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Jimmy Johnstone’s widow and best friend recall Dundee’s fairytale signing of Celtic legend and why it didn’t work out

Celtic great Jinky pictured after joining the Dark Blues, left
Celtic great Jinky pictured after joining the Dark Blues, left

Jimmy Johnstone’s widow Agnes is recalling her late husband’s high-profile yet underwhelming spell at Dundee.

The year was 1977, a decade on from the Celtic legend’s annus mirabilis with Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions, and one of the key characters in the story was a familiar face.

Step forward close friend and former team-mate Tommy Gemmell, a man who had scored in two European Cup finals with the Parkhead giants.

Agnes, speaking from the family home in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, told The Courier: “Tommy was the manager, he persuaded him to give it a go.

“I remember me and the weans used to drive up to see him and we drove around looking for a house as well.

“But deep down I’m thinking, ‘I’m not moving!’ I liked where we were.

“There was one time I dropped him at the pub and Marie was crying. Eileen and James were saying, ‘Don’t greet for dad – we’re going for a fish supper!’

“I’d promised them a fish supper for the journey.

Agnes and Jimmy
Agnes and Jimmy

“Tommy had a place up there where Jimmy ended up staying – I took the weans up a couple of times to stay but the move just didn’t work out.”

Gemmell – who passed away in March 2017 – opened his heart about the fairytale signing gone wrong in his autobiography All The Best three years earlier.

He was devastated that the pair, pals since 1960, wouldn’t share success once again.

The former Hoops left-back shed tears as Johnstone left Dens Park in a taxi for the final time, his time at the club over after just two starts and one substitute appearance.

He wrote: “It could have turned out to be grand finale to a wonderful career.

“That would have been fitting after all Jinky had contributed to the game.

“He deserved sustained applause at the final curtain on what really wasn’t a job of work but his vocation. Alas, it wasn’t to be.”

Former Dundee and Celtic great Tommy Gemmell.

According to Johnstone’s best friend Ian Henderson, the reasons for his disappointment with the Dark Blues can be traced back to June 9, 1975.

That’s the day Stein decided the Lord of the Wing could leave his beloved Celtic on a free transfer.

Ian, 69, also close friends with Gemmell, says: “Tam took him to Dundee and he thought he could get the best out of Jimmy.

“But the truth of it was that Jimmy’s heart wasn’t in the game.

“His heart had been at Celtic and after he left Parkhead, he didn’t have the love of the game anymore.”

Agnes – who has seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren – agrees with Ian’s assessment.

Jimmy and Agnes on their wedding day in 1966
Jimmy and Agnes on their wedding day in 1966

She says: “He disappeared that day [of his departure from Celtic] and the phone rang, it was Jock Stein’s wife Jean.

“She said: ‘Is Jimmy there?’ There was talk that he might get brought back.

“But it was his carry on and that with the drink…”

Johnstone – who lost his battle with motor neurone disease in March 2006 at the age of 61 – endured a well-documented fight with alcoholism and drink took centre stage in the most controversial incident of his short Dens Park career.

Jimmy with best pal Ian Henderson and fellow Celtic great Bertie Auld
Jimmy with best pal Ian Henderson and fellow Celtic great Bertie Auld

Gemmell had asked his fellow Celtic hero to take a young Gordon Strachan under his wing.

Cue a lunch featuring more bottles of wine than food courses and a pub crawl that led to the Dundee manager, hilariously, confronting both while they were still intoxicated.

He later said: “Once they had sobered up, I had an old-fashioned heart-to-heart with both.

“Gordon swore it would never happen again and, as far as I know, that remained the case throughout his career.”

Former Scotland boss Strachan, now the Dark Blues’ technical director, was in charge at Celtic when Johnstone died 14 years ago and paid a poignant tribute to the Hoops great at the time.

Gordon Strachan in action for Dundee against St Mirren

He said: “I don’t think many people will know I actually played with Jimmy at Dundee. It was the smallest right side of midfield the club ever had.

“People will say Jinky lived life to the full on and off the pitch. I lived life to the full with him just one day and my liver is still recovering.

“It was only one day but it felt like a week, but it was great fun. I would never give that day back.”

Ian, from Airdrie, was the drummer in a psychedelic rock band when he met Johnstone in the 1960s; the Celtic idol insisted on singing with the group in pubs and clubs.

Jimmy and best friend Ian pictured at Ground Zero
Jimmy and best friend Ian pictured at Ground Zero

He would go on to have troubles of his own – alcohol addiction and money worries that left him at rock bottom – but their friendship was a light in the darkness.

He says: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Jimmy and Agnes.”

Rangers fan Ian wishes his best friend’s sojourn in the City of Discovery had been more illuminating, but it wasn’t to be.

He adds: “I remember going out with Jimmy when he was at Dundee and, I don’t know how, one day we ended up in Cumbernauld.

“Jimmy had a pal that stayed there and I’m thinking, ‘We should be in Dundee’.

“But Cumbernauld it was. He was some man.

“Dundee have always been at the forefront when it comes to these blue-chip signings. The really big names.

“They did it later on with [Claudio] Caniggia and [Fabrizio] Ravanelli. But with all due respect, Jimmy Johnstone was on another level.”

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