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PersonalFullname: Maurice John Giblin Johnston
aka: Mo Johnston, Mo Jo, Le Petit Merde
Born: 13 April 1963
Birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland
Signed: 11 Oct 1984
Left: 1 June 1987
International Caps: 38
International Goals: 14
BiogThere is not a name in the history of Celtic Football Club which provokes the same strength of feeling as that created by the utterance of ‘Maurice Johnston’.
No player who has ever worn the Hoops is so universally despised by the Celtic support as the man who went from being hailed ‘Super Mo’ to becoming known simply as ‘Judas’.
Johnston’s act of betrayal to the club he professed to love still rankles deeply even today – almost 18 years since he jilted Celtic to sign for rivals Rangers.
So much so that the man who scored 52 goals in 100 appearances for the Bhoys will never be welcomed within Celtic Park again. And yet it could have been so very, very, different for a player who had a real chance to fulfil his boyhood dream of becoming a Celtic great.
Born in Glasgow Hoops fan Maurice ‘Mo’ Johnston caught the eye of scouts as a teenager with some impressive performances for the Glasgow Catholic Schools select side and he was invited for a trial by Partick Thistle where he again impressed and subsequently signed a full-time professional contract.
He spent two full seasons with the Jags where he quickly established himself as one of the most promising young talents in the Scottish game. His goalscoring feats were notable and it was quickly obvious that Thistle would struggle to retain the services of a player with such a keen eye for goal.
Johnston netted 41 times in 85 games for the Firhill side and that record was enough to tempt Watford’s future England manager Graham Taylor to pay £200,000 to take the player south of the border in November 1983.
Johnston’s time with the unfashionable Hertfordshire club was a significant success and he helped the Vicarage Road side reach the 1984 FA Cup final where he was unlucky to have a goal chalked off in a 2-0 Wembley defeat.
While with the Hornets the youngster nicknamed ‘Mo Jo’ also picked up his first Scotland cap and he got his international career off to the best possible start with a goal in a 2-1 Hampden victory over Wales.
Having scored 23 goals in just 38 games Mo was an undoubted hit in the English game, but the red haired striker harboured dreams of a move back to Glasgow and his seemingly beloved Celtic. On an interview with a Glasgow radio station just prior to that FA Cup final Johnston declared to listeners he would ’...walk over broken glass’ to play for the Hoops.
Such a statement seemed much more than lip service as Johnston had been a regular at Celtic Park throughout the early 70s when as a boy he would join pals in jumping over the turnstile to see their heroes.
Even as an exciting prospect making a name for himself in England Johnston still found time to follow the Hoops. On the same day of his FA Cup final appearance in 1984 Celtic suffered an extra time defeat to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup. Johnston later said that when he found out about that Hampden defeat in the Wembley dressing room it hurt every bit as much as his and Watford’s loss.
Following his Cup final appearance Johnston set his sight on coming back to Scotland. He made it clear to anyone who would listen that Parkhead was where he wanted to be and to the delight of the Celtic support the dream finally became a reality, when the Bhoys coughed up a Scottish record £400,000 in October 84 to take the striker home to Glasgow.
The move was greeted with universal acclaim among a Celtic support desperate for an idol to replace Charlie Nicholas who had departed for Arsenal just over a year previously for £625,000. With his flashy sports car and love of nightclubs Johnston certainly shared Nicholas’ flamboyant playboy lifestyle. But the fans were confident that the former Watford man would also share Nicholas’ gift of netting goals for the Hoops.
In truth the two players were very different kinds of strikers. Nicholas was much the more elegant and skilful of the pair while Johnston was tireless and energetic – so much so that defenders knew that the slightest loss of concentration would mean they would be punished. What the players did share was great awareness and timing and both had become supreme masters in the art of finishing.
The £400,000 fee splashed out by the club delighted and surprised the support in equal measure, accustomed as they were to the boards past reluctance to replace big money departures with big money arrivals. Certainly the money spent on Johnston was in a different league to the fees manager Davie Hay had spent on his previous six signings since becoming becoming manager in the summer of 1983. Those arrivals – which included the £80,000 buy of Brian McClair from Motherwell – cost a combined total of £25,000 less than fee splashed out for Johnston.
It has to be said though the money did not appear to be Johnston’s motivation. Indeed his keenness to join Celtic meant he would actually be earning a lower basic wage than what he picked up in England.
Johnston settled down well to life in the Hoops. Aberdeen and Dundee United were Celtic’s main challengers for the top honours in Scotland at this time and in Johnston’s first season (84/85) the Bhoys were pipped to the title by the Dons.
