Champions League Talk was recently sent a copy of “Jinky: The Jimmy Johnstone Story” written by Jim Black and I was given the honour of reviewing it.
Jinky, born James Connolly Johnstone, was a dynamic winger that played for the Celtic side that won nine Scottish championships in a row between 1966 and 1974. He was also one of the famed Lisbon Lions, the Celtic side that became the first British side to lift the European Cup (now Champions League) in 1967.
Known as the ‘Wee Man’ (he stood just 5ft4in tall) to his manager and teammates, Johnstone was nicknamed Jinky by the fans because of his jinking movements down the wing that left defenders so bamboozled that he would often go back and beat them a second time purely for his own enjoyment. Many rate Jinky as one of the top players ever and he is a testament to hard work. As a young lad, he was never without a ball at his feet and often invented litle games and drills to improve his skills. Assist statistics were not accurately kept during that era but in his 515 appearances for Celtic, Jinky scored 130 goals. It’s not hard to imagine him having twice as many assists.
Despite all of his talent, Johnstone only appeared 23 times in a Scotland shirt, scoring 4 goals. Largely it was due to his lack of discipline off the field, which the book touches on briefly. After he was given a free transfer by Celtic at the end of the 1974-75 season he bounced around from club to club, never staying very long in any one place. He spent time with the San Jose Earthquakes of the NASL, Sheffield United, Dundee, Sbelbourne and Elgin City before calling it a day. His heart was always at Celtic Park and he was never quite the same player after leaving.
Life after football was difficult for Johnstone and this is where the book began to give us some insight into his life and friendships. However, while the book’s back cover promises that this is the definitive account of Jimmy Johnstone’s life, it falls short of delivering on that promise. This does not mean that the book is poor — it is still an entertaining, quick-paced read.
In reviewing the notes I made while reading the book, I often noted that there were large sections that seemed to be no more than re-hashing of match summaries with little personal detail. Frequently opportunities to delve into interesting and potentially telling personal situations are bypassed. We’re given a run through almost game by game of Jinky’s amazing career but until the final chapters of the book and Jinky’s struggles after his playing career ends and his battle with motor neurone disease (commonly referred to in North America as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Beyond these surface details, we get to know very little about the man, his family or his life outside the arena. There are only a few quotes from teammates and no quotes from family members. We don’t really learn why Jimmy drank so heavily, we’re not shown details of his disputes with legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein and there is no real indication of what his home life was like. His wife and children are distant, peripheral figurs. The really interesting bits are glossed over and I am going to assume that this is due to a lack of quality information available and not a lack of research. This is the only book on Celtic that I’ve read so I am in no position to judge accurately.
The book does give an outline of his life after football and it was a sad downfall. Not having been paid princely sums like today’s stars and not having been wise with his money, Johnstone found himself broke. He attempted to sell off his winner’s medals to feed his alcohol problem and he spent years failing at a variety of blue-collar jobs. One particular stint as a satellite-dish salesman sticks out as bitterly ironic. Here’s poor Jinky hoping to make a few bucks off of the same piece of equipment that hepled today’s top-paid footballers earn more in a week than Jimmy ever earned in a year.
Jinky was voted Celtic’s greatest ever player by the fans in 2002. Sadly, in 2006, Johnstone succumbed to ravages of motor neurone disease. The club paid tribute to Johnstone before the Scottish League Cup Final by wearing the number 7 on both the front and back of their shirts in his honour. At the end of the match, Celtic’s team wore shirts with the squad name “Jinky” and the number 7 as a further tribute
Despite the lack of personal detail that I wanted, the book was entertaining and provided some insight into a player and an era that I am not well-versed in. However, as a biography of Jimmy Johnston, it left me wanting to know a whole lot more.
Champions League Talk Rating: 3 out of 5
Note: I found a great clip of Jinky doing a duet with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds on a tune called Dirty Old Town. Jinky loved to sing a song or do karaoke and had a decent voice according to the book. This video backs that claim up. It also show some footage of Jinky in action.