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  • Peter Johnstone: A hero of the green fields

    Peter Johnstone: A hero of the green fields

    By: Joe Sullivan on 16 May, 2014 14:30

  • IT was 97 years ago today, on May 16, 1917 that Celtic player, Peter Johnstone was reported missing, presumed dead on the mud-sodden former green fields of France.

    It was a few months earlier on October 7, 1916 that Peter Johnstone won his last medal as a Celt in his last game for the club, the last of 13 medals in eight years as a first-team player and, like his first, it was a Glasgow Cup win

    However, following this last game, a 3-2 win over Clyde, he didn’t join another club, he didn’t retire from the game – after picking up his medal, the 28-year-old simply re-joined his company in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as Private 285250 and never returned to the Hoops.

    The First World War had claimed another victim. It was a conflict which affected individuals, families, communities and organisations in every country caught up in the war, and Celtic Football Club was no different.

    As the world was plunged into war in 1914, all aspects of life changed and as millions headed off to the Front, the Great War was to have its effect on Celtic and a number of its players.

    As the war progressed the implications for the game were significant. Player salaries were reduced, employment in munitions factories on Saturdays resulted in a sharp fall in attendance, both by spectators and players and the pressure to complete the fixture card was significant.

    Indeed, Celtic was forced to play two matches, against Raith Rovers and Motherwell, on the same day in 1916 in order to comply – ironically, those two games in the one day were the only games missed by Johnstone that entire 1915/16 season.

    Football grounds were viewed as an ideal venue for recruitment drives and during one such event Celtic manager Willie Maley endorsed a mock trench warfare at Celtic Park designed to lure players and spectators alike to the Front.

    Such drives had their successes and the supporters and officials of Hearts and Queen’s Park watched as their first-team players enlisted almost en bloc. Whilst there wasn't a mass exodus from Celtic, a number of players did enlist and sadly, some failed to return.

    Willie Angus, John McLaughlin, Archie McMillan, Leigh Roose, Donnie McLeod, Robert Craig and Peter Johnstone all played on the field of Celtic Park and fought in the Great War and for their lives in the fields of France and Belguim.

    Centre-half and utility man, Peter Johnstone, was the best known Celt to have fallen in the Great War.

    He signed for on January 9, 1908 made his debut in April the following year, the first appearance of 233 for the club. During this period Johnstone scored 19 goals.

    Johnstone, a miner signed from Glencraig Celtic after spells with Buckhaven and then Kelty Rangers, was an idol of the Celtic faithful and was a deserved recipient of such accolade when he lifted his first Scottish Cup medal after the final with Clyde in 1912.

    In the same year he added another gong to his collection when Celtic met and beat Clyde in the Charity Cup final in an amazing tie that Celtic won by seven corners to nil.

    However, his first ever medal for Celtic was in the Glasgow Cup final of October 9, 1909 when a 55,000 crowd at Hampden saw Jimmy Quinn score the only goal of the game against Rangers.

    In all, his medal haul was four championships, two Scottish Cups, three Glasgow Cups and four Charity Cups.

    It’s no wonder that Peter Johnstone, who was born on July 6, 1888, a momentous year in the history of the club, was known as a utility player.

    He arrived as a forward and ended up playing at centre-half among other positions and he even played in goal!

    On May 29, 1911, the Bhoys played a game in Budapest on a continental tour, and despite selecting forward Peter Johnstone in goals, they took the spoils in a 2-0 win thanks to a double from Willie Nichol.

    The following day, local paper, 'Sport Futar', described Celtic's victory as the 'best display ever seen in Buda-Pesth'. Willie Maley's men also drew 1-1 with Ferencvaros on the trip with Andy McAtee on target.

    Johnstone was also part of the infamous side who contested for the 'missing' Ferencvaros Cup in Budapest against Burnley in 1914. 

    The game ended in a draw and it was reluctantly agreed that a return would be played in Burnley. Celtic won and the trophy never materialised but compensation was afforded to Johnstone and his team mates when they secured the Double in 1914.

    Johnstone was eager to transfer from the field of play to the field of War, and was recruited to firstly the 14th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1916 and latterly the 6th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders.

    He initiated this move in order to secure quicker passage to the Front. Whilst eager to do his bit, Johnstone was also always willing to assist the Celts and during his army training he travelled overnight from England to help his team-mates oust Rangers from the Glasgow Cup on September 23, 1916 – he scored in the 3-0 win watched by 60,000 at Celtic Park and his next game, the final against Clyde., proved to be his last

    To the absolute shock of the Celtic faithful Johnstone lost his life at some point between the 12th and 16th of May during the Battle of Arras in 1917. A Celtic Legend, Johnstone's death was a huge loss to Celtic Football Club.

    A dedication to his memory is inscribed on Bay 8 of the Arras Memorial in the Fauborg d'Amiens Cemetery.

    Moves are now well underway in his home Kingdom of Fife by the Peter Johnstone Memorial Committee backed by the Ballingry Celtic Supporters’ Club to have a memorial garden in honour of the former Celt.

    Keep a watch out for further news on the official Celtic website and in the Celtic View.

     

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