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On This Day - Jinky, The Wee Man, The Lord of the Wing
On this day 30th September 1944 James Connelly Johnstone  was born.

On this day 30th September 1944 James Connelly Johnstone  was born .

In 2002 Jimmy Johnstone was voted by Celtic supporters as the greatest ever Celtic player. To fully understand why `The Wee Man` was given this tremendous accolade we have to go back to his beginning.

Jimmy Johnstone had been kicking a ball for as long as he could remember, from a very early age he spent hours upon hours playing in streets and public parks, sometimes alone, sometimes with large groups of other youngsters and occasionally with his older brother Pat `Blondie` Johnstone. Pat was a fine player himself and Celtic were rumoured to be watching him closely, unfortunately Pat was injured playing for his local boys guild team and the resultant cartilage problem effectively ended his career. Years later Jimmy would say that he can remember the disappointment on his father's face (Matt Johnstone) when Pat suffered this injury and maybe, subconsciously, this drove Jimmy Johnstone on.

Jimmy Johnstone was first discovered at the ripe old age of 8 years old by a teacher, John Crines. Crines eventually persuaded the shy Jimmy Johnstone to join the school team St Columba. With Jimmy Johnstone in the team St Columba's became almost unstoppable and won every competition they entered. Upon moving to high school, St John's, Jimmy Johnstone also helped their school team to previously unseen heights.

During a St John's trip to Manchester to play in a tournament Jimmy Johnstone was made aware of his first footballing hero, Sir Stanley Matthews. Jimmy Johnstone was mesmerised by Matthews' ability with a ball and upon returning home quickly obtained a copy of his autobiography. Jimmy Johnstone would spend hours copying the techniques Mathews had used in his early years to perfect his ball skills. Basically this involved laying out dozens of milk bottles and dribbling the ball round them over and over again.

It helped because during the next St John's trip to Manchester, he was spotted by a Manchester United scout by the name of Wishbone. Fortunately for Celtic fate decreed and the chaplain of St John's, a Frank Cairney, who was a keen Celtic supporter, threw United off the track by informing them that Jimmy Johnstone was keen to join Celtic. Cairney immediately contacted a Celtic scout he knew, John Higgins, of United's interest and Jimmy Johnstone was invited to train with Celtic two nights a week.

Jimmy Johnstone trained with Celtic twice a week for a year and on the 7th October 1961 he made his debut for the reserves against St Johnstone in a 4-2 win. Jimmy scored one and made the other three. Watching the game was then Celtic manager Jimmy McGrory who signed Jimmy Johnstone that very night. Incidentally Tommy Gemmell also signed that night, a player he was to be intrinsically linked with through the rest of his life, famously on-field and mischievously off-field.

As was customary in those days Jimmy Johnstone was farmed out to a junior club, Blantyre Celtic. This was supposed to be for a year but such was his ability he was chosen to play for Junior Scotland against Junior Northern Ireland.

Fate would decree that legendary Celtic scout Jimmy Gribben was watching the game and Gribben immediately suggested to McGrory that Jimmy Johnstone be recalled to Celtic.

Jimmy Johnstone would have to wait two years for his first team debut though, that came at Rugby Park Kilmarnock. Celtic lost 6-0 that day and there are few Celtic fans who could have contemplated the impression Jimmy Johnstone would make on their lives in the next 12 years. Jimmy had to wait another month before his next game, away to Hearts in a 4-3 defeat although this brought the first of Jimmy Johnstone`s 130 Celtic goals.

He retained his place for the next game, the Scottish Cup final against Rangers, which ended in a 1-1 draw with Jimmy Johnstone earning rave reviews in the press for his display. He was inexplicably dropped for the replay which Celtic lost 3-0 and this brought out anger and frustration within the ranks of the Celtic support at a fractious time in Celtic's history. Although Jimmy McGrory was manager it was no secret that chairman Robert Kelly picked the team and his selections were often eccentric to say the least. Jimmy Johnstone was actually contemplating jacking it all in at this point. Things were though to change miraculously.

