WELCOME once again, folks, to the second of CQN’s new feature which will appear here every Saturday.
‘ALEX’S ANGLE‘ will go behind the headlines with Alex Gordon, the former Sports Editor of the Sunday Mail and Chief Sports Sub-Editor of the Daily Record when they were the biggest sellers in Scotland. The veteran newsman will reveal some tales from his journey through the inky trade.
Alex has also authored fifteen books on Celtic, the team that has always been closest to his heart, including co-writing the autobiographies of legends such as Bertie Auld, Tommy Gemmell, Davie Hay and John ‘Yogi’ Hughes.
HAPPY DAYS…Celtic legend Billy McNeill and author Alex Gordon share a joke at Celtic Park.
His other Celtic publications include ‘The Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary Celebration’, ‘That Season in Paradise’, ‘Caesar and The Assassin’ and ‘In Praise of Caesar’, his tribute to Billy McNeill.
Here is Alex’s second EXCLUSIVE CQN column.
JOCK STEIN thought the world of Jimmy Johnstone – but it didn’t stop the legendary manager from giving the winger the boot from Celtic.
Wee Jinky was only 30 when he was informed his services were no longer required at Parkhead.
Back in 1975, clubs were obliged to offer a player at least a year’s contract or grant them a free transfer. Stein chose the latter for the mercurial star who was always more of a rascal than a rogue.
Basically, the wee man with the monumental talent had exhausted the patience of his manager. There was only going to be one winner in that confrontation and it wasn’t going to be the diminutive touchline ace who could be a genuine world-class performer when he was in the mood.
Two of my best friends told me how Jinky coped with the news his career was finished at the club closest to his heart.
“He was devastated,” said Tommy Gemmell. “Celtic Park was his spiritual home and he just could not take it all in that he was no longer a Celtic player. Even a year or so later, he was still talking about getting back to the club and playing in the hoops again.”
FACE TO FACE…Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone in conversation.
Bertie Auld, another of Johnstone’s Lisbon Lions team-mates, put it this way: “Jinky was 30 and maybe couldn’t hurtle up and down the wing and create havoc with those swivel hips as he did in his hey-day, but I have no doubt he could have played on for at least another four or five years as a midfield player.
“I noticed that more and more he was coming inside and pinging passes all over the pitch. He always possessed the ability to see a pass. But it wasn’t to be. To all intents and purposes, Jinky’s football career ended the day he walked out of Celtic Park.”
As the curtain descended on season 1974/75, there was the glorious finale of captain Billy McNeill who capped a phenomenal career as the team’s onfield leader when he went out as a deserved winner following the 3-1 Scottish Cup triumph over Airdrie on the sunkissed afternoon of May 3 1975 at Hampden.
It was a fitting conclusion to a truly stupendous decade of unprecedented success for Celtic in which McNeill amassed an extraordinary personal medal haul of twenty-three honours. He called it a day at the age of 35.
WATCHING BRIEF…Jock Stein keeps a close eye on Jimmy Johnstone as he goes through a training routine before a European tie. Sean Fallon is in the background.
There was no such razzmatazz for Jimmy Johnstone. The previous Saturday, he had played in the 2-1 league defeat from St Johnstone in front of 11,000 fans at rundown Muirton Park.
He toiled to replicate any of the dazzling, serpentine-weaving runs that had become his trademark. On the hour mark, Jinky was replaced by Harry Hood.
Johnstone wasn’t involved in the preparations for the forthcoming Scottish Cup crescendo and wasn’t even listed as a substitute for Hampden, the two berths going to Tommy Callaghan and Roddie MacDonald.
As Jinky trudged off the pitch in Perth, he didn’t have an inkling his 12 years as an established Celtic first-team player had come to a halt.
Once the dust settled on the season, Jock Stein was fairly brutal in his assessment of the player.
He said: “I know he has a lot of football left in him, so it may seem odd that we decided not to utilise it and keep Jimmy in our team.
“But I feel he has climbed too many mountains with us. The challenge for him has gone, the spark can be rekindled somewhere else.
LITTLE BIG MAN…Jimmy Johnstone celebrates at Ibrox as dejected Rangers captain John Greig and keeper Norrie Martin sit it out.
“It is better that he gets a new challenge now at thirty years of age, when he can still make something of it, rather than hang around until he would be of little value to any new club.
“I once said that no player during my time as Celtic manager has caused me more trouble. I do not withdraw that remark.
“There were many occasions when I leaned over backwards to help him and yet, at times, we seemed to move from one crisis to the next with him.
“Yet it is true to say that, just like the fans on the terracing, there was no player who could give me such delight when he was on form than the wee redhead.”
The moral of the story, of course, is that no individual is bigger than the football club.
As with Jock and Jinky in another century, the outcome of any feud between manager and player is a foregone conclusion. With the transfer window due to close at the end of the month, all players should be aware of that fact.
If Jock Stein could treat the man who was voted by the fans in the Millennium Poll as Celtic’s Greatest-Ever Player in such a manner, it’s open season on everyone else.