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Jimmy Johnstone obituary - Brian Glanville
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Jimmy Johnstone: Brilliant Celtic and Scotland winger who took the European Cup with the Lisbon Lions
Little, red-haired Scotsman Jimmy Johnstone, who has died aged 61, was an integral member of the remarkable Celtic team that won nine Scottish soccer championships in a row between 1966 and 1974. He was also one of the Lisbon Lions, the Celtic team that became the first British side to lift the European Cup in 1967. A classical winger, famed for his dynamic speed, immaculate control and ability to go outside the opposing full back, he was capped 23 times for Scotland, and scored 129 goals in 515 appearences for Celtic. In a poll among the fans in 2002, he was voted the club's best ever player. Related Topics
Off the field, Johnstone was never the most docile of players, clashing time and again with Celtic's illustrious manager, Jock Stein - to the point that Stein's own mother once rebuked him: "I think you're very hard on that wee fellow." Stein, who felt Johnstone was highly effective, "especially against continentals", once dropped him because "he was doing things he wasn't supposed to do". And there was a comical occasion when, in training camp with the Scotland team at Largs a month before the World Cup finals in Germany in 1974, Johnstone went out in a boat, found himself adrift and had to be rescued.
Born in Uddingston, near Glasgow, he was signed as a teenager - at just 5ft4in and weighing 9 1/2 stone - by Celtic in 1961, after Manchester United had expressed an interest, and made his debut in the 1962-63 season, playing four games for just one goal. The following season saw him fully established in the side, playing 25 games for half a dozen goals - and so it went on for many seasons. Winning Scotland under-23 caps in that first full season, he made his debut for the full national side against Wales in October 1964, displacing the usual incumbent, another clever rightwinger, Rangers' Willie Henderson.
Johnstone made only sporadic appearances for Scotland, even though his solitary game in the 1965-66 season (against England at Hampden Park) saw him score two spectacular goals and, at least in the second half, confirm the dominance over the hapless England left-back Keith Newton that he had shown a few weeks earlier at Newcastle, when the Scottish League beat the England Football League 3-1.
Oddly enough, Johnstone's performance at Hampden Park that day took some time to ignite. Early in the second half, he missed a good heading chance, enabling England to break away and score. But when Denis Law slipped him through a square England defence, Johnstone at last showed his pace and power, racing away to beat goalkeeper Gordon Banks from close range. With Scotland 4-2 down and time running out, Johnstone scored again, the reward of his persistence. Jim Baxter's free kick floated over a static English defence, en abling Johnstone to chase it, catch the ball almost on the goal line, and smash it home off the underside of the bar.
The following season saw Celtic's triumphant path to the European Cup final. In Nantes, in the first leg of the second round, Johnstone's form was irresistible; the French press nicknamed him the Flying Flea. In the Lisbon final against Inter Milan, Johnstone and the other Celtic winger, Bobby Lennox, had orders to move into the middle, leaving the flanks to the attacking full-backs. Celtic deservedly won 2-1. They then contested the ill-starred intercontinental championship a few months later. The notorious play-off against Racing Club of Buenos Aires in Montevideo saw Johnstone forced to wash the spittle out of his hair at half-time, and sent off in the second half.
Celtic reached the European Cup final again in 1970, losing 2-1 after extra time to the Dutch team, Feyenoord. The campaign was notable for their double victory against the then dominant Leeds United in the semi-finals. Johnstone was outstanding in both games. In the first leg, at Elland Road, he tirelessly used the whole of the right touchline, often dropping deep to collect the ball, tormenting Leeds' England left-back, Terry Cooper, who did not dare to overlap in his usual manner. At Hampden Park in the return, Johnstone was just as effective.
He was given a free transfer at the end of the 1974-75 season and then played for San Jose Earthquakes, Sheffield United, Dundee, Sbelbourne and Elgin City. He was diagnosed in November 2001 with motor neurone disease, which gradually confined him to his home in Lanarkshire. Some consolation came in the 90-minute documentary film of his playing career, Lord of the Wing, in 2004, in which he was praised by such stars as Alfredo Di Stefano, Eusebio and Denis Law.
He is survived by his wife Agnes, a son and two daughters.
Brian Wilson writes: For that generation of supporters who saw Celtic become the first British club to win the European Cup, Jimmy Johnstone was the epitome of all that was best in the way their team played football - a brilliant entertainer, possessed of wonderful balance, great speed and dazzling skill. And all the better for the fact that he was one of themselves; a local boy with a genius for football.
Jinky himself had no doubt about how that talent had been honed, in an era when there was not a lot of money about. "Football was the greatest part of our lives, just like the boys from Brazil and Spain. They lived in poverty, like us, and that's where all the great players came from - the street." The astonishing, unrepeatable aspect of the Celtic side that beat Inter Milan in Lisbon was that, like Johnstone, they all came from Glasgow and its environs.
The Lisbon Lions, now reduced to eight survivors following the deaths of Bobby Murdoch (obituary, May 17 2001), Ronnie Simpson (obituary, April 22 2004) and Johnstone, have remained an intensely close-knit unit throughout their lives, probably because they were all from essentially the same background. "I look back now," said Johnstone, "and think, bloody hell, we did achieve great things. But at the time, we were just an ordinary bunch of lads."
His infectious personality and sense of humour made him a huge, continuing favourite with all he encountered. When the cruel illness of motor neurone disease struck him, he devoted himself to learning more about it and assisting the efforts that were going on around the world to combat it, though he knew that the fruits of such research would come too late to save his own life. He supported the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which will benefit from a tribute fund established in his memory.
James Connolly Johnstone, footballer, born September 30 1944; died March 12 2006
Johnstone in action for Celtic against Aberdeen in the 1970 Scottish cup final Photograph: SNS Group
© Copyright 2006. The Guardian. All rights reserved.
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