JIMMY JOHNSTONE, the Greatest-Ever Celtic Player as voted by the Hoops supporters, was born on this day in 1944.

In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, author Alex Gordon takes a look through his files for tales of the Hoops legend.

Alex devoted a chapter of his tribute book to the European Cup-winning team, ‘Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary Celebration‘, to the colourful winger. Here is an edited extract.

Please enjoy.

STORIES of Jimmy Johnstone are the stuff of legend. One of the greatest accolades Jinky earned, however, wasn’t at his beloved Paradise or even on these shores.

On June 7, 1967, Celtic, still basking in the reflective glory of their excellent European Cup triumph, took the team to the Bernabeu Stadium to provide the opposition in a glamorous occasion for the legendary Alfredo di Stefano.

Just to be invited to play in such exalted company in a game for one of the world’s greatest-ever footballers was an honour. To go to their fortress and win 1-0 while pulverising the opposition was quite unbelievable. Even the normally-hostile Spanish fans had to applaud Celtic that balmy evening.

“Ole! Ole!” was the cry that rang round the stadium, but it wasn’t a Real Madrid performer being showered with praise. The standing ovations that night were for Jimmy Johnstone. He was unstoppable – a 5ft 4in bundle of mischief and magic that bewildered a Spanish rearguard that wasn’t too used to being taken apart, especially in front of their own support.

However, Johnstone never embraced a great respect for reputations and he simply dismantled the line of defenders who were put in front of him that evening.

It was a virtuoso performance that would have been more than fit to grace a World Cup Final. If Pele or Maradona or Cruyff or Best or even Di Stefano had delivered such flamboyant entertainment it would have been hailed as the most outstanding individual display ever witnessed.

“It really was that good,” enthused his Celtic team-mate and pal Tommy Gemmell.

Forget that this was labelled a Testimonial Match. Real Madrid had won the European Cup the previous year, beating Partizan Belgrade 2-1. They wanted to let everyone know they were still the true rulers of all they surveyed. In their minds, they were still the best in Europe and not a bunch of upstarts from Glasgow.

Real gave it their best shot, but Johnstone and Co were not to be denied another moment of glory. They, too, were at the Bernabeu to win and they did just that when Bobby Lennox flashed a low drive into the net from 12 yards after a sublime pass from, you’ve guessed, Jimmy Johnstone.

Game, set and match to Celtic. The accolades went to a fiery little red head who thrilled fans everywhere he went.

Another soccer great who admired Johnstone’s style was Eusebio, the former Benfica superstar.

“I was privileged to call Jimmy Johnstone my friend,” said the Portuguese legend. “He always played football with a smile on his face. When Celtic reached the European Cup Final in my country in 1967 I supported them against Inter Milan.

“They were a great, attacking force and, of course, they had that special little genius on the right wing. But Jimmy Johnstone was not just a great player in Scotland. He was known throughout the world.”

Rangers’ Willie Henderson, who was Johnstone’s main rival for the outside-right berth in the Scotland team in the Sixties, recalled: “I was on top of my game at the time and I had quite a few caps under my belt before Jimmy actually came on the scene. He was a wee bit later in coming into the Celtic first team.

“I was definitely dislodged from my Scotland position after that. Billy Bremner, I believe, went to one of the Scotland managers and asked if there was a way he could fit both Jimmy and I into his team.

“‘No chance,’ Billy was informed. ‘We can only play with one ball!'”

Bertie Auld recalled the first time he clapped eyes on Johnstone. “This wee lad with the big red curls turned up one day for training,” said Bertie. “I thought he might be a fan. There wasn’t an awful lot of him at the time; a wee, frail figure.

“He would sit in the dressing room and say nothing. He actually looked to be be somewhat embarrassed to be mixing with some of the players. Well, that was until he got out onto the pitch and then we all knew who Jimmy Johnstone was.

“What a talent. He was like a rubberball. Defenders would bowl him over and he would just keep bouncing back to his feet.

“You could see the fear in the eyes of our opponents when they looked at the Wee Man when he started to make a name for himself. They were frightened of what he could do to them.

“That fear was a real compliment to Jimmy. There was no disguising it, either. Those opponents knew they were in for a torrid time.”

Celtic fans probably won’t recognise the title La Puce Volante, but that was another nickname that came Johnstone’s way on his travels. This time it was conjured up by the appreciative French supporters of Nantes back in 1966 in the second round of the historic European Cup run.

Nantes were an excellent team and, among a host of other exciting individuals, boasted the national captain Robert Herbin, who had led France in the World Cup Finals in England the previous summer.

It would be fair to say they thought they would take care of Celtic, who were, after all, playing in the premier European competition for the first time in their history. Johnstone, once again, wasn’t interested in being a bit-part player.

He shredded a frantic defence, set up chance after chance after some dazzling touchline trickery and goals from Joe McBride, Bobby Lennox and Stevie Chalmers eased Celtic to a 3-1 victory which they emulated at Parkhead in the second leg to go through to the quarter-finals.

La Puce Volante – or The Flying Flea – was born that evening and it was a tag that followed Johnstone around Europe.

One title remains above them all – The Greatest-Ever Celtic Player. The inimitable Jimmy Johnstone is worthy of that immense honour. He paid his own tribute to the fans who encouraged him through his 14 remarkable years at Celtic, enjoying his “great job”, as he often described it.

He took the microphone before one game, gave his usual cheery wave to the thousands and uttered 12 little words: “You will always be in my heart. I will never forget you.”

The Celtic support will never forget him, either.




















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