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You will often hear football people eulogising Steve Fallon. ‘He could and should have played at the highest level,’ they say.

What you will never hear is Steve Fallon singing his own praises. Steve is the most modest of men in a business in which modesty is all too rare. Yet he has absolutely nothing to be modest about.

If you talk about his illustrious career with Cambridge United – nearly 450 appearances and 30 goals spread over 13 seasons – he’ll shrug his shoulders as if it were nothing special.

Mention his phenomenal talent – all the best attributes of a central defender allied to a ball-playing ability more often seen in attacking players and an awareness verging on clairvoyance – and you’ll get another self-deprecating gesture.

Make no mistake, Steve is up there with the very best footballers ever to wear the black and amber. A priceless player throughout United’s six seasons in Division Two from the late 70s to the mid-80s, he always displayed the superior hallmarks that define a true great.

Yes, he should have played at a higher level. Not only was he top-division class and even England class; there were times when he reminded spectators of some of the greats of the world game.

United fans will be forever grateful to Ron Atkinson, who went back to his former club Kettering Town where the Whittlesey lad Steve was learning his trade, to make him his first signing at the Abbey. The possibility that he might have opted for Peterborough United, where he’d turned out for the reserves a couple of times, is too awful to contemplate.

Atkinson it was who had turned Steve from a highly promising striker into an even more promising centre back.

He suffered a broken nose in his first full appearance for the U’s, in April 1975, but typically carried on as if nothing had happened. Mentored by Terry Eades, he played most of his early games at left back or in midfield, but by the start of the new season he’d made a centre-back berth his own.

With Atkinson comparing him to Paul Madeley at his best, Steve grew, and went on growing. Never was his natural ability more evident than at Gillingham in January 1978, when his incredible 40-yard volley left home fans stunned and U’s supporters ecstatic. ‘I just saw the gap and hit it,’ was his humble comment.

By now John Docherty was his manager, but Atkinson felt compelled to remark that he rated Steve as the best young centre-half in the country. Naturally, big clubs circled the Abbey, intent on our Steve’s signature, for years but he felt at home in CB5. 

By 1983 he was marking former European Player of the Year Allan Simonsen out of the game when United played Charlton at The Valley, and the plaudits kept coming.

But from the mid-80s a never-ending series of knee operations threatened Steve’s livelihood, and he was only 30 when he was forced to quit the game. It’s possible that we never saw the best years of an extraordinary footballer’s life.

 

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