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WEE JINKY AND ME: TOMMY GEMMELL’S EXCLUSIVE MEMORIES

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TOMMY GEMMELL and Jimmy Johnstone are Celtic legends.

Their exploits on the field have been well monitored over the years as they played massive roles in making the Hoops the best team in Europe.

However, they also had a spell together at Dundee when the Lisbon Lions reunited in the seventies.

CQN is publishing EXCLUSIVE extracts from Tommy Gemmell’s book, ‘All The Best’, co-authored by Alex Gordon, over the next few days as a tribute to a couple of Celtic greats who are sadly no longer with us. Their memory will live on forever, though.

Here is the first instalment of an enjoyable trip back in time in Tommy’s own words.

JINKY and Gordy may sound like a comedy double-act. But when those two got together it was no laughing matter. Certainly, I didn’t see the funny side. Morecombe and Wise they weren’t. Okay, maybe I can afford to smile now, but that wasn’t the case back in 1977.

I thought I had pulled off the signing coup of the century when I tempted my old Lisbon Lion team-mate Jimmy Johnstone to Dundee during my first few weeks as boss of the Dens Park club. He had left Celtic two years earlier in 1975 on a free transfer, first to San Jose Earthquakes and then onto Sheffield United. After his stint in England Jinky was up for grabs again.

He was only thirty-two-years-old at the time and I had every faith there was still mileage in those little legs of his. I believed he could do a real turn for Dundee and help me settle into management at the same time.

I contacted my wee pal and the whole town was buzzing when the news leaked that there was the possibility of the great Jimmy Johnstone signing for Dundee. Ten years earlier he had been my Celtic colleague when we beat Inter Milan to win the European Cup on a glorious day in Lisbon. I had brought in Willie Wallace as my assistant and now there was the chance of three of that historic outfit teaming up on Tayside. Could the magic rub off once more? It seemed beyond the most outrageous hopes and dreams of the Dundee support. One telephone call put the wheels in motion.

CZECH MATES…Jimmy Johnstone and Tommy Gemmell celebrate the goalless draw against Dukla Pargue that earned them a place in the European Cup Final.

Jinky agreed to have a chat and I promised him I would put together a contract that would suit him and the club. I can tell you that if Jinky had stuck to the deal and all had gone well, he would have earned more than me at Dundee. I was on £10,000-per-year and, to help with the comparisons of the time, Ally MacLeod was the Scotland manager on £15,000-per-year.

If Jinky kept himself fit and played in all our games he would have walked away with fifty per cent more in his pay poke than yours truly and the same as the country’s international team boss. I was perfectly happy with that situation. But, of course, I knew Jinky better than most, possibly better than the Wee Man himself. Basically, he had to be making appearances and performing for the two-year deal to be worth everyone’s while.

I had arranged a reasonable basic wage with an excellent signing-on fee spread over the length of the contract. There would be bonuses for points and our position in the league. There were all sorts of other add-ons that would have made Jinky one of the best-paid players in Scotland although we were a First Division side at the time. In all honesty, if I had still been playing, I would have snapped up a deal like that and made sure I spent the next twenty-four months earning every penny. Jinky, though, saw the world from a different angle from most people.

I was delighted when he said he would sign for us. I then laid it on the line that he would have to work hard to get his financial rewards. He assured me he would and I believed him. He may have been a bit wayward, a happy-go-lucky character, if you like, but there was another side to Jinky that a lot of people never saw. He was a very sincere, well-meaning person. The reason he couldn’t retire at thirty when he left Celtic was because he hadn’t put together a pot of gold. He wasn’t financially secure.

Jinky earned good money at the club, but he wasn’t the type of individual to save for a rainy day. Believe me, that is the case with most footballers. I realise it is totally illogical, even to the ones who don’t have all their brains in their feet, that a day will dawn when the ability you possessed for such an important part of your life has ebbed away. The power in your body has simply dissipated.

And one former Scotland international of my acquaintance, who was a genuine tough guy, told me he knew it was time to retire from the playing side when his heart went. He no longer relished thundering tackles and realised he was being bowled over by fitter and younger opponents. It’s something you have to accept.

However, I looked at Jinky on his first day of training with us and I was impressed. He had been on a family holiday and looked tanned, fit and ready to go. There was a problem, though, and I hope my wee pal will forgive me for this observation because there normally was with him.

He fretted over all the travelling entailed as he wanted to continue living in Uddingston, in Lanarkshire, with his wife Agnes and the family. I had the solution to that particular obstacle. I had bought the Commercial Hotel in Errol for £34,000 as my financial safety net. It was a six-bedroomed nineteenth century building and I knew it was a good going business concern. I told Jinky he could come and live there free. He could stay during the week and, after the game on Saturday, take off immediately for home to spend the remainder of the weekend. That seemed to do the trick, the final piece in the jigsaw.