Johnston had impressed though and his 19 goals and all round performance had cemented his place in the affection of the support.
That debut season also ended on a high note as Johnston helped his team-mates to a memorable 2-1 Scottish Cup final victory over Dundee United at a rain-soaked Hampden, where the Hoops came from behind to snatch a late winner.
If the Bhoys support thought that cup final victory was dramatic then they hadn’t seen anything yet.
The following season (85/86) Celtic suffered a stuttering and unconvincing start to their league campaign and a resurgent Hearts side looked set to claim their first championship in years. However – with Johnston and McClair in lethal goal scoring form - Davie Hay’s men rallied and put together a stunning unbeaten run to take the championship race to the last game of the season.
Celtic made the short trip to Paisley to take on St Mirren knowing they had to win by at least four clear goals and hope that Dundee could defeat Hearts at Dens Park.
What happened next is of course well documented in Celtic history as the Bhoys stormed to a stunning 5-0 victory while Hearts crashed to a 2-0 defeat. It was another rain-sodden but glorious day for the Hoops and as he had done all season Johnston had played his part by netting twice.
His second goal in that 5-0 demolition of the Buddies ranks up there with the greatest Celtic goals of all time. His part – rolling the ball into the net from three yards - in a sensational sweeping move from one end of the pitch to the other was minimal but vital and like all great strikers he was in the right place at the right time.
Johnston and McClair had forged a impressively productive partnership and their goals were the significant factor in that title triumph. Off the field though the pair were not exactly best friends. Certainly the quiet but studious McClair cut a very different figure from Johnston whose womanising and nightclubbing were now keen subjects of Scotland’s tabloid media.
Indeed just as Johnston had become the substitute for Charlie Nicholas in the affection of the Celtic support he had also replaced the Arsenal man as the Scottish tabloids favourite Champagne-sipping footballer.
Certainly Johnston was no stranger to making front page stories as well as back page. During his time at Celtic Park he had been in court on two separate occasions and there were also unfounded rumours of a drug habit which concerned Celtic so much that the club checked the player into hospital for tests to discover if he had any illegal substances in his system. The tests proved negative.
In Glasgow - a city where even the vaguest link to Celtic or Rangers can give you an undeserved and often unwanted public profile – Johnston was unquestionably a prime target for every hack, photographer and lunatic.
In fairness such media attention seldom seemed to affect his on-field performances. The next season (86/87) McClair and Johnston began where they left off the previous campaign by banging in the goals and Celtic soon established a comfortable lead in the league.
But this time though Hay and his men were facing the challenge of a rejuvenated Rangers side determined to emerge from the doldrums to become the major football power in Scotland.
New owner David Murray had given the go-ahead for a new era of big spending at Ibrox and with newly appointed player-manager Graeme Souness at the helm the club embarked on a significant buying spree which brought established English internationals Terry Butcher, Graham Roberts and Chris Woods to Glasgow.
Celtic - who had lost an earlier league clash at Ibrox 1-0 - again went head to head with the new look Rangers in the final of the Skol (League) Cup on a dark and dour October afternoon at Hampden. Celtic were unfortunate to lose a close and controversial encounter in which refereeing decision certainly seemed to favour the Ibrox side who won 2-1 thanks to a late penalty.
Celtic’s cause was not helped by Johnston though who was ordered off in the dying minutes by ref David Syme. But it was not the sending off but what happened next that would go on to take greater significance in the context of Johnston’s career.
As the player headed towards the tunnel he blessed himself. It was unquestionably an ostentatious gesture of defiance towards the Rangers support, which to a man were screaming abuse towards the red-carded Celt. It was also an act of provocation.
A footballer blessing himself is of course a common act across the world. The suggestion that such a universal expression of faith could provoke a reaction from any right-minded person is of course usually laughable but in this instance it can be described in no other way. Indeed the fact this action was provocative says more about the entrenched bigotry of the Rangers support than anything else.
Unlike many footballers Johnston had never been one to express his faith or seek divine support while on the pitch. Indeed his lifestyle would suggest that the faith in which he was raised had little significance in his life. That was illustrated when on the very morning of the Skol Cup final all but one of the Catholic players in the Celtic squad attended mass together. The missing player – Maurice Johnston.
There was of course no reason why Johnston should have attended mass that morning but his absence certainly brings into question the motives of his now infamous action.
As Christmas approached Celtic’s form began to dip and they were rapidly surpassed in the league by their revived rivals from across the city. Johnston and his goals remained a vital asset to the side but Celtic were to end the season trophyless as Rangers added the league championship to their Skol Cup.
