When Wim Hof jumped into a barrel of ice, the world looked on in amazement. 'Oh look!' they all said, 'he must be so tough, what with all that controlled breathing n stuff.' So now they all call him The Iceman. Now that's all well and good, and Wim is a tough guy no doubt, but here's the story of someone tougher.
His name is Sean Fallon of The Celtic and they called him The Ironman.
Now a younger Sean Fallon spent his youth swimming in the wild Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Sligo. Come wind, rain or hail, Sean would be out there battling the currents and white horses in freezing temperatures. So good was he that he became the county champion. If he wasn't swimming he would be playing football. Evenings were spent listening to tales from his dad, who had stayed for some time in Glasgow recovering from injuries sustained in The Great War. This soon led to young Sean falling in love with the idea of Celtic. His dream from then on was to play for the Glasgow giants and this meant choosing football over The Gaelic sports, where he also excelled.
Now that might not sound badass enough to unseat Mr Hof as a tough guy, but football in the 50's was a slightly more robust sport than it is today. Some men would spend 12 hour shifts down the pits, sweating blood, risking life and limb in the depths of the dark coalfields. Danger from gas and collapsing tunnels was a constant threat. These same men would then 'relax' after a shift by donning thick cotton shirts and heavy leather boots, in any weather, to clamber onto sodden heavy pitches and clatter into each other in pursuit of a brick hard, water logged, laced up football. Barging into tackles like their life was on the line. No quarter asked or given. Tribal rivalries and honour meant that winning was everything. If you were good, if you could hold your own in that brutal environment, and even better, show a bit of flair or talent - who knows you might end up at a decent level and earn a few extra bob, or even better - escape the pits altogether by signing for a big team.
It was into that environment, where the best and hardiest players made it to the top, where Sean Fallon flourished. Not only did he survive at that top level, he soon earned the name of 'Ironman'. As it turned out, Sean Fallon could hold his own and then some.
In a game against Clyde, Fallon had been injured and as he lay on the ground, an opposition gentleman by the name of Sammy Baird booted him in the face. Now Sammy Baird was what you would call a 'no nonsense' player. He would be used to 'break up the play' if the opposition were too good. Think of Terry Hurlock after a bottle of Mad Dog and your getting the idea. Of course big Sammy would find his way soon enough to his spiritual home with displays like that, and shortly after that incident, he signed on at Ibrox.
And so it was that the pair faced each other again the following season. Sean waited for his chance. The ball broke and a fifty fifty with his counterpart was on. Sean Fallon left that tackle with the ball at his feet. Mr Baird left the field with a broken shoulder and collarbone.
Sean Fallon also suffered some injuries himself, and in a game against Hearts, he also broke his collarbone. With no subs in those days, Fallon came back on with his arm strapped up and finished the game. He went back to Sligo to recuperate from his injury but was soon called and told to return. The Celtic centre forward had also been injured and was now out for the rest of the season. With seven games left to go, Celtic were seven points behind Hearts. Fallon, a right back, played up front as Celtic won every remaining game to take the title in the 53-54 season.
Oh aye, he also scored the winner in the Scottish Cup Final, beating Aberdeen 2-1 in front of 130,000 fans to complete the double. The ref that day went by the name of Charlie Faultless! I kid you not!
When Jock Stein came back from Wales to play for Celtic, there was chat in the dressing room that the new guy was too old, Fallon was having none of it. Sean was the captain and made sure they would all respect Jock by making him the vice-captain. Sean might have been a bit touchy about Jock being classed as too old because he himself was older than anyone realised. When Celtic asked him to sign back in 1950 he was already 26 and thinking that might be off putting, he told Jimmy McGrory he was only 22!
That act, to make Jock his vice captain, was the beginning of bond that lasted a lifetime and was the catalyst for the journey that took Celtic up and away into the stratosphere, to levels barely imaginable back then.
But before that of course, they would both have to play in the '57 League Cup Final where the plucky also rans from the south side conceded 7 times!
Eventually after five arm breaks, ligament damage to knees and ankles as well as various other broken bones, injury led into retirement for Sean in 1958.
After eight years Sean Fallon had worn the hoops 254 times, scoring 14 goals. He won a league title, 2 Scottish Cups and 2 League Cups, he was capped for his country 8 times.
But that's not quite the end of the story...
When it became clear that Jimmy McGrory's time as manager was coming to an end, it was expected that Sean, who was a coach at Celtic Park by then would be given the job. It's easy to assume that it would have been tough for him when Jock Stein was given the nod instead.
But Stein's first act was to ask Sean to accept the role of assistant as he himself had asked Jock to be vice captain back in their playing days. The bond between these two men had been forged years earlier, on and off the field. Both had an intimate and unshakable understanding of what Celtic is all about. What it means to people and why it stands alone as a football club. From the wild Sligo coast and from the dark coal pits of Burnbank....together these ordinary men would take Celtic on epic adventures all around the world, including two finals in Lisbon and Milan. Sean Fallon would go on to win 9 more leagues, seven Scottish Cups, six League Cups and the European Cup with Celtic. He also signed Davy Hay, Danny McGrain, Tommy Gemmell and Kenny Dalglish among others.
Anyway, back to the nick names.
Bob Kelly sent the whole team over to Switzerland to watch the mighty Puskas play in the 1954 World Cup. While they were there, big Jock Stein loved a bet so he set up a wager for the team to bet against Sean Fallon making it ashore. The deal was that a boat would be hired to go out in the lake, they would get Sean overboard and see if he made it back!
In the mans own words.....
'I thought it would be a rowing one and so we wouldn't go far but then we were ferried miles out on this thing with a bloody great engine! I noticed then that it was a glacier lake, and if I'd have known that from the off then I wouldn't have risked the bet. I didn't want to let Jock down though. So I didn't tell him about my concerns. Not that it would have mattered though. He was always a brilliant judge of people's strengths and weaknesses and he knew I would come through....Jock and I pocketed a fortune!'
Now 'The Iceman' is a pretty cool dude being honest,
But 'The Ironman'. He was doing that sort of stuff as a warm up, on his days off, for a laugh!