The Dundee directors were ecstatic. Jimmy Johnstone joining Dundee was making news on the front and back pages of the press. Our First Division outfit was suddenly vying with Celtic and Rangers for coverage in the national newspapers. The signing caught everyone’s imagination. Mine, too. I still had visions of the Wee Man dismantling defences with those mazy runs, cutting a swathe on his way to goal, leaving defenders spinning in his wake.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a dreamer. I knew Jinky could never replicate that sort of heyday stuff with Dundee. What I did believe, though, was that he still had the ability with one electric burst every now and again to unlock the back door of our opponents and give the rest of his team-mates the opportunity to capitalise on a moment of sheer brilliance.

One back door he wouldn’t be unlocking, though, was the one to the Commercial Hotel in Errol. Or the front door, either. I had deliberately not given him a set of keys to the hotel. I wanted to know what time he was getting home and he would have to knock on the door or ring the bell to get access.

If he mingled in the bar with some of the punters he was bright enough not to do anything silly right under the nose of his boss. It was impossible to keep a twenty-four hour watch on the Wee Man and that became a problem.

When he arrived for pre-season training he looked in good shape, as I have said, but his fitness wasn’t at a level that satisfied me. The Dundee support, quite rightly, were excited at seeing one of the most exciting footballers ever produced by this country playing for their club. However, there was little point in him going out, showing a sporadic flash of splendour, and then spending the next hour or so absolutely knackered.

Being fit and being matchfit are two entirely different things. So, I got Willie Wallace on the case. I told him to work Jinky hard in training. And I also knew the Wee Man would respond. Despite his excesses away from football, Jinky was a great trainer. Jock Stein would never have let him near his first team if he wasn’t convinced he could give everything for the entire game. I had the same attitude. Skill is nothing without fitness.

Jinky, I’m glad to say, buckled down. It was great to see he was taking everything so seriously. Listen, we all knew Jinky was devastated when Big Jock told him he had no future at Celtic. Parkhead was his spiritual home, Celtic was his team, the club had become his life. He loved it there. He thrived on those supporters singing ‘Jimmy Johnstone on the wing’ on matchdays. But, fair play to him, he picked up the pieces when he went to the States and then Sheffield United. To me, that showed a gritty determination to carry on playing. I must say I wasn’t surprised.

Apart from the financial situation, I realised only too well there was an inner core of steel within that small and sturdy frame. But, alas, he possessed the concentration span of a gnat. The Wee Man could get bored too easily. He could put in a fabulous morning at training, impress everyone, and leave with a big smile on his face.

‘See you later, boss,’ he would laugh. Normally, I was at the office until around five o’clock, so Jinky was out of my vision for four hours or so. I couldn’t exactly put an electronic tag on him, but it would have come in handy to monitor what he was getting up to.

I was heartened when he took to going long walks in the countryside or doing a bit of fishing on the Tay. I had introduced him to the use of the rod while we were at Celtic. We would take off for some quiet location in Perthshire or some such place just to sit by the banks and idle away a couple of hours or so. It was great for relaxation and, if you were extremely lucky, you might even catch a fish.

Had Jinky turned over a new leaf? I hoped so, but I was still wary. The Wee Man was full of great intentions, but he had to be watched. He was a massive celebrity on Tayside and everyone wanted to mingle with him and to spend some time in his company to be regaled by some of his marvellous exploits on and off the field. He was a magnetic personality and that’s what brought about his downfall in Dundee.

Jinky always found it difficult to say no. I realised that was a problem with George Best, too. Bestie would agree to give so much of his free time to spend on engagements or just meeting people and, like Jinky, rarely got a moment’s peace. Could you have ever imagined either Jinky or Bestie sitting peacefully in an armchair, no distractions, feet up and absorbed in a good book? Me, neither.

It didn’t take long for Jinky to start heading for the pub with some team-mates and some newly-acquired hangers-on after training. He would never have believed he was actually being a bad influence, but a lot of the younger players were in awe of him and were hanging on his every word.

It wasn’t the Wee Man’s fault, but it was becoming the worst case scenario. I noticed he was settling into a routine and he was coming back to the hotel later and later.
I took him aside on a daily basis. ‘Look, Jinky, screw the heid, will you?’ I implored. ‘We’ve got loads of dosh I want to give you, but you’ve got to earn it. Forget the bevvy and get on with taking care of business. Go crazy at the weekend with your pals in Uddingston, but watch what you’re doing up here.’

Rearrange the following into a well-known phrase or saying: Ears Words On Falling Deaf.

Jinky wouldn’t have realised it, but he was pushing me to the absolute limit. I found the managerial side of football pretty exhausting. There were so many things to be taken care of and I was beginning to realise why most managers I met during my playing days were grumpy old bastards.

You had to deal with the press, local and national. You had to take their phone calls and there was nothing like the weekly press calls these days where you could meet the newspaper, radio and TV guys all on the one afternoon and that was you pretty much left in peace for the next few days.

Of course, you had to keep tabs on players who may became of interest and it was always handy to know what was going on in the opposition’s camp before you faced them. There was training to arrange, team formations to be looked at, keeping updated on injuries and so on. There could be tiring journeys to watch games to check out teams and current form of their players.

I didn’t quite get round to counting the paper clips, but that’s exactly what it felt like. In the midst of all this, my wee pal was giving me grief.

TOMORROW: Jinky and a day out with Gordon Strachan.

 
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