Worse was to follow for Celtic. Johnston along with Murdo MacLeod and top scorer Brian McClair were now all out of contract and all three – key men in Hay’s side - seemed destined to head elsewhere.
MacLeod after almost a decade in the Hoops headed to Germany and Borussia Dortmund for a new challenge and Brian McClair was tempted south of the border by Manchester United.
Davie Hay was sacked as manager and replaced by former Parkhead boss and Celtic legend Billy McNeill. That gave some fans hope that McNeill would be able to persuade Johnston to stay but the new boss made it clear that he would not stand in the player’s way should he choose to move on.
Johnston eventually departed Parkhead in the summer to 87 for French side Nantes, citing press intrusion and sectarian abuse from Rangers fans as the prime reasons why he had to get away from Glasgow. Celtic claim the issue was more simple - money.
While there is an undoubted truth that Johnston did suffer at the ends of both the press and the bigots, if it was the quiet life he was after then he did little to help himself. Certainly at no time while in Glasgow did he tone down his colourful off-field lifestyle.
His acrimonious departure was met with regret but in truth little malice from the support who saw these recent departures as further evidence that the Parkhead board lacked the ambition to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Rangers.
It seemed certain in time that the fans would get over their initial disappointment at Johnston’s exit to remember him fondly as an excellent and gutsy striker.
But the Maurice Johnston Story did not end there. In fact what lay ahead was a tale with more twists and turns than a corkscrew.
Johnston was quickly replaced as the darling of the support by Frank McAvennie, another striker with an eye for the women and a love of the high-life. Like Johnston he had quit a successful career in England – with West Ham – to play for his boyhood idols at Celtic Park.
In his first season he helped Celtic to the league and cup double in the club’s centenary season. But the next term (88/89) saw McAvennie getting itchy feet for London and citing similar reasons to Johnson 18 months earlier he returned to the Hammers in early 89.
Rangers were on the verge of regaining the league championship and were a derby Scottish Cup final triumph away from trumping Celtic’s ‘double’ of the previous season with a treble. With McAvennie now back in London the Hoops were in desperate need of a lift.
Despite being a success on the pitch Johnston had not really settled in France and while on international duty had made it known to ex-Celtic team-mate Roy Aitken that he would welcome a return to Parkhead. Aitken passed this information on to Billy McNeill and the wheels were put in motion to bring Johnston back to Celtic.
McNeill spoke to the player and made it clear he was in no mood to be messed about. He informed Johnston he would deal with him but didn’t want anything to do with his agent Bill McMurdo.
McMurdo was a staunch Rangers fan and member of the Orange Order. A passionate Unionist, the man’s loathing of Celtic probably surpassed his love of Rangers.
Johnston agreed to McNeill’s request and soon signed an agreement to join Celtic on July 1st 1989 in a club record £1.2m deal. Celtic chairman Jack McGinn and director Chris White flew to France to pay Nantes a £400,000 deposit on the deal.
The club then checked with officials at FIFA to ensure that the all the paperwork was correct and legally binding. FIFA assured Celtic that everything was in order. Although Johnston had not signed a contract his letter of intent was akin to the pre-contract agreements signed by players today.
This being the case – and with just 8 days to go before the Cup Final - Celtic decided to announce the deal to the public and despite having not actually signed a contract Johnston was paraded before the media back in the Hoops as a Celtic player.
When asked why he had come back to Celtic the striker declared: "I don't want to play anywhere else."
Johnston then travelled with the team to Love Street for their final league game of the season and throughout the game the visiting support sang Johnston’s name as they welcomed home their hero – or so they thought.
The following week at a sunny Hampden a Joe Miller strike gave Celtic the cup and denied Rangers the treble. After a disappointing season the joyous Hoops support were now reveling in an unexpected feelgood factor.
As tens of thousands of celebrating Celtic fans streamed from Hampden’s traditional Celtic End, street sellers were doing a roaring trade in Mo Johnston t-shirts, scarves, hats and flags. The good times were seemingly on their way back. And then it all went horribly wrong.
What Johnston had failed to mention at the press conference just over a week earlier was that he had with him correspondence from Bill McMurdo informing Celtic that his company and not Nantes owned Johnston’s contract. McMurdo’s letter made it clear that unless Celtic spoke to him then no deal would be completed.
The club first picked up on the problem the Monday after the cup final when Johnston failed to turn up for a meeting. It then quickly became obvious that McMurdo was now starting to pull Johnston’s strings.
