Monday, March 13, 2006
I never posted it on this site as I always hoped that I would be long gone before him and would never need to add his sad loss to my happy and at times hilarious recollections.
Today, however that dreaded news came through and so I went up to Celtic park where at 09.00 hours already tied to the railings outside the main entrance was a Rangers shirt, a Scotland scarf, and the beginnings of a multicoloured monument of epic memories!
The queue for the Cup final tickets stood in almost a reverent silence as they slowly filed forward to collect their briefs for the game and as they did so the name Jimmy, Jinky, JJ, or simply the ‘wee man’ would drift in the air to be followed by a burst of laughter.
Even today the magician extraordinaire continued to entertain us.
So Jimmy, I know where you are now; you’ve probably sent St Peter the wrong way and nipped by him leaving him on his backside outside that more ethereal Paradise!
Say hello to Ronnie and Bobby and Big Jock for me!
To everyone else I make no apologies for reposting just what Jimmy meant to me!!
To the man who could thread a needle with his feet
(or how the f*** did he do that)
The nearest I have ever physically come to Jimmy Johnstone was, for every home match, standing in the ‘Jungle’ just to the right of the halfway line, and about twenty terracing steps back from the low grey stone wall which separated us from that fiery headed green and white clad magician. But this was oh so much closer than the opposition ever got to him.
Everyone knows at least by word of mouth about Jimmy’s alleged slightness of stature but abundance of heart. Everyone knows about his extraordinary skills, artfulness, resourcefulness, and reputation. But what no one has really said is that Jinky would have made a world class fisherman.
Like an expert angler, Jimmy would regularly bait, hook, reel, land, and then throw us back in to be teased again, almost as much as he ever did to the opposition. But we loved it because he was doing it for us, because he was one of us, and he represented us on those hallowed sods of Celtic Park.
“Gie it tae Jimmy” the Jungle would call and with a thousand moves orchestrated as one, the man of a million moments of blinding extravagance and brilliance would instantaneously have the ball under control, spun to face the oppositions goal, and be jinking across the half-way line, going left then right, then back, then forwards, leaving a trail of exhausted opponents, their tongues covered in grass burns as the vainly tried to work out why Newton’s natural laws of motion did not seem to apply to the wee man.
As he instantly hypnotised both the opposing fullback, and us, and transmitted by ESP the message that he was going down the outside, the defenders muscles made that imperceptible, involuntary and sadly (for him) irreversible commitment to covering the route that Jinky had somehow convinced him he was going.
Imperceptible to most of us that is, but like the thrashing of a distressed fish to a shark, the wee man picked up both the heat of fear and the consequential disturbance in the air pattern. In an instant, he had whipped the ball eight inches in the air, pulled it with his right instep inside and over the vain and forlorn swish of the opponent’s right-foot which had continued on its own trajectory. This resulted in three things happening with uncanny regularity.
Firstly Jimmy immediately and seamlessly, transferred the responsibility for the continued advance and control of the ball to his left peg, and defied the laws of body mechanics to go inside and home in on the goal at the Celtic End of Paradise.
Secondly, the defender seemed to be heading off to buy a pint of milk and three pounds of potatoes.
And thirdly, everyone in the ground pished themselves laughing at him!
The centre-half seeing the thrust of the red-haired whiz-bang, made to push forward from the safety of the defensive numbers to cut-off JJ’s path (or more usually to cut off his legs usually somewhere up around Jimmy’s neck). The full back, recovering as quickly as was possible when your legs were as dignified as a couple of twisted pipe-cleaners, but desperate to rid himself of the memory of urine soaked ridicule, rushed to support his advancing comrade in arms by forming that impenetrable pincer of muscle, tackity boots, liniment, brute force and destructive football ignorance!
In they both came; one from forward slightly left, and one from backwards to the right. Nostrils flaring, eyes popping, veins, throbbing, evil was in their mind and harm was their intent.
Shoulders dipping, waist and hips shimmying, eyes on the ball and its two yard circumference, Jimmy took the move to that point where no-one could draw out and everyone could see what was going to happen.
We all had a premonition of the pain that Jinky was going to feel!
In instinctive harmony we closed our eyes and drew a sharp breath as the three torsos, six arms, six legs, and one ball, fuelled by the unsophisticated assault and battery of the not-so-beautiful game’s answer to the nuclear threat – 1960’s Scottish defenders – were subjected to the cataclysmic amalgam of ‘immovable objects’ and ‘unstoppable forces’.
Except, when we opened our eyes, there was Jimmy, still with the ball.
Somehow he had not only whipped it back with the outside of his left foot in the opposite direction – in defiance of his muscles and bone structure and dragged it away from his potential assailants, but he had also managed to manoeuvre himself down the outside right channel where we had all thought he was originally going,….. then decided he wasn’t and ………then finally decided he was after all. (In fact we only really knew where he was going once he got there, although even then I was never completely sure that he was where he appeared to be.)
‘Now’, with absolutely no apologies to Paul Daniels, ‘ that is magic’.
And there he was now on the bye-line, all on his own. He was ready to chip it, drive it, float it, or possibly come up with a new variation of a cross for Stevie Chalmers, or Bertie Auld, or Wullie Wallace or Joe McBride. As the other members of the unstoppable green machine flooded the box to finish the move, Jinky caught them all out too by changing his mind and going back, finding another couple of overconfident gullible victims and take them through another of the infinite variations on the ‘you’ll-end-up-sitting-on-your-arse’ routines..
I can still see the cast of famous but failed assailants pushing and shoving each other, trying to get to their feet, almost arguing over whose leg was whose as they unravelled the spaghetti of the aftermath of their unsuccessful mugging.
But funniest of all was there embarrassed search around the grass for the dignity that they seemed to lose so suddenly, predictably, and justifiably.
Jinky was if nothing else, scrupulously fair in his treatment of defenders. They all copped it in equally contemptuous measures!!
In an ever resounding echo of the Celtic Song (They come from Bonnie Scotland, they come from County Cork ….) they came from Madrid, from Prague, from St Etienne, from Nantes, from Buenos Aires, from England, and on a humiliatingly regular basis, from the Govan area of this dear green place. And the great thing is that while most left eventually with a smile on their faces, most certainly ALL left with a memory of a footballer extraordinaire!
And as for that ‘lost dignity’, well feeling magnanimous as he usually did after games Jimmy would probably return it to them in the dressing room, or more likely in whatever bar they ended up in that night.
For one other thing about Jimmy was that he lived his life the way he played his football, and let’s be honest, would we have wanted it any other way.
James Connolly Johnstone……….Thank you
Requiescat in pace Jinky, for one day we will meet again!