Jimmy Johnstone`s Celtic career would be very much stop start for a further two years, until Jock Stein arrived and transformed the club and Jimmy Johnstone along with it. Under Stein, Celtic became one of the most respected teams in Europe, integral to this success was Jimmy Johnstone himself. Although it has to be said that he was out of favour when Stein arrived, so much so that he was not named in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final victory at Hampden which launched the beginning of the successful Stein era.

By the 1965/66 season Jimmy was now an essential part of the Celtic team. In October 1965 he won his first winners medal when Celtic beat Rangers 2-1 at Hampden in the League Cup Final. Jimmy Johnstone tormented the Rangers defence and gained Celtic a penalty for the second goal when Rangers' defender Davie Provan brought him down. Sadly, after the game there was a pitch invasion from the Rangers' end of the ground during Celtic's lap of honour and a few of the Celtic side had to fight their way from the field.

Celtic won their first title for 12 years in May 1966 at Fir Park by beating Motherwell 1-0 and Jimmy Johnstone had played a huge part in the success of that season. The only tarnish in the season, was that a controversial disallowed goal at Anfield against Liverpool prevented Celtic from reaching the final of the European Cup Winners Cup.

By 1967 Jimmy Johnstone was one of the most recognisable players in European football with his small frame, bright red hair and jinking, dribbling, playing style. This was still an era when every team played with orthodox wingers and Jimmy Johnstone was rated at as one of the best. He was comfortable going past a defender on the outside and could also be devastating cutting inside and contributing with many goals.

On the way to the 1967 European Cup Final, Jimmy had turned in several great performances, particularly in Nantes where the French had appreciated his talents and christened him the 'Flying Flea' in the French press. In the semi against Dukla Prague he had scored the vital first goal and had kept the Czech defenders on edge for the entire match.

On 6 May 1967 Jimmy Johnstone gave one of his greatest performances in a Celtic jersey at Ibrox. He scored twice in a 2-2, a result which gave Celtic their second successive league title. On a mudbath of a pitch in pouring rain he ran at the Rangers defence and unleashed a glorious, unstoppable shot into the top corner of the goal, and this with his weaker left foot.

In Lisbon his dribbling technique destroyed the defensive set up of Inter Milan. Tarcisso Burgnich, Jimmy Johnstone's man marker, was led a dance for the entire match. Jimmy Johnstone was essential to Celtic's victory and was given a roving commission by Stein in the final in another play to confuse the Inter defenders. The entire continent witnessed that night in Lisbon what a great player the wee man had become.

Shortly after Lisbon Celtic were invited to play Real Madrid in the great Alfredo Di Stefano's testimonial game. Celtic had a lot to lose and as new European Champions they were putting their reputation on the line. Jimmy rose to the occasion and gave (arguably) his greatest ever performance for Celtic. He tormented the Spaniards to the point that the Real fans began to chant 'ole' each time the wee man beat another defender. Celtic won 1-0 and were now Europe's greatest side without any doubt. Upon the final whistle Jimmy Johnstone picked the ball up and held it aloft with one hand. The stadium rose as one to acclaim the performance of the `wee man` that night. It is often claimed by Jimmy Johnstone`s team mates that Real Madrid tried to sign Jimmy Johnstone after that performance although nothing was admitted officially by Real Madrid or Celtic.

In 1967 he was named 3rd in the European footballer of the year award, a notable achievement, behind Florian Albert and Bobby Charlton, however it was felt that Jimmy Johnstone should have earned greater recognition given his achievements that season.

In the late 1960's Jimmy Johnstone's game matured and he became a more complete player. The Celtic right hand side trio of Jim Craig, Bobby Murdoch and Jimmy was the envy of Europe and when Jimmy Johnstone was on form it seemed Celtic were unstoppable. In December 1968 he gave another unforgettable display when Celtic beat Dundee United 7-2 at Parkhead. Contemporaries and fans from that era still talk of that performance to this day.

In 1969 Celtic beat Hibs 6-2 in the League Cup Final and Jimmy Johnstone was again to the fore in another great Celtic performance. Weeks later they beat Rangers 4-0 in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final although Jimmy Johnstone was suspended for this one and one wonders at the scoreline had the wee man played that day. Perhaps Rangers were let off lightly.

