Monday, March 13, 2006

Jimmy Johnstone

I'm not in the mood for much of anything today.

This morning, a true legend died. Jimmy Johnstone - the greatest player from the greatest team in the 118 year history of Celtic - passed away after a long battle with motor neurone disease.

Despite knowing how ill he was, his death came as a shock, and left me feeling empty inside.

There's already been plenty written about the many colourful stories from his career - both on and off the park - and about his magical skills with a football.

The man was not just a tremendously talented player. He was an entertainer, an inspiration, charismatic, and brave. At just 5' 4", he had to be.

He was also a true fan. Someone who loved the club, and loved playing for Celtic.

Unlike some players with a gift for entertainment, he was also a winner. Part of a team that won a world record nine leagues, and became the first British team to win the greatest club trophy of them all - The European Cup.

Most modern day footballers are as untouchable as rockstars or Hollywood actors.

Such is their wealth, they inevitably live a lifestyle which is unattainable to most normal people, and seldom leads them to mingle with the fans.

Jimmy came from a different era. One where not only was the tackling tougher, and the refereeing more lenient, but the pay was very much on a par with the ordinary working man.

Had he been dazzling defenders in the modern age, he would probably have been one of the highest paid players in the world, living in some gated community and holidaying on private Caribbean islands.

Instead, he lived in a normal home not far from mine. He could be seen - and often heard singing - in the local bars, and while he could count stars such as Rod Stewart, Billy Connolly, and even Robert Duvall as friends, he had many more within the local community, including my dad.

The wee man had his demons to fight, most notably an over fondness for the bottle, but he had a personality that shone. Duvall called him 'the greatest character I ever met', which has to be one hell of a compliment.

It's a cruel world which inflicts such a debilitating disease on one so undeserving.

Now he has gone, his family can take comfort in the knowledge his talents were acclaimed in his lifetime and will never be forgotten.

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