AS a veteran of way too many Hampden and Wembley skirmishes – and I’ve got the scars to prove it – I am looking forward to Tuesday’s 150th anniversary match between Scotland and England at “Celtic’s second home,” as Bertie Auld used to call our national stadium.
Contrary to popular belief, I was not among the 4,000 attendees at the inaugral meeting between two warring sporting nations. The historic encounter took place at Hamilton Crescent, the West of Scotland Cricket Club ground in Partick, Glasgow, on November 30 1872 and the world’s first-ever international match ended in a scoreless stalemate.
However, memories of these encounters come flooding back and some are even fit to print.
One of my favourite tales from the former annual fixture against our neighbours concerns a Celtic legend who didn’t even take part in the game.
I better hastily cut to the chase. This is a yarn from my Celtic tribute book, ‘The Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary‘, which was published in 2007.
I hope it makes you smile.
WHEN Jimmy Johnstone had his dander up he was just about unstoppable. Those truly astounding, spectacular serpentine-weaving runs had to be seen to be believed.
England and Liverpool captain Emlyn Hughes once complained of having “twisted blood” after facing the Wee Man in an international at Hampden Park in 1974 as Scotland triumphed 2-0.
Jinky, as his team-mates were only too well aware, was a highly temperamental bloke and you upset him at your peril. Scotland trainer Walter McCrae couldn’t have been too aware of that side of the Celtic great as he prepared the international squad for an important game against England in 1968, the year after the Scots had overcome the world champions 3-2 at Wembley.
A victory was a must at Hampden for the Scots, but it was going to be achieved without the help of Scotland’s most skilful player, Jimmy Johnstone. Injury had prevented him from playing at Wembley in 1967 and, on this occasion, the international manager, Bobby Brown, had made up his mind to go with Chelsea’s Charlie Cooke in preference to the Celt.
The blissfully unaware McCrae then conjured up his outstanding faux pas as Scotland trained at their HQ at Largs. As luck would have it, Celtic were along the Ayrshire coast at their usual haunt at Seamill at the same time. The SFA asked for permission to play Celtic in a bounce game against the international line-up as a special training session.
WIZARD OF THE WING…Jimmy Johnstone on the ball.
The Parkhead powers-that-be agreed, but Jimmy was far from happy. “I’m no’ interested,” he said. “I’m no’ playing.” However, the Wee Man dutifully turned up to watch the session and McCrae then, unintentionally, made one of football’s great blunders – he asked Jinky to be a linesman!
Tommy Gemmell, with the Scottish squad, recalled at the time: “I think you could say Jimmy let Walter know he was not interested in running the line, in any shape or form. For a start, two of his best pals at Celtic at the time were Bobby Lennox and Willie O’Neill.
“They would have been taking part in the game and Jinky would have been running up and down the touchline with his wee flag. Jimmy Johnstone? A linesman? Oh, dear!
“Quite apart from anything else, I suspect any world-class player would rebel, as Jimmy certainly did, at the idea of being used as a linesman. Would someone at the English FA have asked Bobby Charlton to run the line? Would anyone at the Irish FA have been daft enough to ask George Best to act as a linesman? Of course, not.
“Walter McCrae put his foot in it big-style and a week later would later pay a terrible price.
“The international game, which ended in a 1-1 draw, was played in late February and on March 2 Celtic turned up for a league match at Rugby Park to play Kilmarnock, where Walter McCrae doubled up as the club’s trainer.
“We hammered them 6-0 with, as I recall, Willie Wallace scoring four goals with others from Bobby Lennox and young substitute Jimmy Quinn. But everyone’s Man of the Match was, without question, Wee Jinky.
“He tore their defence to shreds. He played like a man possessed. We all knew the capabilities of our wee genius, of course, but that afternoon he went into overdrive and only an Elephant Gun could have stopped him from running amok.
“He twisted, teased and tortured the Killie back lot and I knew what was going on in his mind – he was going to make Walter McCrae suffer.
“The Wee Man looked fairly pleased with himself as we came off at the end. I was walking beside him when he spotted McCrae in the home dug-out. I’ll always remember Jinky’s comment.
“‘No’ bad for an effin’ linesman, eh, Walter?'”