I've decided to take a look at the greatest Celtic players in the Hoops' 120 year history. In the first installment of the series "Celtic Greats" we'll take a look at the man who was dubbed "Greatest Celt Ever": Jimmy "Jinky" Johnstone.
Jinky was born on September 30, 1944 in Bothwell, Scotland. He had a tough childhood, as most of the people back then did, and as a young child he and his friends found their joys in soccer. (or football as they would call it) In his childhood he would continuously play the sport, usually using makeshift posts out of coats and makeshift balls out of cans, or whatever else Jinky and his friends could find. Jinky's love for the game grew strong at a young age.
His competitive career began in grade school at St. Columbia's Primary School, where they won every tournament and league they participated in. His coach and teacher during this time, John Crines, was the first to train Jinky and was his first influence.
Jinky was quickly discovered when he was 13, in high school, when he signed for Celtic and played on the youth squad. Jinky, however, wanted to play games more often than the youth side did and left to play in other leagues, where his team would travel to play parish teams and some big clubs, including one match with Manchester United. It was during this time that Jinky's potential was truly discovered, and just as Manchester United began to show interest in signing him, Celtic came in and picked him up right away in 1961. He played his first game for the Hoops in 1963.
It wasn't until 1965, though, when Jock Stein became the coach of Celtic, that Jinky earned a starting spot as a right midfielder. Celtic would never be the same.
Stein became one of Celtic's greatest ever coaches, and Jinky one of Celtic's greatest ever players. At a time when the stadiums filled to over 100,000 on an almost regular basis, Jinky and the Bhoys thrilled soccer fans not only in Glasgow, but across the globe, with their magnificent ball handling skills and dedication.
With all the athletic ability Jinky was gifted with, he was also tough as nails. In his 12 professional years, Jinky, who was only 5'4", was often the victim of tough fouls and rough bullying from bigger players, but never fell victim to a major injury.
Words can not describe how great of an athlete Jinky was throughout his career. Some compare his ball handling skills to Aiden McGeady, and the greats of European football all consider Jinky to be one of their toughest opponents they've ever faced.
Legend has it that because of Jinky's fear of flying, before Celtic's European Cup battle against Red Star Belgrade, a team from Yugoslavia, Stein promised Jinky that if he put enough of a difference between the two teams at Celtic Park, Jinky wouldn't have to fly to Yugoslavia for the 2nd leg. Jinky did just that, scoring twice with an assist in the game.
Jinky struck fear into the hearts of many of his opponents. The French Press nicknamed him "the Flying Flea" after dancing around many Nantes players in a European Cup Match. Throughout his career he amazed opposing players and fans on a regular basis. Leeds defender Terry Cooper labeled Jinky as "his nightmare". English great Emlyn Hughes recalls being "crucified" by Jinky in an international match with Scotland, when walking off the field was told by English coaching legend Alf Ramsey that he had "just played against a world-class player today." Jinky had earned the respect of some of the greatest players of all time.
Real Madrid fans would chant "Ole!" every time Jinky juked out one of their players in Celtic's game against Madrid in 1967.
Jinky was also a major factor in Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967, the team dubbed "the Lisbon Lions" because the final, where Celtic beat Inter Milan 2-1, was playing in Lisbon, Portugal.
Not many people today consider him to be one of the best, but as Urban Dictionary puts it, he makes Ronaldinho look as skillful as a one-eyed fish in the desert
At the end of Wee Jinky's career with Celtic in 1975, he had appeared in a total of 515 games for Celtic, scoring 129 goals while winning 5 Leauge Cups, 1 European Cup, 9 League Championships and 4 Scottish Cups with Celtic.
Jinky remained involved with Celtic, even after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2001. Sadly Jinky passed away on March 13, 2006, just over two years ago. In Celtic's first game after Jinky's death, every Celtic player wore #7 on the front and back of their jersey to commerate Jinky. Celtic are planning to build a statue of him to place in front of Celtic Park's entrance, so all fans, young and old, can remember "the Lord of the Wing" as being the greatest Celt of all time.