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.   

Nine-in-a-row champions, twice over. Glasgow Celtic.

Kilmarnock was Scottish League Champions in 1965. Celtic won the Scottish Cup that year. In 1966 Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row league titles. Rangers won the Scottish Cup. 1967, and Celtic won everything, including the European Cup, with a team of players that lived within a twelve miles radius of Parkhead. Bobby Lennox was the furthest away from Paradise, one of three players, with ‘Caesar’, Billy McNeil, and to have played in all nine Championships between 1965-1974.

Jimmy Johnstone has been often polled as Celtic’s best- ever player, but Stein was ruthless, when his legs were gone, wee Jinky was gone. Celtic also won the Glasgow Cup in 1967. With Rangers in it, the year they got to the Cup Winners Cup final, Celtic had to win it and they did. Nothing has come close to that year, with the added bonus of beating Real Madrid in the Bernebeu, playing in Di Stefano testimonial, but the talk was all of the mighty Jimmy Johnstone.  

Stein had a Quality Street reserve team coming through to maintain standards. Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari. Despite being favourites, Celtic lost the European Cup Final to Feyenoord, after extra-time and having scored first. Ironically at the home of Inter Milan who were first to score and were beaten 2—1.Celtic were also outplayed. Time for a changing of the old guard.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic manager after Tony Mowbrays’s Celtic team were thrashed by St Mirren and Celtic lost narrowly to Rangers in the league that year. Lennon led us to our first of the current nine-in-a-row titles, but at Rugby Park he looked to be on the way out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtmkHcNlRQQ.

Lennon led us to three league titles in a row and that magnificent win over Barcelona, arguably, the best team ever to arrive at Parkhead.

Ronny Deila was appointed manager of Celtic in June 2014. He was a bright new manager, a gamble on the Celtic board’s part,  who went on to lead Celtic to two consecutive league titles, but never had control of the dressing room. Remember Kris Commons, Scotland’s Player of the Year and a twenty-plus goal a season man, reduced to the bench and flinging his shirt ad Deila after being substituted against Molde in the Europa league, despite having scored. Jimmy Johnstone once did something similar with Jock Stein, he shouted through the door in the manager’s room something—thought to be derogatory—ran away and hid in a dark room for a week, before the other players told him it was safe to come out. Deila was on the way out when Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup, despite their team being in the First Division. Media talk was of the Rangers being back. (Hibs beat them in the Scottish Cup final).

  In May 2016, Brendan Rodgers was announced as Deila’s replacement and around 12 000 fans turned up at Parkhead to welcome the new manager. He delivered two-and-a-half treble trebles of Scottish League, League and Scottish Cups before turning Judas and leaving for Leicester City. It was no secret he was leaving, but to leave half way through a season lacked Celtic class.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic caretaker manager and he finished the job of another treble. In his first season in charge he had another treble in his grasp, having won the League Cup, a victory over Rangers. Still in the semi-finals of the Scottish, favourites to win it and 13 points clear of Rangers before being declared Champions once again because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Celitc’s best eleven in the years of Lennon, Delia, Rodgers and Lennon again.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster. His European displays under Lennon in his first outing and then as a loan player also in Europe and in the League Cup final against Rangers, where he was head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch makes this an easy one to pick.

Right back. Mikael Lustig held the spot for most of the nine-in-a-row years. He scored against Rangers a few times and was largely dependable. But his time was up. I wasn’t sad to see him go.

Virgil Van Dijk, European Cup winner with Liverpool. Touted as world player of the year. He oozed class because he was class. Simple.

More difficult to pick who to play beside him. Nobody really stands out. I’ll go with Christopher Jullien, he scored the winner in the League Cup final against Rangers and I think he can go on to great things. Put it this way, I was thinking of Charlie Mulgrew as an alternative.

Left back, easy, easy, Kieran Tierney. Celtic class. His only opposition would come from the man he largely replaced. Emilio Izaguirre under Lennon in his first shift as manager was outstanding.

Scott Brown is the Brownie. He’s had his critics, including me, but against Rangers and everyone else in general, he’s that clichéd 110% man. Leads on the field and off it. He’s been in every Celtic team that won nine-in-a-row and captain for most.

Callum McGregor has played almost every outfield position in the team, because he’s so gifted. Best midfielder in Scotland by some distance. Long may it last he signs another five-year deal. Gives you goals too.  Outstanding.

James Forrest, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. Like Scott Brown he has nine league medals to his name. Neil Lennon used to tell us what a great player he was. We’d watch the match and say, what the fuck? But Forrest scored in big games; he’s got pace and is always a threat. He does the doggies, getting back and helping to defend too. Underrated.

Two strikers up front. Number one striker, Moussa Dembele. Pace, strength, goals. He’s the beast that bullied Rangers. Top class.

Odsonne Edourad can do everything Dembele can do and more, but hasn’t got his strength. It remains to be seen which of the French strikers will go further. We have little chance of keeping Edouard, he’s only 21. But he’s been a joy to watch. Player of the Year in waiting.

Rodger’s played Olivier Ntcham behind the strikers in some matches. The French trio, as you’d expect, were outstanding. But here I’d go for Ryan Christie or Tom Rodgic. Ironically, neither of these two is guaranteed a start in the current team.

Picking between Lennon and Stein is quite a simple choice Jock Stein is the best football manager Scottish football has seen. That includes Alex Ferguson, his understudy in the Scotland job.

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row team under Stein weren’t great for goalkeepers. Ronnie Simpson, John Fallon (never saw him play). Evan William and the rest were distinctly average.

The best of both nine-in-a-row teams.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Right back is an easy pick: Daniel Fergus McGrain. The best full back in the world was sometimes moved to left back to play for Scotland and give Rangers player Sandy Jardine a game. Danny McGrain could play left back almost as well as he could play right back.

Virgil van Dijk and Billy McNeil, what a central defensive pairing that would have been. In reserve, I’d have Pat Stanton, who was a truly elegant sweeper.

Left back pits Kieran Tierney against Tommy Gemmell who scored in a European Cup final to win the trophy. Need to go for Gemmell. Like Tierney he could defend and get forward and had a bullet-type shot.

Lennon, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone would fill the midfield slots.

Kenny Dalglish, the best of the Quality Street Kids (apart from McGrain) would also be in the team.

Striker, I’d go with Moussa Dembele and not Stevie Chalmers or Dixie Deans. If I could play Henrik Larsson the pick would be easy. Henrik is King of the non-nine-in-a-row teams. Long may it last. Waiting for ten or more.    Hail, Hail.