Many Celtic fans feel the display he gave in the 5-1 victory over Red Star Belgrade at Parkhead in the European Cup was his best ever. At half time Stein had cajoled him by saying he would not have to travel to the return leg if Celtic gained a substantial lead (Jimmy Johnstone had a phobia about flying!). In the second half Celtic smashed in four goals all scored or created by Jimmy Johnstone. Despite pleas from all around him he didn't travel to Yugoslavia for the return much to the disappointment of the Red Star officials.

By 1970 Celtic fans could boast that their man was the greatest player in Britain, eclipsing even the likes of Best, Charlton, Bremner and Ball. He proved it in the 1970 European Cup Semi final when he tore the much vaunted Leeds United defence apart over two legs. He was on song at Hampden in the second leg and tormented the great Leeds & English World Cup defenders, Charlton, Hunter and Cooper. This earned Celtic a place in the 1970 European Cup Final but they went down 2-1 to Feyenoord of Rotterdam. The Dutch side had a tight reign on Jimmy Johnstone that night and he could not make an impression which was a terrible disappointment to everyone at Celtic.

At this time Rothmans selected a British best eleven side from a panel of experts and Jimmy Johnstone was chosen in 1970, 1971 and 1972 which was a considerable achievement and showed that his talents were fully appreciated south of the border.

Jimmy Johnstone was always the man for the big occasion and could be relied upon in the heat of Celtic v Rangers games. For a small man he became famous for his headed goals against Rangers. Twice at Ibrox he score the winning goal from headers. In 1971 with seconds remaining he out-jumped the Rangers defence to loop in a header for a 3-2 win. In 1973 he stooped to head a cross from Davie Hay past the lumbering figure of Peter McCloy. Jimmy Johnstone often kept his best performances for Rangers games despite the heavy tackling and physical punishment often meted out to him.

The 1971 Scottish Cup Final replay is remembered as the 'Jimmy Johnstone final'. Stein gave him another roving role, and with his close control and ability to beat a man he was instrumental in Celtic's 2-1 victory in a game where the scoreline did not remotely represent Celtic's superiority. One year later, in the 1972 Scottish Cup Final. he was on song yet again when Celtic beat Hibs by a record 6-1 scoreline. At this time when Jimmy was on form the feeling was he was unstoppable. However he could not breach the Inter Milan defence in the 1972 European Cup semi final and Celtic lost on penalties.

There was the occasional disappointment and he was carried off injured in the 1971 League Cup Final against Partick Thistle early in the match after a bad tackle by future Celtic team mate Ronnie Glavin. Celtic went down 4-1 and it is thought had Jimmy remained fit on the field then it may have been a different result.

As the 1970's wore on Jimmy was still a regular in Stein's team but could be left out on occasions mostly through ill discipline. He roared back to form in the spring of 1973 when Celtic and Rangers were tied in a race for the league. Celtic triumphed on 28 April after a 3-0 win at Easter Road and the wee man was in great form that day. He had calmed the team from the start by keeping possession and creating space for other players around him helping to make it 8 League title in a row.

He was often a victim of brutality from defenders, none more so than against the 'animals' of Atletico Madrid in the 1974 European Cup semi final at Parkhead. Vicious tackles rained down on him that night and he was pictured next day covered in cuts and bruises all inflicted by the Spanish team's defenders. Celtic received no protection from UEFA's officials after three Atletico players had been ordered off and despite receiving death threats Jimmy played in Madrid as Celtic went down 2-0, bravely given the circumstances. They were deprived of a crack at the mighty Bayern Munich and the likes of Jimmy, Kenny Dalglish and Dixie Deans would have loved to pit their wits against the great Franz Beckenbauer.

His last great Celtic performance came in 1974 when Celtic beat Hibs 6-3 in the League Cup Final. He scored the opening goal and created several others as Dixie Deans helped himself to a another Hampden hat trick against Hibs. Celtic's 10 in a row bid floundered at Ibrox in January 1975 on a day when Jimmy Johnstone was named as sub, leading to rumours that he had enjoyed the excesses of the new year and had been punished by being dropped. Had he played the outcome could have been different.

