IT IS hard to believe that it is all of 14 years since the passing of Celtic and Scotland winger Jimmy Johnstone.

Jinky, as he was widely known, died in March 2006, aged 61. He was one of the Lisbon Lions who won the European Cup in 1967; he was a key member of the Celtic team that won nine Scottish championships in a row, between 1966 and 1974. In 2002 he was voted the club’s greatest-ever player by supporters.

He was capped 23 times by Scotland, and scored 129 goals in 515 appearances for Celtic (he is pictured scoring against Airdrie in 1964, and celebrating a goal against Rangers in 1973). A statue of him was unveiled outside Celtic Park in 2008.

Johnstone was given a free transfer by Celtic in June 1975; a few years ago, his daughters said in an interview that he had been left heartbroken by the club’s decision.

At the time, our sister paper, the Evening Times, reported that Jinky was pondering his future. He was planning to take his family on a working holiday to Texas, where he would turn out for the San Antonio Thunder (“everything will be big there except me”, he quipped), but the paper reported that top English and Scottish clubs would be forming a queue when he returned to Scotland in September, and that one top outfit in Hong Kong was prepared to offer him £12,000, tax-free, and a weekly wage of £150 for a two-year contract.

“Johnstone, 14 years at Parkhead and undisputed No. 1 pin-up once he established himself in the first team, has made a name for himself worldwide, which is why he will almost certainly get an offer to play abroad”.

A week later, however, Johnstone signed a one-year contract with California’s San Jose Earthquakes. Later, he played for Sheffield United, Dundee, Shelbourne, and Elgin City before retiring.

Johnstone was without doubt one of the most talented –to say nothing of the most colourful – players ever to emerge from the Scottish game. Anecdotes clustered around him wherever he went.

“Solemnity was always handed its coat early in Jimmy Johnstone’s company”, began one obituary, by the great Hugh McIlvanney. “...Jinky was a one-man archive of outrageous escapades and incredible-but-true anecdotes, most of them woven around the mixture of breathtakingly mischievous audacity and incorrigible naivete which, on his drinking expeditions, made trouble and himself mutually magnetic”.

Celtic player Bobby Lennox pays affectionate tribute to his close friend in his autobiography, My Story. “Jimmy and I roomed everywhere we went with the team from the mid-1960s onwards”, he writes, “and the two of us would always be at the back of the bus starting the sing-songs. We were always together”.

Read more: Herald Diary