While Celtic tried to track down Johnston and attempt to resolve their outstanding issues McMurdo was enjoying lunch with Graeme Souness. The Rangers manager was an admirer of Johnston as a player and he quizzed his friend as to why he had let the striker rejoin Celtic.
McMurdo made it clear that the move to Parkhead was far from done and dusted and that given a little persuasion Johnston could well be tempted south of the Clyde. Souness did not need to be asked twice. He was astute enough to know that by stealing a former Parkhead hero from under the noses of a desperate Celtic would be a bitter blow to his rivals. Should he strengthen his own club in the process then all the better.
Ibrox chairman David Murray needed no persuasion to agree the move. Murray, a man with a near unrivalled ego, couldn’t resist any opportunity which would create the hysterical levels of press coverage that his move would generate.
The one stumbling block to the move would be the reaction of the Rangers support who viewed the club’s disgraceful sectarian signing policy as integral to their warped sense of tradition and identity.
The public signing of a Catholic would be bad enough. But to sign a Catholic who was an ex-Celtic player and who once blessed himself after being sent off in a derby game would seem unthinkable.
But Murray and Souness knew that in terms of the bigger picture the club’s sectarian signing policy was a hindrance and that if they seriously wanted to challenge the best on the continent then this particular facet of their deplorable tradition had to be dumped.
And what better way to do it than by striking a major blow against your fiercest rivals? At McMurdo’s recommendation Johnston agreed to meet Souness at the Rangers manager’s Edinburgh home. Unable to resist the persuasive nature of Souness and his agent Johnston agreed to move to Ibrox.
By now Celtic and the player had publicly acknowledged there was a ‘problem’ with the deal but outwardly both at least expressed the expectation that these matters would be ironed out.
Behind the scenes concern was growing with every passing minute at Parkhead. Celtic had confirmed once more with FIFA that the agreement signed by the player was legally binding. Safe in the knowledge that it was Billy McNeill was satisfied that there was little to worry about the growing rumours sweeping the Glasgow grapevine than Rangers had made a move for Johnston.
At the very least he thought Celtic could pay the remaining £800,000 to Nantes which would give them Johnston’s registration. Even if the player didn’t agree to play they would at least control his football destiny and prevent Rangers from completing a sensational signing coup.
However the Celtic board had other ideas and despite having Johnston’s signature on a legally binding agreement they announced - while McNeill was on holiday in Florida - that they were withdrawing from the deal.
That short-sighted decision left the door wide open for Murray and Souness to close the deal on the most controversial signing in Scottish football history. After weeks of whispers Johnston was unveiled to the world as a Rangers player at Ibrox on July 10th 1989.
The move met with the predicted reaction. Press and media coverage was frenzied.
Hacks and pundits fell over themselves to praise Rangers – and in particular Murray and Souness – for bringing to an end the club’s bigoted signing policy. Ironically it was a bigoted policy which until this point Rangers had denied ever existed. It was also a policy which many of the hacks and pundits now praising its demise had failed to criticise once while in existence.
The reaction from the Rangers support was one of anger. Season tickets were cancelled, scarves burnt and many supporters vowed never to return. They did of course, as Rangers went from strength to strength on the pitch and began a near decade long dominance of the domestic game.
But at the time David Miller, general secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association, told the Glasgow Herald: "It's a sad day for Rangers. I don't want to see a Roman Catholic at Ibrox."
Such bigotry was not confined to the stands though and some of Johnston’s new team mates were less than happy at having to share a dressing room with a Catholic – even one as clearly lapsed in faith and morals as Johnston.
His welcome at Ibrox was frosty as both players and backroom staff initially kept their distance from their new colleague.
The reaction from the Celtic support was ferocious. But unlike the Rangers support this ill feeling was not born from bigotry but out of a deep sense of betrayal. Here was a player who had enticed the club to take him back into its fold but when Celtic needed him most he jilted them for their most bitter rivals in the cruelest of fashions.
In the eyes of the Celtic support his actions were beyond redemption. He had committed the ultimate sin – and what made matters worse he did so knowing exactly how much hurt he was causing his supposed fellow Celtic supporters and how much damage he was doing to the club.
At that Ibrox press conference he spoke of his excitement and ‘great admiration’ for Rangers. His words were another kick in the teeth to the Celtic fans.
In many ways Johnston was used as a pawn by Murray, Souness and McMurdo but he entered into the whole deal with his eyes wide open. Even given the fact that the player's greed and stupidity meant he was easily manipulated it was ultimately Johnston’s decision to sign on the dotted line.
