The rule was it was only supposed to be 16 ounces, blown up. But see when water got into it? Like a bloody cannonball, so it was. If you got in the way of a cracking shot you'd be waking up in the infirmary, asking what the score was."
We shouldn't be surprised that Fallon is struggling to remember that 1956 victory over Partick Thistle. He will be 89 in July and the last time he counted, there were only two other survivors from the 3-0 win and one of them suffers from Alzheimer's. There's isn't really scope for a class of '56 reunion. Add to that, Celtic's relationship with this competition has always been pretty eccentric. They would later appear in 14 consecutive finals, winning six in a row then losing four on the trot – but it took them all of the League Cup's first decade to get their name etched on it. Dundee had won it twice by then, and East Fife three times. To cap it all, the '56 final was decidedly non-classic, despite Celtic and Thistle having two goes. According to The Scotsman, the first match in front of a crowd of 59,000 was hugely disappointing, an "inept" affair with Celtic mostly to blame.
The Wednesday afternoon replay, for which the attendance almost halved, was "another poor display from both teams ... drab and blundering". Who'd want to remember any of that? I'm just about to say, "Sorry, Mr Fallon, I'll not detain you any longer on this fine, daffodil-budding afternoon" when he breaks into a smile. "Billy McPhail, he got two of our goals. Billy was the younger brother of John, who played for us before – both grand lads. John was nicknamed Hooky because he aye kicked with the outside of his foot. Billy, a hairdresser to trade, was Teasy-Weasy. John went out of the game pretty early. He liked his wee drink – most of the players did. And Billy, don't you know, died of brain damage. Too much heading of that bloody big ball!" Then Fallon looks over to Myra, his wife of 52 years, and says: "Did I do all right? Do you still love me?" And Myra says: "Yes, if you up my housekeeping."
Sean and Myra have one son and five daughters and the youngest of them, Siobhan, has popped in for the next chapter of his story, the almost mythical 7-1 drubbing of Rangers with which Celtic kept hold of the League Cup, even though everyone in the family, including all the grandchildren, must have heard it a thousand times before. Fallon, as we've established, isn't a boastful man; he just gets asked about that game a lot. It remains the biggest winning margin in any British final, the biggest in an Old Firm game and Rangers' heaviest defeat. "We hadn't been doing that well, and Rangers were top dogs in Scotland," says Fallon. "But that day everything went right for us and it all went wrong for them." A crowd of 82,253 witnessed what The Scotsman called "the most astonishing final ever staged". Rangers, in the quaint language of the time, were lacking "something akin to sociable cordiality", their defence "affected by indecision to a paralytic degree".
Celtic "knew a bad team when they saw one" and rattled in goals of "magnificent precision, such as can only be described in boys' serial story papers"."Of course we were elated at the end," adds the left-back. "But more for the supporters than ourselves. I remember the manager Mr (Jimmy] McGrory's team talk. Very stirring, so it was. He told us to think about all those people who'd stood out there in the rain, hail and snow and how much we owed them. 'For God's sake,' he said, 'give them a performance today.' I think they were pretty enamoured with what we did.
Billy McPhail helped himself to three more goals – all with his head. There was crowd trouble involving what The Scotsman termed "brawling, bottle-throwing hooligans". Five of the goals were missed off the TV coverage; a lens cap was blamed, although some Celtic fans accused BBC Scotland of a Rangers-favouring conspiracy. The Gers goalie was George Niven and "What's the time? ... Seven past Niven!" became a popular Glasgow street-corner exchange, with the win also being celebrated in a song which ripped off a Harry Belafonte hit. Did Fallon and his team-mates – fellow Irishmen Bertie Peacock and Charlie Tully among them, along with the two Bobbys, Collins and Evans – commiserate with the opposition? "We tried, but we couldn't find them! They must have been hurting because Celtic v Rangers was a great, great rivalry in our day, too, although I had good friends in the Rangers ranks, guys like Corky and Deedle (George Young, Willie Waddell].
The League Cup had been a bit of a bogey tournament for us up until those years, but I think for Celtic fans even now it's still special and that's because of 7-1." The tale of how Sean Fallon came to play for Celtic is another that appears to have been ripped from the pages of the Hotspur or the Hornet. He advises me to have another slice of sponge cake while he tries to remember it, but the old memory-box is whirring nicely now. "A few miles up the coast from Sligo, where I was born, there was a little seaside resort called Strandhill. Scots lads used to go on holiday there and see if they could pick up girls. But swimming at Strandhill was tricky, and one time my sister Lily got into difficulties. I was a lifeguard but wasn't there that day and her rescuer turned out to be the son of 'Nap' McMenemy, who was a grand player for Celtic. "Our two families became very friendly and they'd send me across Celtic books and strips. I liked Gaelic football but the high heid yins who ran it looked down on 'soccer', which was a bloody stupid attitude, so I think I ended up choosing football because of that. "And when it came to going full-time with a club – I was a confectioner to trade – Celtic were my team because my father, who was in the Great War and got hit by a dum-dum in the Dardanelles, was hospitalised into Glasgow, where he used to watch them play. West Brom offered me much more money but I'd always dreamed of going to Celtic, even though they were tight with the old pennies."
