Jimmy Johnstone, Life Stories, BBC Alba

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07xdrv3/jimmy-johnston

James Connolly Johnstone was born on the 30th September 1944. He died on 13th March 2006. We all know who Jinky is. We voted him Celtic’s best-ever player and if you look at the footage of that night, you’ll see a young looking Martin O’Neil and a grinning number seven with dreadlocks called Henrik Larsson. A statue of Jinky is outside Parkhead, but he rests in our hearts. Because Celtic is our religion and he’s one of us.

I’d met Billy Smith in Dalmuir, one of the older guys that used to train our Guild team. He remained remarkably young looking up until he got Motor Neurone Disease.  

‘How you getting on Jake?’ he asked.

‘No bad,’ I said. ‘But I heard you’ve got that thing, like that Fernando Ricksen?’

Fernando Ricksen had been in the Daily Record and the other media. He’d been to his spiritual home at Ibrox, but was in a wheelchair.

Billy was quick to shake his head and correct me. ‘No, no like Fernando Ricksen, like Jimmy Johnstone.’

No statute for Billy Smith, but I understood what he was saying, without wanting to find out what it meant. It’s endgame and part of the Jimmy Johnstone story. Archie Macpherson said it was like being in a room when the walls closed in. But Jimmy didn’t die alone. Agnes, his wife, his son and two daughters were beside him.  His Celtic family were there for him. The team that won the European Cup in 1967 supported him through his illness. Bertie Auld, who was never lost for words, but now, sadly, has dementia visited Jimmy almost every day. When asked why, for once, Bertie was stuck for words. ‘That’s just…who he was,’ he says. Hail, Hail, Bertie.

And a special word, for a special friend, the Rangers winger, Willie Henderson. He was there for Jimmy too. But he said he found it hard. Hail, Hail, Willie Henderson.

My brother Stephen (SEV, may he RIP) told me the story of working for Lawrence and asking this wee labourer to get him some two-by-two planks. Then he realised it was Jimmy Johnstone. Much has been made of Messi’s standoff with Barcelona. The Argentinian was willing to take a pay cut from his annual salary of twenty million Euros (which didn’t include bonuses or image rights). But here was wee Jinky, whom 100 000 Spaniards in the Bernabéu stadium, cried ‘Ole, Ole,’ every time he touched the ball in  Alfredo Di Stéfano’s  testimonial match, following their European Cup win. Jinky, was quite simply, the best player in the world. Yet, here he was working in a building site, after offering to sell all his medals for £10 000 to William Haughey. It’s difficult to imagine Messi doing that.

But it was a different world then. We used to think that guys like Billy McNeil and Dixie Deans would be alright because they had their own pub. They would always have money and an income, we thought.

My brother and Jimmy had something in common. They were both alkies. No pubs for them. One day at a time.  Jimmy’s son, James, shakes his head, when he remembers what his da had become. Anyone that has been to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings know what happens when the guys that at the top table get competitive and start telling stories of their fall from grace. One guy might say he ate a baby seal pup in front of its mother. And the next guy will tell you he did something similar, but didn’t stop with one seal pup. But Jimmy could say he’d held up the European Cup. He’d done a lot of stupid things and played for teams he didn’t want to, but it was a job, and one he could do.

He played in with San Jose Earthquakes, but he couldn’t be doing with all that American stuff as if it was show business. He wanted to get back to Viewpark, and home. He’d spells with Sheffield United and played three times for Dundee. Tommy Gemmill was the manager, and he was being kind when he said he brought him in to do a job. Gordon Strachan remembers getting drunk with Jinky and thinking he’d hit the big time. Jinky played with Shelbourne and ended his career with Elgin City.

His heart remained at Parkhead. He tells the story of crying in the car park, after Jock Stein had let him go. Archie Macpherson said that if Jock had a favourite, it was Jinky, but Jock Stein was ruthless when it came to our team. He cut Jinky loose and the wee man unravelled. Like Benny Lynch, he turned to the drink, and thought he could sweat it off.

Jinky might have been the greatest ever, but he fancied himself a bit of a singer. When Rod Stewart visited he told him to shut up and give him the microphone. He sung a duet with Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr. Jinky’s daughter remembered Billy Connelly sleeping on the floor.

Jinky believed in UFO’s, and John Clark tells a story of how Jinky wanted him to take him to some godforsaken place to hunt for aliens. But Jinky never strayed far from his home in Viewpark. Like another legend, Tommy Burns (also on BBC Alba), he was devout and was buried in his local parish. Jimmy Johnstone was our Messi. But he was just an ordinary wee guy with extraordinary football ability that worked as a labourer, did what we all dreamed of a kid, played for Celtic and loved the club. Hail, Hail. May he RIP.   

