Kids especially loved Jinky. There was something child like about him
that appealed especially to the young, perhaps his defiance of
authority, be it Jock Stein, referees, the SFA, the press or some big
defender whose sole objective was to inflict the wee man with lasting
damage. Your Dad might have admired the craft and guile of Murdoch and
Auld and in later years the industry of Hay, the subtlety of George
Connelly and the sheer brilliance of Dalglish, but to the young Celtic
fan of the period Jimmy Johnstone WAS Celtic !
He had courage on the field and not just to face opponents twice his
build. Three times he stepped forward during penalty shoot outs when
Celtic strikers, to their shame, stood and watched. His 1974 penalty
against Rangers was hit with a force that Gemmell would have been proud
of. He had a kind side also. A few years ago I had the privilege of
talking to Tommy Callaghan and ‘Tid’ recalled the 1971 Scottish Cup
Final replay in which Jim Denny made his debut. Denny was just 20 years
old and well out his depth. Stein’s instruction to Callaghan and
Johnstone was to attack down Denny’s wing as Rangers perceived
weakness. The boy was given a torrid time but Jimmy was to put a
consoling arm around him -’Don’t worry son, you’ve done well and you’ll
get a medal.’
In 1976 he played his last game for Celtic in his joint testimonial
with Bobby Lennox against Manchester United. Unlike Lennox, he refused
to swap jerseys, and set of for one final lap of honour in the green
and white. That was the night he took his boots off and threw them to
the fans in the Jungle. It was a spontaneous and fitting gesture and he
continued in his socks around the track.
One cold day in Dunfermline in 1992, the Celtic fans had little to
shout about. These were dark, dark times and there was no light at the
end of the tunnel. The old songs were now belted out in defiance…
‘We’ve got Harry and Lou Macari…’
‘…We don’t need your Colin Stein
Joe Harper or Alan Gilzean
We’ve got someone twice as good
We’ve got Harry
‘They’ll be jumping oot their windaes when we win…’
‘…One, two and a three, cha-cha-cha
It was the dirtiest game you’ll ever see
Between Glasgow Celtic
The champions of Europe
And Racing from Argentine…’
But the loudest and longest was always :
‘We’ve got Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy Johnstone
On the wing, on the wing…’
Even in those bleak days Jinky helped to keep us going until another number 7 arrived to lead us into the promised land.
In later years we became aware of his illness. If it was hard for us to
bear, it must have been insufferable for his family but he faced it
with courage and dignity to the very end. I shed tears when Bobby
Murdoch died, Bobby being the youngest and yet the first of the Lions
to pass away. It was a total shock. When Jinky died, the overwhelming
was one of relief that he was now at peace and that both he and his
family would suffer no more.
On Saint Patrick’s day I found myself back at Kerrydale Street with
thousands of people who lined up to pay their respects to Jimmy. I find
myself a decent vantage point and notice a wee woman behind me.
‘Ah nivvir saw him play but ma man loved him and ah had to come here today’
I offer her my position and in a moment she is ushered by others to the very front alongside the elderly and the kids.
‘M’on Gran and we’ll get ye tae the front.’
A camera crew attempts to camp in front of us but Strathclyde’s finest
comes to the rescue and move them on. The camera crew remonstrates.
‘These good people have waited in the cauld for hours an’ ah’m no askin’ ye, ah’m telling’ ye to move.’
The hearse begins to approach, slowly at first then gaining speed. As
it passes, the face tingles and the eyes fill with tears.
Spontaneously, a scarf is thrown and in an instant it appears it is all
No way is it over ! Whether or not Celtic commission a statue, rename
the North stand or name the new training complex after the wee man, the
spirit of Jimmy Johnstone will live in the heart, mind and soul of
every Celtic fan.
When Jinky arrived at Heaven’s Pearly Gates he was surely met not by
Saint Peter but by Big Jock with a huge bear hug to welcome him from
one Paradise to another.
There is a story at the end of this. That night I was in a hot bath
trying to thaw out from the cold of standing on that bitter afternoon.
My Father in Law called to ask if I had dropped the order of ceremony
from Jimmy’s funeral through his door. As I was nowhere near the church
I told him I hadn’t and to this day we do not know who put it through
his letterbox. He gave it me and as a tribute to the wee man it is now
God bless Jimmy Johnstone.