Jinky had been a ball boy at Celtic Park but just couldn’t face Saturdays without playing the game himself so he left to play for the Boys Guild and as a result of this was spotted by Manchester United while playing in an annual boys club match in Manchester, but just as United were preparing to snap him up Celtic stepped in and signed him as a provisional. He was later farmed out to junior side Blantyre Celtic to gain some experience and it wasn’t until the arrival of Jock Stein as manager at Celtic that Jinky became a first team regular.
Stein had just been handed the managers job when he appeared in the dressing room before a reserve match that Jinky was about to take part in and he said to the wee man, “you shouldnae be playin in this reserve team Jimmy, go oot there and show me what you can dae” and Jimmy obliged by going out and scoring a hat-trick. Big Jock was a great motivator and in Jinky’s case he needed to be because he was a very up and down character. For instance, when he played for Scotland he was jeered by sections of the crowd who would have preferred Rangers’ Willie Henderson to be wearing the number seven and because of this Jinky rarely produced his best in a dark blue shirt. He felt more comfortable playing for Celtic where everybody was right behind him. The night Celtic played Red Star Belgrade was another example of Stein’s powers of motivation. Johnstone hated flying and big Jock used this to his advantage when the teams came off the park at half time with the score at 1-1. He told Jinky that if Celtic won by a big enough score he wouldn’t have to fly out for the second leg so he went out and played a stormer scoring twice and setting up another two as the Celts went on to win 5-1. After the match of course, Stein told Johnstone that the Red Star manager wanted the people of Belgrade to see him play in the return match!
Many people would say that the Red Star match was Jinky’s finest but the wee man’s favourite game was the Alfredo di Stefano testimonial in Madrid against the mighty Real. Celtic had just
won the European cup and were invited to play in the match. Johnstone put on a superb show and had the 125,000 Reals fans chanting Ole, Ole, every time he went past a man. He simply tore them to shreds and at one point in the match none of the Real players wanted to go to tackle him for fear of being embarrassed in front of so many people so Jinky just stood with the ball at his feet out on the wing. Celtic won the match 1-0 with Jinky dribbling the ball from just outside his own box to set up Bobby Lennox for the goal and at the final whistle he held the ball aloft in one hand and the crowd roared with delight. Later that evening di Stefano asked if Jinky would pose for a group photograph along with himself, Puskas, Santamaria and Gento, the greats of European football.
Jinky was never far from the news and there was a famous incident at Largs in 1974 when Scotland were preparing for a match against England at Hampden and the players had permission to go out for the evening for a few drinks. On the way back to the hotel Jinky jumped into a rowing boat and one of the other players gave it a push with his foot and it floated off into the darkness with the wee man on board standing up singing Scotland, Scotland. However, it had gone unnoticed that the boat had no rowlocks to take the oars, rendering the oars useless. Jimmy eventually had to be rescued and of course it was headline news the next day. The incident didn’t effect him too much though as he helped Scotland to a 2-0 victory over England a few days later.
From a personal point of view I believe Jimmy to be the greatest Celtic player I have ever had the pleasure to see. I know that is saying something when you consider the brilliance of more recent hero Henrik Larsson but the fact that Jinky was much more than a winger just edges it for me. I saw him play equally well as a striker as well as inside right and on the left wing. He was also able to come back and defend when required and let’s not forget that his skills weren’t acquired through coaching, it was all natural ability enhanced by the twenty-a-side games on the streets and in the playgrounds of Lanarkshire.
My favourite Jinky goal was the 20 yard left foot strike at Ibrox which clinched the title in 1967. For the record, Jinky scored 130 goals in 498 games for Celtic (that’s a goal every 3.8 games) and he won 9 League Championships, 4 Scottish Cups, 5 Scottish League Cups, and 1 European Cup. He played 23 times for Scotland and scored 4 goals. He also won 4 Scottish League caps.
Jinky sadly passed away on Monday 13th March 2006 aged 61 after a four year battle against MND.
A legend indeed. Official site
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