Glasgow 1967: The Lisbon Lions, BBC 1 Scotland, directed by John McLaverty.

billy lifting the cup.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08rg0bd/glasgow-1967-the-lisbon-lions?suggid=b08rg0bd

Narrator Rory McCann had an easy job, everybody knows the score. Celtic were the first British team to win the European cup. Inter Milan had scored from the penalty spot in seven minutes, cancelled by an equalising second-half goal by Tommy Gemmell and a late winner from Stevie Chalmers. ‘You’re a legend John. You’re a legend.’ Bill Shankly famously said of the late great Jock Stein after this win. The anniversary of the fifty years since that famous win in the Estadio Nacional, near Lisbon, in Portugal on May 25th 1967 is commentated today, and the strange thing was I was biting my nails as if the score was still in doubt.

The joy of that victory still resonates. Celtic will never again win the European Cup or Champions League as it’s now called. Even getting into the competition is regarded as a mark of success, something to be proud of, and rightly so. It’s difficult to imagine Scotland being a powerhouse of European football. Rory McCann reminded us that in 1967 Rangers reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup and Kilmarnock the semi-final of the Fairs Cup. These were remarkable achievements. Even Ranger’s captain of that time and voted Ranger’s greatest ever player, John Greig was wheeled out to say this Celtic team were something special and in Jock Stein they had a twelfth man. He didn’t include the referees, of course, because they were always Ranger’s men, but that didn’t matter. Celtic were so good other teams needed thirteen men.

But they were also innocent times. Bobby Lennox travelled 30 miles from Saltcoats. He was the furthest away player recruited into the European Cup winning team. The other ten players were recruited from a ten-mile radius of Parkhead. Spitting distance. Bertie Auld was in fine form as a raconteur, talking about his old Panmule Street team, that had their own song, which he sung. And how one family in a single end had 15 boys, but they didn’t have a good inside right.  We were shown families crowded around tables in dilapidated and grim tenements and outside playing football. It was played 24-hours a day, boys dreamed about football and playing for Celtic (or whisper it, Rangers). Bertie Auld’s signing on fee was twenty quid. The note was the size of a telly and Bertie recounted how his mum had folded it up and shoved it down into her bra. A neighbour of Jimmy Johnstone’s recalled how he used to practice, dribbling between milk bottles, but he used put on his dad’s steel toecaps first thing in the morning and kick the ball up and down the living room. Non-stop.  The pictures here are of boys, fresh faced and in their prime. Stevie Chalmers was the big money signing for £30 000, but for the post-war NHS and a Ranger’s daft surgeon he’d have died of tuberculosis and meningitis (meningococcal meningitis)  in1955 as most others did. With such crowded conditions TB was common, but he lived to score that winning goal.

It’s hard to imagine in the media world of WAGs Jock Stein’s belief that wife’s shouldn’t be allowed to watch their men at work. Bobby Murdoch’s wife who attended most home matches laughed when she recalled Jimmy Johnstone’s wife Agnes coming to one of the games asking her which team was Celtic and where was wee Jinky? Imagine Posh Beck’s asking what team David Beckham plays for and where is he? It’s just so unbelievable. Jimmy Johnstone voted Celtic’s best ever player worked as a building labourer for Lawrence, and I remember my brother Stephen, saying that wee Jinky had been his labourer. Marking wee Jinky was ‘like trying to pin a wave to the sand’ was the epithet a Dukla Prague defender gave after their semi-final defeat to Celtic that year.

I’d have been four or five when Celtic won the European Cup. I wrote a story about it (luckily I can’t find it, or I’d be attaching it here).  It’s one of the few childhood memories I retain. My dad eating his dinner and watching the game on telly. When Celtic scored that winner he jumped up and flung the mince and potatoes against the ceiling. He was younger than I am now. But these memories never age.

The fans here relive them. The guys that travelled by plane, bus, car, whatever way they got there, they got there. There’s a beauty in that belief. Times were hard. One guy said engagements were a big thing then, but I had to tell her, I’m going to Lisbon. Sauchiehall Street was deserted on the night of the game. Ghost town. The Celtic players sung ‘It’s a grand Old Team to play for,’ coming out of the tunnel that night. The Italian players look like film stars, but Bertie Auld as usual had the last word, ‘Aye, but can they play?’

The answer my friend is Caesar holding the cup in that iconic moment. Upwards of 150 000 met the Celtic team coming off the plane and crowded the streets in a procession. Parkhead full.  I’m sure my dad would have been one of them. Him and his sidekick, my Uncle John, they couldn’t afford to go to Lisbon. But they’d have been there. Celtic in their heart and in their blood. Passed down from generation to generation.  It’s a Grand Old Team…