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The Independent
The Independent
Big-screen treatment for Celtic's greatest hero
Calum Philip
24 April 2004
 
Calum Philip previews a special film paying tribute to the legendary winger Jimmy Johnstone
 
It will be a film premiere with a difference. No luvvies, just love. In an era when Footballer's Wives seems to sum up the vacuous flip side to the modern-day glamour, one footballer's life will be up there on the silver screen tomorrow night in Glasgow.
 
The adulation for Jimmy Johnstone will be as heartfelt as it was three decades ago when he left Celtic. Fans will pack the SECC Clyde Auditorium to watch a film dedicated to one of the most magical football artists Scottish football has known.

There will also be a rare glimpse of the star himself. Johnstone's feet are not as nimble as in his heyday, but Motor Neurone Diseas does that to a man. Johnstone, now 59, was uncomfotable about attending the film, Lord of the Wing, because of his current, unsteady appearance, but the death last week of his team-mate in Celtic's European Cup winning side of 1967,

Ronnie Simpson, has altered those thoughts. On Tuesday, the team dubbed the Lisbon Lions - after that historic defeat of Internazionale brought the trophy back to Britain for the first time - will gather for the funeral of Simpson, their goalkeeper in Edinburgh.

Johnstone's film by documentary-maker Jamie Doran, records not oly a glittering career with Celtic but also the illness which has consumed his last two years. Such is the kinship that Johnstone inspires, that Simple Minds provided a soundtrack for their hero, with vocals coming from Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.

But then Johnstone was always capable of winning people over. His persuasive tongue lured Denis Law into a midnight rowing boat fiasco on the Atlantic - helped by several beers, naturally - just two days before Scotland's match with England in 1974, in which the coastguard had to be called in to rescue the pair.

Johnstone is already recognised as the greatest Celtic player of all-time but it is now borrowed time. "Jimmy knows MND is terminal and that he maybe only has a couple of years," said Jim Graig, his colleague in the class of '67. "He can't use his arms or hands and walking is difficult some days."

The Lisbon Lions have retained an admirable Old Bhoy network. It culminated in a testimonial game last season against Feyenoord when they paraded the European Cup around Celtic Park. "With the exception of Willie Wallace, who is in Australia, we all live so close." Craig who as right-back in the Lisbon Lions had what he calls "the best seat in the house" for Johnstone's artistry, insists his tiny friend - who was voted third in the European Footballer of Year awards in 1967 - would be a world star today.

"Money could not buy Jimmy's talent," said Craig. "He destroyed Terry Cooper, who was England's left-back at the time, when we met Leeds United in the semi-final of the European Cup in 1970. A few years later, we went to Elland Road for a testimonial for Jack Charlton and Jimmy turned it on again. My father-in-law, James Farrell [a former Celtic director], got a tap on his shoulder during the game.

"It was Michael Parkinson, who asked 'do you see this every weekend? 'Of course' was the reply. 'God, you are so lucky,' said Parky."

Another glimpse of Johnstone's gift came in the European Cup in 1969 when they were drawn against Red Star Belgrade. The winger had a fear of flying, so Celtic's manager, Jock Stein, cut a deal with Jinky and said he would be spared the long trip to Yugoslavia for the second leg if Celtic won by four goals. They duly won 5 - 1 and Johnstone, who made two and scored two, ran off the pitch in tears.

Johnstone's small stature made him a target for un-scrupulous defenders. "He was brave but he needed to be, because he was always chopped down," said Craig, who smiled at the momory of Johnstone humbling people in retailiation.

"The week after we won the European Cup, we went to the Bernebeu to play Real Madrid in a testimonial for Alfredo Di Stefano. Their left-back cut Jimmy in half early on, but the wee man just went back and everything possible that night with the ball - he roasted him and we won 1-0. I am so glad that this film has given us all a chance to relive that. Jimmy brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people and that is one of the most precious thing in life."
 
Source: The Independent
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