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  • Jinky - the Greatest Ever Celt

    Jinky - the Greatest Ever Celt

    By: Joe Sullivan on 13 Mar, 2018 12:31

  • IT was 12 years ago today, on March 13, 2006, that the Celtic Family lost Jimmy Johnstone.

    The man voted the Greatest Ever Celt by supporters had shown incredible courage and bravery in his fight against Motor Neurone Disease, and his passing was mourned by football supporters throughout the world.

    Six days after Jinky's death, Celtic played Dunfermline Athletic in the final of the League Cup at Hampden. The game was dubbed 'The Jimmy Johnstone Final', and the Celtic squad all wore the No.7 on their shorts in tribute to the footballing genius.

    And on this day, as we remember the Greatest Ever Celt, and one of the legendary Lisbon Lions who brought back the Big Cup to Paradise, we've put together a list of some of Jimmy Johnstone’s finest games in the Hoops - a difficult task.

    There are certain games which must be in the list – the European Cup final, the Di Stefano Testimonial, the Red Star Belgrade game – but trying to choose only 10 from a career than spanned over 500 appearances for the Hoops is tougher.

    Every Celtic supporter who was lucky enough to see Jinky play will have their own memories of favourite moments and favourite games, and if they’re not included here we can only apologise. That’s why we’ve called it ‘Ten of the Best’ rather than proclaiming it the best 10 games he played.

    Celtic v Manchester United
    Celtic Park
    August 6, 1966

    The 1966/67 season was special for a number of reasons. Jock Stein’s side swept the board, winning every trophy they entered, including the European Cup, to become the first British club to do so. They were also to finish the season with a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, which made a nice bookend to how the season started – with a 4-1 victory over Manchester United. While it was only a friendly match, it proved to be a portent of the good things to come, with Jock Stein’s side beating a United team that contained the likes of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, ex-Celt Pat Crerand and the late, great George Best. Whether Best remembered the game or not is not known, though Celtic supporters fondly recalled when Jimmy Johnstone nutmegged him. Celtic’s goals that day came from Bobby Murdoch, Bobby Lennox, Joe McBride and a Bill Foulkes own goal, while David Sadler scored the consolation strike for the English side. Manchester United continued to play catch-up to Celtic when they won the European Cup in 1968, a year after Lisbon. And the world of football was also in mourning following the death of George Best, like Jinky, a wonderfully talented individual who had been revered at Old Trafford the way in which Johnstone was at Celtic Park.

    Celtic 2-2 Rangers
    May 6, 1967

    A game played in heavy conditions thanks to the torrential rain that fell all afternoon saw Celtic secure the point they needed to retain the title. It was the second-last league game of the season and Rangers, as the closest challengers, needed the victory to have any chance of snatching the championship from the Hoops. And on 40 minutes, Sandy Jardine gave Rangers the lead but that lasted all of 60 seconds before Jimmy Johnstone bundled the ball over the line to equalise. And it was Jinky who gave Jock Stein’s side the lead on 74 minutes, cutting inside from the right wing, dancing past a number of challenges before unleashing a powerful left-foot shot into the top corner of the Rangers net. Roger Hynd equalised for the home side with 10 minutes remaining, but the final whistle signalled Celtic’s title triumph. In the crowd that day was the famous Helenio Hererra, the manager of Inter Milan, who were to face Celtic later that month in the final of the European Cup.

    Celtic 2-1 Inter Milan
    Estadio Nacional, Lisbon
    May 25, 1967

    The greatest game in the history of Celtic Football Club was also a triumph for football. Jock Stein’s side, playing an attacking and exciting brand of football, defeated the defensively-minded Italians, and while the score was only 2-1 in Celtic’s favour, the reality was a crushing victory for the Hoops, who dominated the match almost from first whistle until last. And Jimmy Johnstone was at the centre of much of Celtic’s attacking play. In a game when every player in the green and white Hoops played to the very best of their ability, Jinky could not be contained by the Italians who struggled throughout to get to grips with his trickery and invention. Despite conceding a penalty inside the first 10 minutes, Celtic stuck to their game-plan and played Inter off the park, with Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers scoring the goals that won the European Cup. One man who apparently was impressed by the Lisbon Lions, and Jinky in particular, was the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano, who pleaded with Stein to being his European champions to Madrid for his testimonial game. It was to prove one of Jinky’s finest hours.

    Celtic 1-0 Real Madrid
    Bernabeu Stadium
    June 7, 1967

    When 120,000 fanatical Real Madrid supporters chant ‘Ole!’ every time an opposition player touches the ball, then it’s quite obvious that something special is going on. So it was on the night of June 7, 1967, when the newly-crowned champions of Europe faced the giants of Real Madrid in a testimonial match for Alfredo Di Stefano, the legendary forward who had contributed so much so Real’s five successive European Cup triumphs between 1956-60. But while the occasion was arranged to honour Di Stefano, the night belonged to Jimmy Johnstone. He was in imperious form, leaving the Real defence bedraggled to the point that the Spanish defenders were standing off him, reluctant to challenge him and risk further humiliation. The Madrid fans responded to the trickery of Jinky and acclaimed him as only true football fans could. Indeed, that game is still talked about in the Spanish capital. Celtic won the game 1-0, Bobby Lennox netting the only goal of the game. Bertie Auld, who was sent off after just 10 minutes of the game, later said it enabled him to sit and watch his friend and team-mate in full flow.