His final days at Celtic

Jimmy Johnstone`s Celtic career was over on 10th June 1975. The end was difficult. Rather than an amicable denouement for Jinky, Jock was at the end of his tether and things had come to a head. The chairman Desmond White told the shattered player he was being given a free transfer. Years later Jimmy Johnstone admitted it was like being handed down a death sentence, and he left in tears & tatters from that meeting. He bled Green & White but now it was all over. Jock Stein was exhausted and there was little more he could do.

He was devastated.

Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone had a relationship that could only be described as Father and Son, despite admittedly being terrified of Stein, Jimmy Johnstone took liberties with the big man that others dared not to. Perhaps most famous of all was the time Jimmy Johnstone was substituted in a league game in October 1968 against Dundee Utd at Celtic Park. Jimmy Johnstone was replaced by George Connelly and upon leaving the field Jimmy threw his shirt at Stein in disgust. It hit the big man in the face and Jimmy Johnstone had to escape up the tunnel with Stein in hot pursuit of him. Despite that, Stein loved him dearly despite any of his faults and Jock's motivation of Jimmy Johnstone drove him to a higher level than he could ever dream of.

Jimmy Johnstone was given a joint testimonial with Bobby Lennox when Celtic beat Manchester United 4-0 in May 1976. At the end of the game the wee man went on a final solo lap of honour in front 48,000 adoring fans. He stopped at the Jungle and threw his boots into the crowd which was a most fitting act as the fans in the Jungle had often witnessed his greatest performances on the wing. It was an emotional night and Jimmy was in tears and was joined by many Celtic fans who recalled his brilliance in a Celtic jersey. This was his last game for Celtic.

Many Celtic players have enjoyed a wonderful rapport with the fans but it's doubtful if there was any player more revered by the Celtic supporters than Jinky. Even after he finished playing his popularity with the supporters never waned and the feeling was reciprocated as he was always to be seen around Celtic Park on match days.

There are numerous further stories that can be told about Wee Jinky. Great film actor Robert Duvall (famous for “The Godfather” movies) got to know Jinky after working on a film in Glasgow and ranked Jinky as the greatest character he had ever met and he’d met so many. It was quite an accolade. Through Jinky's life, drink, women, laughter and pubbing were behind most of the mischief, and alongside close friend Tommy Gemmell they pushed things to the limit. He also loved to regale the public also, and had a smashing singing voice, even recorded a song titled “Passing Time” on the “B-side” to a club single.

One of the more infamous incidents was whilst on duty for the national side. After a late night’s drinking after training, a few of the boys were walking along the beach and saw a boat. They put Jinky into the boat and it set off. However there were no oars! The boys hurriedly got in another boat to get him but the boat had a leak in it! Jinky was lost and they had to get the guards out to get him. As this was before a big game v England the players were pilloried. However, we still won with a great performance by Jinky who after the match cheekily stuck two fingers up to the press gallery. A wee scamp!

Jinky was a lovable rogue and could exasperate even the most patient of men, but Jock was like a father and mentored and managed Jinky to the best of his ability. When you have a talent like Jinky on your hands, you can hardly turn them away, and Jock knew that better than any. Every manager has a great talent who doesn't follow the norm. Willie Maley had Tommy McInally, Jimmy McGrory had Charlie Tully, Jock had Jinky, O’Neill had Hartson and Strachan had Boruc. You always have a special case.

immy Johnstone had a mixed bag of memories at international level. In 1966 he had scored twice against England in a 4-3 defeat and despite playing well he was often inexplicably left out through the years. He amassed a paltry 23 caps through his career for Scotland.

Esteemed journalist Hugh McIlvanney put it as one of those mysteries best filed away but that would be shirking the truth.

He used to receive terrible verbal abuse from the Rangers end at Hampden on many occasions as the patrons in that era preferred the talents of Henderson. Jimmy always believed his greatest Scotland display was at Pittodrie when he ripped the Belgium defence to shreds and had the Aberdonian crowd in raptures that night in a 1-0 win.

In fairness, he was up against stiff competition for the number 7 jersey from the likes of Willie Henderson, Charlie Cooke, Willie Morgan, Peter Lorimer and Jimmy Smith but it is felt that he should still have gained more caps. He was the best of the lot.

