TOMMY GEMMELL was one of the most colourful and charismatic characters in Celtic history.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE series, author Alex Gordon, a long-time friend of the Lisbon Lion, opens his book files to reveal some tales of the flamboyant full-back. Alex says: “When I was interviewing Tommy for his autobiography, ‘All The Best’, which was published by CQN in 2014, he often talked about his friendship with former Manchester United idol George Best.
“I think Bestie always reminded him of Wee Jinky Johnstone.
“Here in the fifth and final extract from Tommy as he weighs up the qualities of two genuine world-class performers.
I HAVE often been asked who was the better player between my wee pal and fellow-Lisbon Lion Jimmy Johnstone and Manchester United great George Best.
I would say Bestie was a better all-round player, but Jinky was more skilful.
They were both incredibly brave and able to withstand bone-shuddering challenges while making and taking goals. Bestie was good in the air, but, so, too, was Jinky, despite his lack of inches.
I recall him scoring with a header against Hearts in a game at Tynecastle in the sixties. Big John Hughes set it up after galloping down the left wing. He fired over a blistering cross that was missed by everyone.
FOR MY NEXT TRICK…Tommy Gemmell keeps an eye on Lisbon Lion team-mate Jimmy Johnstone during their brief reunion at Dundee.
Jinky, though, was coming in at pace about 10 yards out at the back post and his timing was impeccable as he bulleted the ball beyond their keeper Jim Cruickshank. If that goal had been scored in a World Cup Final we would still be watching replays of it to this day.
Bestie was the most dangerous opponent I ever directly faced in a competitive match. When you consider some of the opponents I have come up against in games throughout Europe that is saying something.
Jinky, though, was a menace when we faced each other in training. He had fabulous balance and liked to poke the ball through your legs just for fun. I could just about stand it two or three times, but when he went looking for a fourth I had to have a word in the Wee Man’s ear.
It normally went along the lines of: “Try that again, you wee pest, and I’ll boot you up the backside!”
I don’t think he ever took a blind bit of notice of my warnings.
Of course, Jinky and Bestie used to drive their respective managers, Jock Stein and Matt Busby, to distraction with their antics off the field.
I wonder how Malcom Allison, surely one of the most colourful football managers the world has ever seen, would have dealt with those guys.
In 1968. with Jinky and Bestie at the peak of their powers, Big Mal teamed up with Joe Mercer and guided Manchester City to the English league championship.
A TRILOGY OF WING WIZARDS…Willie Henderson, Jimmy Johnstone and George Best.
That Maine Road outfit abounded with flamboyance and flair. City looked like Celtic in light blue jerseys! They had Colin Bell, Frannie Lee and Mike Summerbee among other richly talented individuals.
Big Mal and Bestie knew each other well, of course, through the Manchester social scene. At one stage, unfortunately, my wee mate was figuring more on the front pages than the back pages of the national newspapers.
He seemed to crash a car every week and, of course, he did a two-month stint at Her Majesty’s Pleasure following an early-morning altercation with his vehicle and a lamppost outside Harrods in December 1984.
Later on, Bestie admitted he was completely taken in by Allison telling him he had written a book entitled ‘How To Beat The Breathalyser’. It wasn’t easy to wind up Bestie, but Big Mal managed it with that one.
Bestie could have responded with his own book, ‘How To Enjoy Life Behind Bars’!
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