PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland

so farewell then...

Tommy Johnson

So farewell, at long last, to Tommy Johnston, the man who scored our league winning goal last season, incredibly one of longest serving players, and by all accounts one the most popular and friendly people at Celtic Park.

The red headed Geordie arrived just as season 96-97 whimpered to a close. A 2.3m signing from Villa, he was Tommy Burns' last foray into the transfer market. Given that the league had been pretty much surrendered at that point, and clearly TB was about to be ushered out, his signing was something of a mystery, especially when we saw him.

Apparently when Martin O'Neil is looking at a player one of his criteria is that he must represent an improvement on what he already has. No matter which way you look at it TJ was not an improvement on what we had. In fact, given that he was signed as a striker, and that Van Hooijdonk had just left for Forest, TJ looked more like a huge step backwards.

His first couple of games did nothing to improve the outlook, given that they consisted of two dire semi finals against Falkirk, which we eventually lost. To give him some credit though, he did score our goal in the first game.

He managed to bag another before the end of the season, but with the departure of Cadette and Di Canio on the cards things weren't looking too bright for the Celtic forward line.

Wim the Tim took over in the hot seat and signed some funny haired Swedish lad to play up front. But he wasn't fit enough to start the season, and TJ started with Donnelly.

He scored in both legs of the UEFA cup against Inter Cable Tel, but on the opening day of the league campaign sustained a stomach injury that would sideline him for six months. By the time he reappeared in February Brattbak had also arrived, but his comeback game was a momentous one against Dunfermline; if we won we would be clear league leaders.

On came TJ with the score at 4:0, and about two minutes later off went TJ, having sustained a serious knee injury with his second touch of the ball (his first touch was never that pretty).

Another long absence, this time it was about a year.

All in all between July 1997 and April 1999 he played about 4 hours of competitive football, the kind of figures that get you the nick name of sicknote, or Phil O'Donnell. Even under Barnes he was out injured for most of the season, although he did get fit long enough to score the second in the league cup final win of 2000.

Last season was he was probably fitter than he'd ever been - or should that uninjured for the longest period?. But crucially, when called upon, he would come up with the goods.

He scored 8 goals last season, nearly all of them in tight games with no more than one goal in it (Killie at home in August, St. Johnstone away, Dundee at home), crucial goals that gained vital points.

Now there are two schools of thought about this; one is that TJ did the business and proved his worth, the other states that if Sutton had been playing we would have had a far more effective front line thereby making more chances to score more goals and winning those game at a canter. I'll leave it to you to decide which one you prefer.

The really curious thing about TJ was that often the actual performance he gave was far better than you would expect. Normally players let you down in that you imagine they are capable of much more than they produce. Johnston was the opposite. If he played a pass, or made a good run, or scored it was a wee bonus because basically he wasn't rated very highly - although that wasn't reflected in his strike rate, which was phenomenally high.

Admittedly the majority of his goals were against poor opposition (it sounds good to say that he got a few european goals, but less impressive if you know they were both against Inter Cable Tel), and they tended to come when there was precious worth playing for.

Dr Jo played TJ constantly in the build up to the 1999 Cup Final, and he scored in all those games, but didn't get into the starting line up.

The feeling was always that he was OK, but not a match winner.

He will be remembered for his hilarious league winning goal against St. Mirren, where he took a perfectly waited Larsson pass, let it slip under his foot and, under pressure from the keeper, lashed at it with his right foot (definitely his standing foot). It went rocketing in to the net. He at least had the good grace to look embarrassed.

He leaves with 1 league winners badge, 1 Scottish Cup medal and two league cup winners medals. We wish him well.

 

AB MURDOCH