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LISBON LOOKBACK: TOMMY GEMMELL’S MEMOIRS (Day Six)

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CELTIC celebrated the 53rd anniversary of their unforgettable European Cup triumph in Lisbon last week..

Today, CQN continues to celebrate the historic achievement with another EXCLUSIVE extract from the late, great Tommy Gemmell’s autobiography, ‘All The Best’, co-authored by Alex Gordon, and published in 2014.

It was, of course, Big TG who walloped in the equaliser against Inter Milan to put Jock Stein’s great side on their way to victory on May 25 1967 in the Portuguese capital.

Gemmell, who sadly passed away in March 2017 at the age of 73, had a keen sense of humour and it comes across in these memoirs.

Please enjoy Day Six of this CQN special as he continues his Jimmy Johnstone revelations.

I STILL laugh at the memory of what became a ritual with the Wee Man when we both lived in Uddingston.

The window in my kitchen at the back of our house was actually quite high up. Anyway, one Sunday evening, around ten o’clock, I heard a noise at the back door. ‘Burglars!’ was my immediate thought.

I tip-toed into the kitchen to investigate. And there at the back window was Jinky, standing on a dustbin, knocking gently on the pane of glass. ‘Let me in, Big Man,’ he said as if this was perfectly normal behaviour. Goodness only knows why he didn’t come to the front door. Maybe that would have been too mundane and ordinary for my wee mate and he didn’t do mundane and ordinary.

‘How about a wee nip?’ he asked as I let him in. We went through to the front room and had a couple of quick ones. ‘How about a drive doon the road?’ was the next question an hour or so later. I should have anticipated that one.

Jinky could have afforded a taxi or he could even have walked the short distance between our two homes, but he much preferred yours truly to take on the chauffeur’s duties. I protested, ‘Jinky, I’ve had a couple of drinks, as well. I don’t want to get done for being over the limit.’

‘Ach, ye’ll be fine,’ came the reply. ‘Ah’m only minutes away.’ I said, ‘Look, I’ll give you the keys to my car and you can take it down the road and I’ll get it in the morning.’

There was an indignant reply. ‘Whit? And get me done for drunk driving!’

For whatever reason, this became a Sunday night ritual. Jinky balancing on a dustbin, tapping on the kitchen window and coming in the back door for a few snifters. I realised I would be driving him home, so I went onto the soft drinks while my drinking partner put away a few nips. Then he would bounce to his feet, announce it was time for him to go and order, ‘Right, Big Man, get me doon the road.’

There was another time when some of the Lisbon Lions had agreed to play in a Charity Match in Iceland. We were all aware of Jinky’s fear of flying and he didn’t look too impressed when we turned up at Glasgow Airport in the morning to find two modest-sized planes waiting for us. The big one was an eight-seater! The other was a six-seater.

Jinky stared at them for a moment. ‘Ah’m no’ goin’ on wan of them,’ he said. I assured him we would be fine and we would only be up in the air for about half-an-hour. Jinky seemed content enough to accept that. He sat up front in the six-seater and I parked myself behind him. He was clearly nervous and his mood didn’t get any better when the door to the cabin opened and out stepped the pilot.

Jinky looked at this immaculately-tailored character with the gold braid on the cuffs of his jacket. ‘Are you the pilot?’ he asked.

‘I am,’ was the response.

‘Where’s the other pilot?’

‘There isn’t one. I’m flying solo.’

Jinky looked aghast. ‘That’s all we effin’ need. You’re the only pilot? What happens if you have a heart attack?’

‘Then you’ll need this,’ said the captain, handing Jinky a booklet. ‘These are the flying instructions. Don’t worry, they’ll tell you all you need to know about flying an aircraft.’ Jinky didn’t bother to look at the booklet and he was very quiet for the entire journey.

Jinky was astonished to learn he had been voted Celtic’s Greatest-Ever Player in the supporters’ millennium poll. He was genuinely surprised.

He told me, ‘I thought they would give it to Henrik Larsson. Was I better than him, Big Man?’ I told him it was the choice of thousands of Celtic fans worldwide and he had won by a landslide.

‘The voting was unanimous, Wee Man.’ (I don’t know if that was strictly accurate, but it sounded convincing.) Jinky was never one for long-winded speeches. He could sing ‘Dirty Old Town’ all night long, but don’t put a microphone in front of him and expect to be regaled by an Orson Welles-type oratory.

However, he brought the house down on the night he went up onto the stage to collect his Greatest-Ever Player honour. It was a poignant address and there couldn’t have been a dry eye in the house when he said, ‘There is wan guy no’ here the night who should be standing here wi’ this trophy,’ said Jinky.

‘Ah’m talkin’ aboot Bobby Murdoch. He wis the best, the absolute greatest, no’ me. Ah’m dedicating this award to Bobby.’

The applause seemed to go on for about half-an-hour. Another gesture that was so typical of a man I was always proud to call a friend. He would have given you his last.

Indeed, Bobby Murdoch was missing that evening; physically, anyway, but certainly there in spirit. Unfortunately, he had passed away the previous year, but the supporters never overlooked his worth to Celtic. He was voted into their Greatest-Ever Celtic Team and he would have appreciated that honour.

The fans had chosen Ronnie Simpson as their top goalkeeper with Danny McGrain at right-back and myself on the left. Billy McNeill – who else? – was centre-half and captain. Paul McStay, Bobby and Bertie Auld were in midfield and Jinky, Kenny Dalglish, Henrik Larsson and Bobby Lennox were the front four. Breathtaking, isn’t it?

I was having a quick break with my wife Mary in Tenerife when I received the telephone call on 13 March 2006 that informed me Jinky, after a brave six-year battle, had died of that dreaded motor neurone disease.

Of course, it wasn’t totally unexpected, but it was still an almighty shock to the system. I had seen him the day before I flew out and it was obvious his health was in steady decline. Remarkably, he was still joking and laughing. It’s impossible to be maudlin when I think about Jinky and all the fun we had together.

I made arrangements to fly home immediately and I was a pall-bearer on 17 March – St.Patrick’s Day – when the Wee Man made his last journey to Celtic Park. His cortege left from the front of his spiritual home to take the funeral party to St.John the Baptist Church in Uddingston and then on to Bothwell Park cemetery. Thousands lined the streets along London Road to say their last farewell to an extraordinary wee chap.

To be honest, everything was a bit of a blur. I didn’t get much sleep the previous evening and that, plus a heavy heart, combined to put me in my bleary-eyed state.

All of the Lisbon Lions were in attendance with the exception of Willie Wallace who didn’t have time to make arrangements to fly in from Queensland. I looked around and I saw Rod Stewart, Denis Law, Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Davie Hay, Alex McLeish, Walter Smith, Ally McCoist, John Greig, Sandy Jardine, Davie Wilson, Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray and so many, many others.

Politicians mingled with rock stars, legends from Celtic and Rangers reached across the Great Divide and former Scotland international team-mates made the journey to pay their respects and say goodbye to a colourful little character whose courage was nothing short of awesome.

He was finally laid to rest wearing a garment he treasured most of all – his Lisbon Lions blazer.

Thanks for the memories, Jinky. You made it back to Paradise, after all.

TOMORROW: LISBON LOOKBACK: Tommy Gemmell continues his remarkable memoirs.

 
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