Kevin Fallon: "Sligo still holds special memories"
Kevin Fallon, a member of the Sligo Rovers team which reached the F.A.I. Cup Final in 1970 and who later coached the New Zealand team at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, is profiled this week as Michael Moran continues his series of features to mark Sligo Rovers 75th Anniversary.
>Kevin Fallon, a member of the Sligo Rovers team which reached the F.A.I. Cup Final in 1970 and who later coached the New Zealand team at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, is profiled this week as Michael Moran continues his series of features to mark Sligo Rovers 75th Anniversary.
MENTION New Zealand and sport in the same breath and the focus of the vast majority would invariably centre on the All Blacks. Yet, in a country where rugby was always the frontrunner, there are now more juniors playing soccer than ever before.
And, a former Sligo Rovers favourite is an important figure in the further development of the game as Kevin Fallon heads the only academy of its kind at the Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland, where soccer is on the curriculum and the former Rotherham United defender is a full-time teacher of the game.
It's all a far cry from an era when Fallon was an integral part of a Sligo Rovers team that captured the imagination in the late 1960's and were ultimately defeated by Bohemians after three gripping ties in the 1970 F.A.I. Cup Final.
The enthusiasm evident back then is as infectious now as it was thirty five odd years ago, and perhaps even more so.
"I can't wait to get back into pre-season training," he said from his home in Mount Albert at the weekend. "We begin this week and the buzz of excitement is building. The new school term is just starting and with the sport part of the core curriculum, I find myself teaching soccer to players from all over the world and I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it."
World Cup Coach
Having been selected for the New Zealand senior side and coached at the World Cup in Spain in 1982, Fallon also helped guide the country's Under-17's to 11th position in the World in 1999.
Mount Albert Grammar are the current New Zealand champions and have won the title on more occasions than any other school. There are a total of 2,200 pupils attending separate boys and girls schools within the large Auckland complex and Fallon is entering his 8th season as the soccer academy chief.
He will be coaching players from Russia, Japan, parts of Europe and New Zealand as the new term begins.
"Mount Albert was once a big rugby playing school, but I now find myself in the unique position of being the only full-time teacher devoted exclusively to soccer. There are more juniors playing the sport now than there are rugby, but it just hasn't translated through the ranks yet," Kevin explained.
Fallon's career began as a promising fourteen year old with Rotherham United, his selection for Rotherham Boys, Yorkshire Boys and a North of England schoolboy cap at under-15 level giving a measure of his potential.
He played alongside the likes of Colin Todd and Colin Suggett and faced Trevor Brooking as the Northern schoolboys beat their Southern counterparts in an annual clash.
An injury before the final English schoolboys trial saw Fallon go into Sheffield General Hospital for treatment of a blood clot.
He signed professional forms with Rotherham on his 17th birthday and progressed to the first team squad and making the substitutes bench as '12th man' and featuring in County Cup ties.
Danny Williams, who brought Swindon Town to victory over Arsenal in a League Cup Final at Wembley, was manager at Rotherham at the time, but in a scenario with so many precedents, a change of management didn't help Fallon.
"Jack Mansell came in. He was an ex-Sheffield Wednesday and England 'B' player and he had been coaching in Holland. He had a different style to Williams and while he looked after me for the first twelve months, I had an disagreement with him over wages.
"He more or less gave me a 'take it or leave it' ultimatum and after playing in the Reserves, things went from bad to worse when I got released at the end of the year," Kevin said.
"I went from being a schoolboy star to basically kicking my heels. Of course it was a disappointment, " he added.
A chance meeting with Mickey Walker (now manager of Doncaster Rovers) set in motion the move to Sligo Rovers.
"Mickey had gone to Ireland and was playing with Rovers. When I told him I had been given a free transfer he encouraged me to come to Ireland. Mickey recommended me to Paddy Gilmartin who was on the Rovers Committee at the time and basically that's how I ended up at the Showgrounds," he recalled.
Kevin's father, Peter, was originally from Longford and with family connections also in Roscommon, Fallon had no hesitation in heading for the League of Ireland.
"We jumped in a car and drove to the boat and then drove all the way to Sligo. I loved every minute of it and it was a fantastic adventure for a young player," he acknowledged.
Kevin arrived two weeks before Tony Bartley took over from Shay Keogh in the managerial hot seat and Fallon had known his manager from his days with Bury.
"Initially, Rovers gave me a month's trial. I was regarded as a big, hard centre back and the trial was pretty eventful in that I got booked three times and sent off. However, I was signed and played alongside David Pugh, who was a great player and who could soar like a salmon.
"Sometimes Rovers showed me to right-back, but I preferred the central defensive position, especially when David was alongside me," he went on.
Kevin stayed with Mabel O'Hara at 65 Doorly Park together with Johnny Brookes, as Rovers established a reputation as something of trendsetters in recruiting cross-channel players. He also stayed with Mrs. Lambe in St. Patrick's Terrace and trained regularly at the Sligo Boxing Club in the Market Yard.