    Celtic 4-0 St Etienne
    Celtic Park
    October 2, 1968

    Celtic faced the French champions St Etienne in the first-round, second-leg European Cup tie at Celtic Park, having lost the first game in France 2-0. And despite the Hoops’ European experience and pedigree, it was still going to be a tough task to overturn that deficit. In the event, Jock Stein’s side swept to victory, led by the mercurial Johnstone, who tormented the French side and helped drive Celtic on to victory. It did take the home side almost 45 minutes to open the scoring, with Tommy Gemmell converting from the penalty spot after Joe McBride had been brought down, but after the break they fired home another three goals to win the tie 4-2 on aggregate. Jim Craig popped up with a rare goal to level the tie on 59 minutes and then, eight minutes later, Stevie Chalmers put Celtic ahead following a wonderfully mesmerising run from Jinky that left the St Etienne defence bamboozled. Joe McBride finished the scoring with three minutes to go and Celtic were through to the next round, thanks in no small part to their tricky No.7.

    Celtic 5-1 Red Star Belgrade
    Celtic Park
    November 13, 1968

    The European Cup second-round, first-leg tie against Red Star Belgrade is certainly one of the most famous and well known of Jinky’s great games, because he single-handedly destroyed the Yugoslav side in a second-half performance of such virtuosity the visitors didn’t know what had hit them. The game had been tied at 1-1 when the teams went into the dressing rooms at half-time, with Bobby Murdoch’s third-minute opener cancelled out six minutes before the break. When the referee blew the whistle for full-time, the Hoops had won the match 5-1 and were virtually assured of a place in the third-round of the competition. What Red Star Belgrade didn’t know, however, was that at half-time Jock Stein promised Jinky, who was terrified of flying, that if Celtic won by four goals or more, he wouldn’t have to travel to Belgrade for the return leg. It was all the incentive the little Celt needed, and he tore the Yugoslav side apart after the break, scoring two goals himself, while Bobby Lennox and Willie Wallace made it a comfortable victory for the Hoops.

    Celtic 7-2 Dundee United
    Celtic Park
    December 17, 1969

    A game that Jinky himself acknowledged as one of his finest in the Hoops, yet like so many of his great games, he didn’t get on the scoresheet himself. His performance, as ever, while full of individual flair, was all focused on the team winning, and it was his team-mates who enjoyed the benefits of his brilliance in netting Celtic’s seven goals. Hitting the net that day were Bertie Auld, Harry Hood, John Hughes, Bobby Murdoch and Willie Wallace, who scored twice. Yet, the 26,000 who were at Celtic Park on that cold December day all left with the name of Jimmy Johnstone on their lips, once again thankful that he was a Celt. And further tribute of how good Jinky played that day was the fact that, as the teams were going off the park, Davy Wilson, the ex-Rangers defender who was at United, walked the length of the park just so that he could lift Jinky up and carry him off the park to the acclaim of the support. Praise indeed from a fellow professional.

    Leeds United 0-1 Celtic
    Elland Road
    April 1, 1970

    It took Celtic just 45 seconds to take the lead against Leeds United in the European Cup semi-final that had been billed as the ‘Battle of Britain’. And it didn’t take much longer than that for the Leeds support, the assembled English media and the Leeds players to realise that not only were they in for a tough contest, but that Jimmy Johnstone was going to be their worst nightmare. In particular he tormented Terry Cooper that night, though the rest of the Leeds back four weren’t spared either. They resorted to type, trying to physically intimidate Jinky out of the game but they discovered, as others before and after had, that he was a fearless player who would not be put off. In the return leg, he was in equally inspired form as Jock Stein’s side won 2-1 thanks to goals from John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch after Billy Bremner had temporarily silenced the record European crowd of 136,505. It secured a second European Cup final appearance for Celtic, though this one wasn’t to finish quite so happily.

    Celtic 0-0 Atletico Madrid
    Celtic Park
    April 10, 1974

    This game was not a triumph for Celtic, nor was it a good advert for the beautiful game, yet it remains a great example of the courage and bravery of Jimmy Johnstone. A team of hired assassins masquerading as a football team turned up at Celtic Park and proceeded to kick, scratch and spit their way to a goal-less draw in the first leg of this European Cup semi-final tie. Three Atletico Madrid players were sent off, a further seven were booked, and a mass brawl kicked off on the touchline after the game. Having identified Jinky as the danger man for Celtic, the Spanish side singled him out for special treatment, and conducted several serious assaults that should probably have merited intervention by the local constabulary. In advance of the return leg in Madrid, there were reported death threats against both Jinky and Jock Stein, and it was in this intimidating atmosphere that Celtic lost 2-0 to go out. Thankfully, Atletico lost in the final against Bayern Munich, though UEFA should have thrown them out of the tournament after their disgraceful behaviour at Celtic Park.

    Celtic 6-3 Hibernian
    October 26, 1974

    If Celtic Park was Jimmy Johnstone’s spiritual home, then Hampden had proved to be the equivalent of a holiday home where he often went with his friends to enjoy himself. And in what was to prove to be his final season at Celtic, Jinky once again graced the turf at Hampden in a cup final, helping the Hoops lift another trophy. He started the scoring himself after just six minutes, netting to put Celtic 1-0 up against Hibernian in what was a classic ‘Battle of the Greens’, with both sides wearing their home colours of green and white. Joe Harper scored a hat-trick for the Edinburgh greens that day, but Dixie Deans matched that feat for the Celts, while Paul Wilson and Stevie Murray also got in on the scoring act to give the Hoops a 6-3 victory. Jinky had been in tremendous form that day, another reminder to an adoring support of a special, special talent, playing football, as ever, ‘the Glasgow Celtic way.’


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