Pathetically, in 1974 having destroyed the England defence at Hampden as Scotland won 2-0, he earned a place in the 22 man squad for the 1974 World Cup but then he was not chosen to play in any of Scotland's three matches.

He was so down-heartened with his treatment by the management and the Scotland support that actually he was said to have asked to be left out of matches. It's a sad indictment on the Scottish football support that they could have treated such a talent in the manner they did.

After leaving Celtic in 1975, Johnstone had spells with San Jose Earthquakes, Sheffield United, Dundee, Shelbourne and Elgin City but his first love was Celtic and he maintained close relations with the club for the rest of his life.

Jimmy Johnstone would admit that during his spell with the above clubs his heart still lay with Celtic.

There are still a few interesting stories to be told though including one game for the San Jose earthquakes against New York Cosmos. Lining up for New York was none other than Pele who reportedly ran the length of the field to shake hands with Jimmy Johnstone and give him a pat on the back. This delighted Jimmy and he turned in his best show for the Earthquakes.

Jimmy Johnstone also hooked up with his Lisbon Lion team-mate Tommy Gemmell when Jimmy signed for Dundee. Gemmell was manager at the time and saw Jimmy Johnstone as the perfect spur to take Dundee up a few notches. It also allowed the two loveable rogues to reunite again for everyone's entertainment & frustration.

Unfortunately for all concerned Jimmy still pined for Celtic and was not a success at Dundee. Although he did briefly play in the same team as a young Gordon Strachan, which the young man said humorously many years later that he was still recovering from after going out drinking with him. Strachan also said that even though he was a Hibbee through and through, that Jinky was his hero and as a kid who he wanted to be!

Jimmy Johnstone played his last ever game on the 18th August 1979 for Elgin City against Deveronvale before a crowd of 545. Jimmy Johnstone was released shortly afterwards.

Jimmy Johnstone did return to Celtic for a 2 year spell in the mid 80`s coaching the under 16`s and under 18`s and assisting reserve team manager Bobby Lennox.

This unfortunately coincided with a troublesome time in Jimmy Johnstone`s life with alcohol problems being chief amongst them.

Drink drove him to the bottom and his family sadly took the brunt of his despair. Friend Willie Haughey helped him and turned his life around after Jinky arrived at his office to try to sell to him his medals for some drink. Thankfully, Jinky reformed and began getting fit again. We can respect him for that and he became a perfect father.

Sunday September 8th 2002 was the day Jimmy Johnstone was voted into the greatest ever Celtic team and voted as the greatest ever Celtic player. A few weeks later Jimmy was voted into the SFA hall of fame.

He accepted both these awards with remarkable humility given he was battling Motor Neurone disease at the time. In the case of Celtic`s greatest ever player he admitted to being surprised Henrik Larsson hadn`t won it.

Motor Neurone Disease and his passing away

Jimmy Johnstone was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2002.

Despite a brave battle against the disease, Johnstone died on 13th March 2006.

Many tributes were left at Celtic Park by fans and thousands witnessed the funeral cortège passing through the streets of the east end of Glasgow. Jimmy's Funeral was held on St. Patrick's Day 17th March 2006 at St John The Baptist in his home village of Uddingston and Jimmy was laid to rest at Bothwell Park Cemetery.

The League Cup final played on Sunday 19th March 2006 between Celtic and Dunfermline became known as the `Jimmy Johnstone final`. Cetic won 3-0 and all wore the number 7 on their shorts.

In December 2009 a statue of Jimmy was unveiled outside the main entrance to Celtic Park. On March 5th 2011, a Statue of Jock Stein was also unveiled outside Celtic Park only a very short distance from Jimmy`s. Many supporters feel it appropriate that our greatest ever manager will now watch over our greatest ever player at the gates of Paradise for all eternity.

A fund bearing Jinky's name continues to raise money for research into the disease. There are also three films available on DVD which bear witness to the man and his life at Celtic: 'Jinky', 'Lord of the Wing' and 'A Bhoy's Tale'.

Jinky is a Celtic legend and will be remembered throughout time by all.

Posted by voc1967 on Monday 30 September 2019 - 09:45:47 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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