Celtic legend Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone would have turned 70 this week. The Cutter pays tribute to the magical wee man.

In 1992 the then Celtic captain Paul McStay asked Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone whether the Lisbon Lions would have beaten the current side. “It would be a draw”, Jinky replied.

McStay suggested the legendary winger was merely being diplomatic.

“Well you’ve got to remember we’re all in our fifties now” came the wry response from the greatest Bhoy of them all.

It is easy to imagine the twinkle in his eyes as he said it, the same twinkle that shone with delight every time he received the ball and sent a full-back scampering and calling for cover before being bewildered by a blur of flamed hair.

Throughout the entirety of the sixties and half of the following decade the diminutive winger – just 5ft 4 and 9 stone in a soggy shirt – danced down Scottish touchlines relying on speed, extraordinary balance, and his wiles. He was revered at home and admired abroad with a performance in Alfredo Di Stefano’s testimonial game that has gone down in folklore.

In 515 appearances for the Hoops he won everything going and then some under the tutorage of the masterful Jock Stein including an astonishing nine consecutive league titles, ten domestic competitions, and of course being part of the first British side to lift the European Cup.

It was a victory nobody expected against a formidable Inter side. It was a victory that immortalised the team forever.

Johnstone’s wing wizardry perfectly epitomised the adventure and inventiveness that coursed through that sublime Celtic team of ’67. Famously all but one of its fifteen man squad was born within ten miles of Celtic Park and this not only fostered an indomitable team spirit but also brought to the fore shared attributes ingrained in them from the area, namely that electric Glaswegian combination of grit and devilment.

Johnstone had both in abundance. In an era when it was open season on winger’s legs he was fearless, taking the ball to an opponent’s toes and inviting the challenge before whipping it away. The devilment came from doing it time and again.

The ‘wee man’ always claimed the best players came from the street but his delight in trickery would infuriate the no-nonsense Stein with whom the player clashed with regularly. They were, in affect, chalk and cheese: one an imposing disciplinarian in his slippers by dusk; the other living the high life both on and off the pitch. So strained was their relationship it once even took the intervention of Stein’s mother who firmly informed “You’re very hard on that wee fellow”.

Yet Stein undoubtedly had his victories. Knowing his star player had a morbid fear of flying he promised to spare Johnstone the flight to Yugoslavia for the second leg of a European game if they triumphed by three or more goals in the first. Consequently a poor Red Star Belgrade was left in disarray as a determined Jinky played out of his skin in a 5-1 drubbing.

After the dominance and glory the latter four years of his career was spent traipsing the globe, exhibiting his fading magic at random outposts such as San Jose and Shelbourne as a life well lived began to take its toll. A prolonged struggle with alcoholism told hold and in 2001 Johnstone was diagnosed with suffering from Motor Neurone Disease, an illness that claimed his life five years later.

Before he passed Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone was voted as Celtic’s greatest ever player, an honour that meant the world to him.

In France – due to a brilliant showing against Nantes in ’67 – he became known as the ‘flying flea’. In Lisbon he was a lion. To the rest of us he was the ‘wee man’ who took the joy of street football onto every pitch he graced.