In 2002, Jimmy Johnstone was voted the best-ever Celtic player by the club’s fans, who adored him as much for his entertaining style as for the team’s success during their greatest era. His skill with the ball at his feet and ability to dribble past any defender ensured the nickname ‘Jinky’ would live on through the generations.
Jimmy developed his trademark skills early. At home in Viewpark, Lanarkshire, he practised the skills that would make him famous by dribbling a ball around milk bottles in his hallway. After reading that Stanley Matthews used to walk to matches wearing heavy boots to strengthen his leg muscles, he also began wearing pit boots to sprint and play, claiming it “probably added about three yards on to my pace”.
At the age of nine and 10, he helped his school team win three trophies between 1953 and 1954 and with scouts north and south of the border watching him closely, he signed for Celtic in 1961.
Jinky made his first appearance for the Hoops on 27 March 1963 but it wasn’t his most successful outing – a 6-0 defeat to Kilmarnock. The following season, however, he helped Celtic reach the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
His first major victory was in 1965, when he played in Celtic’s 2-1 defeat over Rangers in the Scottish League Cup Final. His 32 league appearances and nine goals over the course of the season helped the team win their first league title in more than 12 years.
The winger’s greatest accomplishment came as one of the Lisbon Lions that became the first British club to win the European Cup in 1967. Jinky came home from the final in Portugal with a new nickname, the French press having dubbed him the ‘Flying Flea’.
He remained with Celtic until 1975, helping them to further victories in nine Scottish Championships, five League Cups and four Scottish Cups. Short spells at San Jose Earthquakes, Sheffield United, Dundee, Shelbourne and Elgin City followed. He also won 23 caps for Scotland between 1964 and 1974.
He died in 2006 aged 61 after battling motor neurone disease for many years. Two years later, a statue was unveiled in his honour outside Celtic Park.
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