On December 9, 1980, the day the world awoke to the news that John Lennon had been shot dead outside his New York apartment, the reports on the Scottish back pages were every bit as shocking.

Morning coffees across the country would have been spat out at the mere headline: ‘Sons in for Cruyff.’ It is a story that Gerry McNee remembers only too well, he said: “I was with the Express at the time and I got a call in the evening, very close to the first edition deadline, from a contact I trusted. ‘Dumbarton are trying to sign Cruyff.’ “But when I got in touch with the Express to tell them to hold the back page, I had a hell of a job trying to convince them that it wasn’t an April fool.

“I remember phoning Sean during a reserve match at Boghead to confirm the story with him and, typically of Sean, he was up front about it.

“‘Yes, we’ve spoken to the boy,’ were his famous words. It was a massive story.” Massive, and almost too outlandish to believe. Johan Cruyff, a record three-time Ballon d’Or winner and the graceful, elegant personification of ‘total football’, had been the great player of the 1970s.

Dumbarton were a club mired in mid-table mediocrity in Scotland’s second tier. Why on earth would this superstar, at 33 and still with life in those legendary legs, consider playing his football at Boghead?

Had Fallon, having worked for so long with a master in media manipulation, and remembering the coverage generated by Celtic’s pursuit of Alfredo di Stefano, simply employed an old headline-grabbing trick?

Fallon recalled: “There was a bit of that involved.

“I knew it was always unlikely we would get Cruyff, but the way I saw it we couldn’t lose.

“At worst, it got Dumbarton on the back pages for a few days and boosted the club’s image and profile, which was very low at that time.

“At best, if we were really lucky, we might get a magnificent player.

“Cruyff was struggling a bit financially in those days because he’d lost all his money in a bad investment, so we felt offering him a few thousand pounds per game might tempt him.

“If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And he did agree to meet us. I went over with the chairman to Amsterdam and found him to be very polite and knowledgeable about the whole Scottish scene.

“But although I was normally quite good at talking players into signing, that one I couldn’t manage. I set things buzzing though, didn’t I?

“And I think I was closer to making it happen than some people think.” Confirmation of just how close arrived, remarkably enough, from Cruyff himself. While visiting Scotland for a pro-am golf tournament in 2012, the former Ajax and Barcelona star – though slightly taken aback by the question – well remembered Dumbarton’s unexpected approach.

He explained: “Was I tempted? Yes, of course.

“Playing in England, or Britain, was something I had always wanted to do. But I thought I was too old at that stage to go to Scotland, where you know the weather will be difficult.

“When you’re old your muscles get stiff, and moving to a cold country is asking for problems.” So there we have it.

If Dumbarton was only a little less dreich, Fallon would have pulled off the transfer of the century.

As it was, Cruyff headed for Washington Diplomats in the star-studded NASL before returning to Holland to star for Ajax and Feyenoord, while the spurned Sons boss – much to the disappointment of his players – resigned just four months later.

Sean Fallon: Celtic’s Iron Man, the authorised biography by Stephen Sullivan, published by Back Page Press is out now and available in all good bookshops priced £19.99, it has also been made available online as an ebook.