14 March 2006

SOCCER: Johnstone hailed as Celtic's greatest star


MONDAY 13/03/2006 09:35:23

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Photo from Jimmy Johnstone - Celtic's Greatest Ever Player

Celtic greats have paid tribute to club legend Jimmy Johnstone, who has died aged 61 after a long fight against motor neurone disease.

The former Scotland winger was a key player as Celtic became the first British club to win the European Cup when they beat Inter Milan 2-1 in 1967, earning the nickname `the Lisbon Lions` for their exploits in the final in Portugal.

Billy McNeill, who captained the Hoops team to continental glory, insists Johnstone will "be revered" by Parkhead supporters of all ages as one of the club`s greatest-ever players.

He said: "It`s a very sad morning. When Agnes, his wife, phoned we were devastated to hear the news but Jimmy didn`t deserve to suffer any more.

"He faced up to things square on and he fought this illness, unfortunately this one he couldn`t beat.

"He was brilliant, he wasn`t just skilful, he was a powerful little man, brave as a lion, and his fitness was remarkable.

"He was a very good goalscorer, he loved the adulation of the crowd and he was a real Celtic man."

Recounting Johnstone`s role in the European Cup triumph, McNeill added: "Jimmy practically played Inter Milan on his own; he was up and down the pitch and the minute our defence got the ball he would look to free himself. There was nothing he was ever frightened of, he was brilliant."

McNeill hailed Johnstone`s courage in his fight against his illness and said his spirit never dimmed.

"We`ve all been fortunate to go and visit him and be impressed with the way he was handling this illness, he was trying anything that was being positive.

"He was very much involved in trying to help others with the same illness. Instead of you brightening him up when you visited him, you would walk away feeling happier for having seen him.

"He was an exceptional man, I`ve come to admire him even more for his courage than his brilliance as a footballer.

"He will be revered by the fans. My grandchildren, who never had any hope of seeing Jimmy play, have seen the videos and they love Jimmy."

Another former Celtic team-mate, Bertie Auld, said: "I still can`t get to grips with the news.

"You know what a player he was, but what a person... He was the kindest guy in the world. All the time he was lying there he never complained.

"I can only admire him as a person. It must have been demanding for him.

"I saw him on Friday and, like any time you met him, you left feeling a stronger person.

"He was ill but he was his usual self, with a smile the size of himself.

"Jimmy was so desperate to help other people with the same disease, he wanted a cure for it even though he knew he couldn`t be helped."

He added: "The fans adored him and they voted him Celtic`s best ever player. He will never be out of their hearts.

"It was never going to be anyone else. He was head and shoulders above all the players I played with."

Glasgow Lord Provost Liz Cameron said: "Jinky was loved and admired by millions of football fans.

"His death, after a tremendously brave battle against an awful illness, will be mourned not just in Glasgow, but in cities and towns all across the world.

"This is a very sad day indeed."

Charlie Nicholas, who grew up watching Johnstone`s exploits before playing for the Hoops himself from 1979 to 1983, added: "Jinky was like George Best. He was an absolute genius.

"There were many great players in the Lisbon Lions team but he was the key individual - he was a trickster, he was a personality. He was mesmerising to watch at times, and it`s such a sad, sad day."

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