"We walked up to the Showgrounds for training and we were always well received by the supporters in the town. We were also getting well paid compared to what I was getting at Rotherham," Fallon revealed.
His debut came on August 20th, 1967, in an away Shield fixture against St. Patrick's Athletic, which Rovers won 2-1.
Dundalk knocked Sligo out of the City Cup and they were to finish in mid-table in the Shield. The league started with a resounding 7-1 thumping of St. Pat's and had won their first three games before Shamrock Rovers beat them 7-0 at Milltown.
Rovers won only three more league games and had to apply for re-election. Bartley remained at the helm for the start of the 1968-69 season and among the new recruits were Tom Lally from Galway and Ken Turner a left-back from York.
If there was some criticism of Rovers failure to maintain a position in the top four of the league, it was nothing compared to the devastation felt when non-league Longford Town unceremoniously dumped a team of professionals out of the F.A.I. Cup.
Like most of the players involved, Fallon has vivid and painful memories of the occasion.
"For some reason, Bartley played me somewhere on the right wing in the game. It was the cup shock of all shocks and was a low point for all of us. I think Bartley had told 'The Sligo Champion' that if we got beat he would burn his boots and there was a comment made that no smell of burning could be detected coming from the Showgrounds.
"The reaction of the fans was perhaps understandable. We were overwhelming favourites and on one expected Longford to beat us," Fallon maintained.
Tony Bartley left for Limerick within three weeks and Ken Turner took over as caretaker manager for the final six matches of the season, Rovers winning four of them.
In his final season at the club, Fallon played twenty-two times in the league and in stark contrast to the previous campaign, the prospect of F.A.I. Cup glory beckoned in 1970.
"We had a good team and a stronger panel. We realised that Rovers had never won the cup and there were even suggestions in some quarters that a gypsies' curse had been put on the club and that they would never lift the trophy.
"The first game against Bohemians was a momentous occasion. There was a fantastic crowd at Dalymount and my parents had come over from England. My other would not have been to too many games and she thought there were crowds like that at every match.
"The match itself was very tight and was played at a frenetic pace. I marked Mick Kelly, who had come to Bohemians from Manchester United and I never gave him a kick, well not of the ball anyway ! " he quipped.
"The second match was much more entertaining and I recall that Jock Stein came over to watch Pat McCluskey, another fabulous footballer. There were chances for both teams, but we found ourselves facing a third game and this proved to be a disaster for us.
Clash of heads
"David Pugh and I had a clash of heads and Tony Stenson was also carried off. Johnny Cooke gave us the lead, but they equalised (through Johnny Fulham) and it was Tony O'Connell who broke our hearts with the winner," Kevin recounted.
Despite the obvious disappointment, Fallon says the Blaxnit Cup offered some measure of compensation.
"We had no real time to feel sorry for ourselves. We beat Ballymena and in the semi-final we went to the Brandywell and beat Derry. That left us facing Coleraine in a two-leg final," he added.
Johnny Cooke put Rovers 1-0 ahead at Windsor Park, but Coleraine won 4-1 in the return at Dalymount Park, Tony Fagan netting for Rovers.
Fallon was sold to Southend for £1,000 in the close season and he tells of their manager, Arthur Rowley, coming into the dressing room in Dublin to check on the Rovers player and signing him for the old Fourth Division outfit, but not before Kevin went on what he described as an unforgettable trip to Spain, where Rovers played two matches, one against Real Mallorca.
Fallon played his first game for Southend against Colchester and stayed for a season and a half.
He then travelled to New Zealand having been given a free transfer and teamed up with Alan Vest at Gisborne City in the National League. He was selected to play for New Zealand, but a cruciate ligament injury before the match ruled him out.
When Alan Vest moved on, Fallon took over as coach at Gisborne, winning the league in the process and he later coached at Nelson on the South Island and with the Oceania Confederation and F.I.F.A.
In 1980, he offered to help the New Zealand National Coach, John Adshead and on a freezing Auckland night, they beat Mexico 4-0 in a friendly.
Two years later, New Zealand were paired with Brazil, Russia and Scotland in the World Cup in Spain. They weren't disgraced in any of the games and the interest in soccer was gathering momentum when in 1999, Fallon coached the New Zealand Under-17's to a 2-1 win over Poland.
As he settles into a new term at the Mount Albert Academy, Kevin, who lives in the area with his wife, Mary, acknowledges that he has many "fantastic memories" of his time at Sligo Rovers and he hopes to pay a visit here next year.
Meanwhile, his son, Rory is playing with Swindon Town, while another son, Sean, spent five years at Liverpool, making the Reserve team, before going on to play in Perth, where he retired from football to concentrate on business. Kevin's daughter, Bianca, is a beautician in Auckland.
"Sligo will always be a very, very special place for me. It holds a lot of great memories and I would dearly like to travel over to renew some old friendships in the not too distant future," he said.