The reaction from both sets of the divide was fierce but no more so than would have been predicted. Johnston wasn’t that stupid to expect any other response. He had made his bed so sympathy for the hatred that followed was hard to find.
The Celtic support were not just angry at the player but also at the board for the bumbling incompetence that they showed throughout the whole fiasco and the manner in which they all but gifted Rangers the opportunity to complete their coup.
Together Johnston and the board had left the fans feeling let down and humiliated. The switch obviously meant that Johnston burnt his bridges with the Hoops fans for good. For the White/Kelly axis which ran the board it was in many ways the beginning of the end as they were to never again regain the confidence of the support.
Johnston went on to enjoy a successful if brief Rangers career, although he never quite hit the scintillating scoring form he showed during his spell at Parkhead.
In an incident caught on camera he did however show that he would stoop to any depth to try and ingratiate himself with his new paymasters, as he joined his team-mates in a sectarian singsong.
A winning goal against Celtic helped win some of the Ibrox fans over but - despite his sectarian singsong - he was never more than grudgingly accepted by a support who almost 20 years after the signing remain rabidly anti-Catholic.
Indeed while the signing of Johnston – which was made by Murray on business rather than moral grounds – may have broken one taboo it has far from eradicated the sectarian ethos within the Ibrox club and its support.
Johnston was of course Catholic in name only and was not exactly a devout follower of his faith. In more recent times Rangers have of course signed numerous Roman Catholic players from the continent who were considerably more religious than Johnston. These players were made well aware that while wearing the red, white and blue of their employer they would have to keep their Catholicism well under wraps.
In that respect the signing of Johnston did Celtic more short term damage than Rangers long term good.
After 31 goal in 76 appearances Johnston eventually returned to England in the summer of 1991 when he joined Everton. He stayed on Merseyside for two seasons before coming back to Scotland for brief spells with Hearts and Falkirk. He finally retired at the age 38 after a successful spell in America’s MSL with Kansas City Wizards. He remained in the States where he coached New Jersey-based side MetroStars. He was sacked from that post in June 2006 but in August was appointed head coach of fellow MLS side Toronto FC. After moving upstairs to a director of football role in 2008, he was again fired in September 2010.
Johnston states that the most memorable day of his career was helping Celtic snatch the league title away from Hearts on the last day of the season at Love Street. He even claims he is still a Celtic fan.
Unfortunately for the man now better known as Judas, his actions on July 10th 1989 speak a hell of a lot louder than his subsequent words.
|Club||From||To||Fee||League||Scottish/FA Cup||League cup||Other|
|Falkirk||01/03/1995||31/05/1996||Signed||41 (0)||6||1 (0)||0||2 (0)||2||0 (0)||0|
|Hearts||01/10/1993||01/03/1995||Signed||35 (0)||5||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Everton||20/11/1991||01/10/1993||£1,500,000||33 (1)||10||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Rangers||01/07/1989||20/11/1991||£1,500,000||76 (0)||31||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Nantes||01/06/1987||01/07/1989||£1,000,000||66 (0)||22||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Celtic||11/10/1984||01/06/1987||£400,000||99 (0)||52||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Watford||01/11/1983||11/10/1984||£200,000||38 (0)||23||1 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Partick||01/08/1980||01/11/1983||Signed||85 (0)||41||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Milton Battlefield||01/08/1979||01/08/1980||No appearance data available|
|Totals||£4,600,000||473 (1)||190||2 (0)||0||2 (0)||2||0 (0)||0|
|goals / game||0.4||0||1||n/a|
Honours with CelticScottish Premier League
- Billy McNeil - "We had signed Maurice Johnston" (Stabbing Caesar in the back)
- Celtic View on MoJo Return (May 1989)
Quotes"I might even agree to become Rangers' first Catholic if they paid me £1m and bought me Stirling Castle. Let me spell out where I stand. I am a Celtic man through and through and so I dislike Rangers because they are a force in Scottish football and therefore a threat to the club I love. But more than that, I hate the religious policy they maintain."
Mo Jo in his biography before signing for them!
FIFA's verdict on fining Le Petite Merde £3,500 for going back on his announcement to sign for Celtic, 1989.
'I'll finish my career here. I don't want to play for any other club.'
Le Petite Merde at a press conference confirming his return to Celtic from Nantes.
"It's disappointing to leave on a low note and I feel sorry for the rest of the guys left who are going down. But you've got to look after yourself and I'm looking forward to a fresh start."
Mo legs it from relegated Falkirk after snagging a £500,000 contract from the MLS, 1996.
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