Captain leads tributes to Celtic great Johnstone

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The Independent Football

The Celtic captain Neil Lennon recalled yesterday how a trip to see Johnstone on film proved how good the winger was. Johnstone had a DVD produced in 2004 to commemorate his time at the club, and Lennon and the former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson went to a screening. "We arrived late and just sat at the back of the auditorium," Lennon said. "They were showing snippets of a game against Real Madrid and we were just chuckling away because it was great to watch this wee man tearing strips off defenders. He was voted the greatest Celtic player ever, and rightly so."

Larsson said: "It's hard to find words that express how I feel at the moment. Most people will remember him as an incredible player, but to me and a lot of other people it was just as important that he was a really fantastic guy who had a nice word for everyone.

"I got on well with him from the start and, whenever I saw him, he would always be smiling. That's how I'll remember him. He was always there encouraging people around the club."

Johnstone was one of the Lisbon Lions, the team which became the first British side to win the European Cup, in 1967. His dazzling dribbles earned him the nickname "Jinky" and he became a part of the side which won nine consecutive Scottish League titles between 1965 and 1974.

Born in September 1944 in Lanarkshire, he was playing for the Celtic youth team by the time he was 13 and was a ball-boy on match days. Celtic signed him full-time in 1961 after Manchester United expressed an interest and he made his competitive debut two years later against Kilmarnock.

At 5ft 4in and nine-and-a-half stones, the wing wizard was once dubbed the "Flying Flea" by the French press after an inspired display against Nantes in the European Cup. But the highlight of his career was when Celtic came from a goal behind to defeat Internazionale 2-1 in the European Cup final in 1967.

The Celtic captain that day, Billy McNeill, said: "Jimmy practically played Inter on his own; the minute our defence got the ball he would look to free himself. Nothing ever frightened him. He was brilliant."

Johnstone scored 129 goals in 515 games for Celtic and won 23 caps for Scotland. After leaving Parkhead, he played for San Jose Earthquakes, Sheffield United, Dundee, Shelbourne and Elgin City.

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