This week marks the tenth anniversary of Jimmy Johnstone’s passing. To mark the event a copy of an article recalling his funeral is reproduced below from that time.
For generations, Kerrydale Street was always been a haven for young autograph hunters and it was no different one day in 1996. As the Celtic stars of the day, Paul McStay, John Collins, Pierre Van Hooydonk and Andreas Thom were under siege for their signatures there was also a commotion around one small man.
‘That’s him therr son, that’s the wan ah wiz telling’ ye aboot.’
Fathers and sons looked on in awe at the wee man in question. The youngsters quickly deserted their modern heroes and swarmed around him. An autograph, a smile, a pose for a picture, a kind word. Nothing was too much trouble for him. That man was Jimmy Johnstone.
Simply put, Jimmy was a Celtic icon. In an age when footballers can earn millions from their ‘image rights’, one can only imagine what Jimmy would have been worth today. The inflatable Jinky, a common sight at Celtic games in the 60’s and early 70’s, long before inflatables became trendy amongst football fans. Jinky key rings (wee Celtic player with red hair and a ball glued to his foot – it could only have been Jimmy) were commonplace in shops during the same period. That vision of Jinky – the bright red hair, on the wing, with socks characteristically turned down around his ankles – was there a more distinctive player in British football ?
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 some 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 strict instruction to Callaghan and Johnstone was to attack down Denny’s wing as he perceived that area as Rangers’ weakness. The boy was given a torrid time as Celtic won well but Jimmy was to put a consoling arm around him at the final whistle -’Don’t worry son, you’ve done yourself proud 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 off 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 stocking soles around the track. Many grown men unashamedly shed tears at the sight of that one, last final lap.
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 Hood…’
‘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.
‘Mon Gran and we’ll get ye tae the front.’
A TV 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, the scarf is thrown and in an instant it appears it is all over…
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 reproduced.
God bless Jimmy Johnstone.