PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland


Lord of the Wing - Jimmy Johnstone, Celtic's Greatest Ever Player; directed by Jamie Doran; 97 minutes; video £14.99 - DVD £19.99

If you're going to take as your subject matter for a documentary, 'Celtic's Greatest Ever Player' you'd better make sure you produce a film that does it justice. Thankfully Jamie Doran does that and in the process has crafted a film that in my opinion will become essential viewing for anyone who treasures memories of wee Jinky in his pomp or who has more than a passing interest in the history of our great club.

The edition I had to review begins with some footage shot on the night of the film's premiere in Glasgow which will doubtless rekindle happy reminiscences of those who were in attendance but which for those who weren't does well to capture the atmosphere of a wonderful football evening.

It starts with a moving tribute to Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson who had passed away earlier that week and then moves on to an introduction by Peter Mullen. After that we are into the film proper, and are immediately reminded of Jinky's medical condition with some stark and bleak facts about motor Neurone Disease. Yet, for all this terrible affliction has quite a pervasive presence throughout the film, there is little that is morbid or mawkish about what is depicted on screen. What comes across, rather, is how the wee man has faced his predicament with the kind of courage that characterised his performances on the pitch all those years ago.

Johnstone's early life in Viewpark as the son of a coal miner is recounted mainly by the man himself and is a glimpse of a bygone era. But it's still made clear what a formative influence his upbringing had on his adult life.

His playing days are portrayed through a mixture of personal anecdote, clips of Jimmy in action and recollections of opponents and admirers. Most of the action stuff will be familiar to anyone who has seen previous features about Jinky (still great to watch even so), but Jamie Doran has also unearthed some surprises, including an amazing sequence shot by somebody on an 8mm cine camera who was filming the highlights of the Red Star game being shown on the telly in his living room. It looks like the film shot by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong while they were on the Moon but amazing nonetheless.

As you listen to the likes of Brian Clough, Bobby Charlton, Terry Cooper and a host of others pay tribute to Jinky's skills as a footballer it becomes clear that his stature in the game is not confined to those with a love of the Hoops. Former Lions team mates, of course, have plenty to say about Johnstone and his unique relationship with Jock Stein, but some of the funniest stories are told by the likes of John Greig and Willie Henderson.

As what is often euphemistically described as 'a larger than life character' most of Jimmy's particularly notorious exploits have passed into the realm of Scottish football folklore. They are given another airing here and, for all their familiarity, still manage to raise a smile, especially the infamous Largs rowing boat sketch. What is often overlooked about that incident is that following the press furore Jinky went on to play a blinder against England at Hampden the following Saturday in a match which Scotland won by 2:0.

The thorny subject of Jinky's abbreviated Scotland career is not ignored and Pat Crerand provides some forthright views on the nature of the SFA during the early to mid 60s. The attitudes of the Scottish game's hierarchy had a deleterious effect on Jinky which became so bad he asked Jock Stein to tell them not to pick him for internationals. It is to the film maker's credit that he doesn't shirk from confronting these kind of issues, and this applies to Jimmy's personal life when his career was over and he descended into his own alcohol induced perdition. It makes for painful viewing at times, given its often confessional tone, but is always gripping and again the overall impression you're left with is one of life affirmation rather than self pity.

The story is brought up to date with jinky's struggle to beat his disease and ends on a typically upbeat note as he helps Jim Kerr fulfil one of his ambitions by recording Dirty Old Town with his football hero.

Apart from this particular track there are a few other musical numbers in the film which help capture the spirit of the wee man and his time. Apart from the football men, the Celtic celebs also have their say, and one of the most perceptive contributions is from Fran Healy who describes how Jimmy somehow personified what so many of us feel about Celtic, particularly on those occasions when he was being assailed by what Cloughie describes as 'ignorant thug full backs'.

In one sequence Jinky is filmed during a recent visit to a Celtic home game and is swamped by a torrent of good wishes and adulation showing that he still has an amazing capacity to bring out a warmth of feeling in people which is quite moving.

After the credits the film ends with more footage from the premiere including a poignant speech from Jimmy. Talk about not a dry eye in the house!

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this film to anybody. Do yourself a favour and get hold of it. You won't be disappointed.

MANFRED LURKER

The film is available at http://www.jimmyjohnstone.com

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