FOR Scottish football and Scottish society, the deal that took Maurice Johnston to Rangers was seismic. It was a move that caused shockwaves off the park, but the significance on it cannot be underestimated, either.

The signing of Johnston was naturally front page news given the personal, political and religious aspects. In a sporting sense, the boost it gave Rangers was felt in equal force, albeit in contrasting terms, at Celtic and it was as positive at Ibrox as it was negative at Parkhead.

Graeme Souness changed the landscape at Rangers with the capture of Johnston and was fully aware of the historical significance of signing a high-profile Catholic at that time. Yet the first objective was to make Rangers stronger, more dominant, and Johnston’s arrival did just that as he rejected a return to Parkhead and joined the Gers.

“You always look at who is signing for who and Celtic, at that time, were our nearest rivals,” Rangers legend Ian Durrant said. “So you look and see what signings they are making and it was in the paper that wee Mo was joining them so you think ‘that is a great bit of business’.


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“Then, two weeks later, you see him on the training ground at Il Ciocco. So it was a strange fortnight!

“But when the best players come up for sale, you always want to get them and Graeme did that. He had agreed a deal in principle with Celtic but Graeme met him and sold Rangers to him.

“When you are signing players like Mo, that is your marquee deal, and it was Rangers that got him. I am sure Celtic would have been gutted to lose a player of the calibre of him.”

As Rangers prepared for the new season in the summer of 1989, nobody could have imagined that Johnston would join them at their training base in Italy. Even now, the move is the most remarkable ever completed in Scottish football.

The passing of time hasn’t diminished the wow factor, nor dimmed Durrant’s memory of Johnston’s arrival. A deal that was hugely controversial socially was, purely in terms of the game, a no-brainer for Souness.

“We were sitting in Il Ciocco and then the helicopter came in and wee Mo, Bill (McMurdo) and the gaffer came out and he had signed,” Durrant said. “Graeme went down a route which helped Rangers and it was a great signing for the club.

“Graeme always said he would sign the best players available and, at that time, wee Mo was probably one of the best strikers in Europe.


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“It is amazing to think now it is 30 years since they came off that helicopter and we saw wee Mo. That was the calibre of players that Rangers were signing at that time and I am sure the present manager would love to get out of a helicopter with a star striker in his pocket.

“Mo was bold as brash and daft as a brush but, on top of that, he was a very talented footballer. The integration was easy for him because of the calibre of player he was.

“He got a bit of a ribbing for a few weeks but he handled it well and his performances on the park did his talking for him. There was talk of him going to Celtic and then a few months into his Rangers career he scores the winner in the Old Firm game. Some people might have said that softened the blow but football wise it was a no-brainer for Rangers.”

While Celtic tried to recover from the setback, and embarrassment, of missing out on Johnston, the striker was trying to prove why Souness felt he was worth all the headlines and the hassle.

His winner in the Old Firm match in November did just that and the majority of doubters and critics within his own support would soon be won over by Mo Jo.

Durrant said: “The goal was a relief for wee Mo. When you have played for a team and you are on the verge of signing for them, there is pressure on you.


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“The players knew how good he was, but there is no getting away from it that there was stuff said about him from some of the fans. It was about he handled it, and he handled it so well.

“You couldn’t let that affect you or let it filter into the squad. If you had, the gaffer wouldn’t have played you. He came in and played for Rangers and when you put that jersey on and go out on the park, your main aim is for Rangers to win.

“That season, wee Mo more than helped us win the league with the goals he scored. He was paid to play football, we all were, and that is what we done.”