Review: ‘Keeping in Paradise’ by John Fallon (with David Potter)
It is often said that goalkeepers can be lonely and introspective individuals given the exposed nature of the work they do and the scrutiny that their mistakes are subjected to. That doesn’t mean that they are shy or retiring though, two adjectives that would never be used to describe John Fallon.
John was at Celtic Park for just over thirteen years in what proved (eventually) to be the ultimate golden era for the club: 1958 – 1972. He was an eye-witness to history unfolding as Celtic went from securing no trophies in his first six years to two European Cup finals and numerous league titles, Scottish Cup and League Cups in the next eight. The transformation of Celtic under Jock Stein’s management is still breath-taking to behold, decades on.
And make no mistake: this is John Fallon’s club. Born into a Celtic-supporting family in Cambuslang he was a member of the James Kelly CSC in Blantyre from an early age, paid a mere seven pence to get into Celtic Park as a boy and fondly recalls his trips as a supporter overnight to Aberdeen (well, it was the 1950s) as well as the shorter runs to Dundee and Edinburgh. He watched on as Celtic lifted the Coronation Cup in 1953, did the Double under captain Jock Stein in 1953-4 and hammered Rangers in the record-breaking 7-1 League Cup final of 1957. There were more than a few heartaches in the years that followed before he himself donned the yellow jersey in the Celtic goal.
“There’s Fallon, Young and Gemmell who proudly wear the green . . .” – Scottish Cup Winners, 1965
He remains a well-known figure among Celtic supporters today through his regular attendance at games home and away in the company of his grandchildren as well as his regular column in the ‘More Than 90 Minutes’ Celtic fanzine. He has a reputation for being outspoken yet his autobiography fortunately doesn’t follow the often turgid approach of former players criticising everything about the modern game, bemoaning how their careers played out and mouthing off to no great effect. Instead it concentrates, with commendable detail, on his seasons as a professional footballer, tracking the progress of Celtic from Scottish also-rans to European champions.
One of the things that helps set this book above others by former Celtic players is the enlistment of Celtic historian and author David Potter as co-writer. Instead of the tried-and-dreary formula of having a pally tabloid journalist knit some sound-bites and statistics together into 150 pages, what we have here is a penetrating and often engrossing read which puts the experiences of Fallon and his team-mates firmly in the context of the club’s history and those who came before them (and occasionally after). Facts and tales from the club’s annals feature throughout which, allied to the author’s own experience of following the club before and after his playing career over, help to give this book a different perspective and feel from many others. There are many insights and stories from Celtic’s golden era which appear here for the first time.
In part this is because John was an actual eye-witness for long-periods in the 1960s, his position as the established number one supplanted quickly following the arrival of Ronnie Simpson at the club. He was often the only other player on the bench for those big European games as the only exception that UEFA made to the no substitutes rule at the time was for goalkeepers. He also was Celtic’s last line of defence in historic games including the World Club Champions ties against Racing Club in Argentina and Uruguay, the ground-breaking 1965 Scottish Cup Final and the di Stefano testimonial game against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu stadium before an incredible crowd of 120,000.
Celebrating – as a supporter would
His friendship with Ronnie Simpson developed and survived even when Fallon managed to wrest back the yellow jersey in the late 60s. It is the relationship with manager Stein that underpins this book as well as John Fallon’s time at the club. Even though he was initially coached by Stein as part of a very successful reserve squad, the two men never got on and Fallon feels as though he never fully earned the trust of his fellow Lanarkshire man. He is embittered at his treatment at the hands of the manager yet bitterness is not a hallmark of this book – Fallon knows where he made his mistakes and holds his hands up accordingly. He argues his case that he played well on numerous occasions, as the many newspaper reports of the games he played testify, yet he seemed to come up short in attempting to convince Stein of his worth. Tellingly, he agrees with this description from Bob Crampsey of a training session at Barrowfield where the sports commentator recalled John “performing heroics, but then Stein came out onto the track from the dressing room, and Fallon just turned into a wreck.”
Fallon gives credit where its due though and while he maintains – as many do – that Jock Stein’s track record with goalkeepers was poor (Ronnie Simpson being the exception) he confirms that it was Stein who transformed a group of talented young players with an almost tangible fear (and expectation) of losing to Rangers into the best Scottish football team of all time whose achievements on foreign fields remain the stuff of legend. John Fallon didn’t just witness those – he contributed to them.
This is the honest account of an individual who was often on the sidelines yet never lost his love for his club and who clearly cherishes those moments of triumph, especially the Treble-winning season of 1968-9 which included a clean sheet away to AC Milan in the San Siro. He does not flinch from criticising some of his team-mates from the time, pointing out what he considers favourable treatment of certain individuals, nor the actions and attitudes of some Celtic fans in abusing himself and other players when mistakes were made. One would expect nothing less from the man referred to as El Pelirrojo (The Redhead) in the South American media.
John Fallon has long worn his heart on his sleeve. This was evident when he used to give the thumbs up to fans when a Celtic goal was scored and the time at Greenock in 1964 when he was berated by a Sergeant from Strathclyde’s finest for celebrating a goal in front of angry Morton fans. One image stands out above all others though and strangely doesn’t feature in the book – the moment of triumph in the 1965 Cup Final when Billy McNeill’s header secured Celtic’s first silverware since 1957 and Celtic’s overjoyed keeper swung on the crossbar in delight! He’s not known as the original Holy Goalie for nothing after all.
Celtic’s Number 1 celebrates the first silverware on the road to glory
John and David have combined to put together a compelling account of his life as a Celt which is imbued with the legendary Fallon frankness and gives a fresh perspective on a time and characters that many in the Celtic support thought they already knew inside-out.
One other positive feature about this book is the excellent price: £9.99. There are many new Celtic and other football books at present which cost north of £15 and sometimes even £20 – it is a mystery why they cost as much as that when the content is no greater than this book (presumably there is a tidy profit being made). For a tenner this book is well worth the money and the decent price makes it even more attractive for fans to purchase as a gift for family and friends. It’s a gift well worth sharing among Celtic aficionados.
Paperback, 248 pages
Black and White Publishing
The Shamrock rating: 7/10
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The book can be purchased from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeping-Paradise-Autobiography-John-Fallon/dp/1845029593/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442363783&sr=8-1&keywords=Keeping+in+Paradise
Read The Shamrock’s other reviews here: https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/celticreviews/