In his first full season, 1950-51, Celtic won the Scottish Cup, beating Motherwell 1-0. Three years later, the Hampden attendance again topped 130,000 for a 2-1 triumph over Aberdeen which completed the double. "We couldn't score a goal – our first had been an o.g. – so I got put up front and managed to get the winner. Not bad for a full-back." But the 1950s, especially when compared with the revolution effected by Stein, were lean for Celtic. "Scottish football was a lot more competitive back then," says Fallon, who had a spell as captain. "Apart from Rangers, Aberdeen were always tough. Clyde won a cup, didn't they? Every club seemed to get a wee shot. And games with Hibs and Hearts were aye lively. Gordon Smith at Hibs – what a beautiful footballer although he was a contrary fellow who kind of looked down on you. Against Hearts one time I got my collar bone broken."
Myra: "Wasn't it Sammy Baird of Rangers who did that?" "No, Sammy wouldn't have dared. He'd have known I'd have come after him."
Arm in a sling, Fallon played on that day. His nickname was "Iron Man" but he says he no more deserved the appellation than any other 1950s footballer. "You played hard, you got up again – not like now. But the thing that wasn't in Celtic's favour at that time was our age. We were getting on in years and a lot more pace had started coming into the game." Myra is laughing. "Tell him," she says. "Well," says Fallon, "I lied about my age to get signed. I said I was 24; really I was 28. Mr McGrory found out when a lot of us had to get passports for a foreign trip. He wasn't happy but a lovely man, so he was." Creaking they might have been – John McPhail borrowed a trick from Ferenc Puskas of shortening his stride to give the impression of speed – but the Celtic of the 50s had a great camaraderie, and old pals are flashing through Fallon's mind now. "Bobby Collins, rare wee player – heart of a lion. Willie Fernie, Fife boy, great touch, kept the ball so close. Neil Mochan – scored the best of the seven against Rangers. Billy Craig – ach, whenever anyone was injured we'd give him a game.
I'm kidding, he was Myra's brother. "And Charlie Tully! Wonderful player, awfie man. My digs were in Rutherglen, Miss McGuigan's, and Charlie would stay over if he had a drink in him rather than face the wife. I'll never forget the first time he sat on the ball – against Rangers! No-one, as far as I knew, had ever done that before. Their players looked stunned. We all used to get given passes to games, and Charlie always played with them in the pocket of his shorts. If he was playing well he'd hand them out to the opposition: 'Here, you'd be better off watching me from the stand.' In a cup-tie at Falkirk he scored two goals straight from corners."
Tully was among those who questioned the signing of Jock Stein as a centre-half from Llanelli. "A few of the guys thought he was too old. When I was captain I made him my vice-captain so he'd get more respect. At that point it was still a secret that I was actually five months older than Jock!" Stein didn't forget that gesture and when he became Celtic manager he made Fallon, forced into retirement through injury after 254 appearances plus eight caps for the Republic of Ireland, his No 2. A reserve-team trainer, he'd made a couple of key signings before Stein took charge. "I brought Ronnie Simpson in. We'd had a string of goalies who'd been bloody terrible. I also brought back Bertie Auld. Jock said to me: 'Jesus, you've signed trouble.' but that one worked out fine as well."
The Fallon signings continued to flow into what became the Lisbon Lions team, also the one after that: Bobby Lennox, Tommy Gemmell, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain. Later, managing Dumbarton, he was supposed to have tried to lure a veteran-class Johan Cryuff to Boghead. "Ach, sorry to disappoint you, son, but that was a publicity wheeze. I kidded on I'd gone out to Amsterdam to meet him. Jock had a million made-up stories designed to gain a wee advantage. I was trying to play you press-boys like him. "We hit it off right from the start, the Big Man and me. In our playing days there was a ritual after training of going to Ferrari's in Sauchiehall Street for our lunch, and Jock and me would always be trying to see what films were showing at the Paramount across the road. Sometimes Bertie Peacock would come with us. We loved Westerns the best. Jock's favourite was John Wayne; mine was Gary Cooper."
Cooper seemed to get through an entire shoot-'em-up career using only "Yup" and "Nope". In the dugout alongside Fallon, Stein was similarly a man of few words. "He was too busy concentrating on the game. I can still see him grinding his fist into his palm. He opened his mouth at half-time, of course, but what he said was always instructive. He knew football so well." Lisbon was thrilling confirmation of that – the night Stein, like his cowboy hero, got to be called John. By 1967, Celtic had League Cups coming out of their ears but a decade before, they were relieved to have finally won it once. "Just a wee piece of the history," says Fallon with his customary deference.
Nice story, nice man, but I worry that I've tired him out. "No no, I'm just getting warmed up. I want to make it to 90, you know." "Don't we just," laughs Myra.
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