Celtic v Man United. 17th May 1976. A big game like that meant that I was so excited, I could hardly sleep the night before. I couldn’t think of much else during the day either. The match had been arranged in honour of the two Celtic legends, Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox. Jinky and Wee Boabby were two of the famous Lisbon Lions, the team that had lifted the European Cup 9 years before.
Before the kick-off, the comedian Billy Connolly had come swaggering onto the park wearing a Rangers scarf to hoots of mock derision from the crowd. He pretended that he wasn’t aware of the ‘offence’ he was causing; we pretended to be incensed at him wearing the colours of Celtic’s great rivals.
That set the tone for what was truly a friendly match. It finished 4-0 to Celtic with King Kenny Dalglish scoring three goals and, fittingly, Bobby Lennox the other.
You could see that Jinky was emotional at the end as he trudged towards the terracing that I was standing on. It was known then as the Jungle. You only had to look at some of the guys who went there every week to understand why.
I watched as he threw one of his boots into the crowd just along from where we were standing. He then moved along the touchline to just in front of where we were and launched his second boot. My dad, who was tall as any goalie and had the reach of Mohammed Ali, jumped up to try and catch it. But it soared beyond his outstretched fingertips and landed in a group about five or six rows behind us. There was a stramash, as the commentator Arthur Montford use to say. Then one of the group wrestling for the prize managed to get hold of it. He forced the boot inside his jacket and held onto it for dear life. Everyone else backed off.
I was gutted. If only my dad had been able to claim it, he would have given it to me. What had been an almost perfect evening had been ruined. I was silent all the way back on the bus, when everyone around me was chirpy. And I was miserable as a cardinal sin for weeks after that. It was like how I felt after we lost the European Cup Final in 1970 and then the UEFA Cup Final in 2003. It was as bad as that.
However, I was to feel much better the following month, just before the school broke up for the summer holidays. As an end of term exercise in our English class, we were asked to write a story about anything we wanted. Mine was called ‘A genie called Jinky’. In it, I pretended that I had got Jinky’s right boot that he had thrown into the crowd a few weeks before. When I got home and tried it on, it fitted me perfectly. Although I would be wearing odd boots, I decided that I would wear Jinky’s one when I played my next game for my school team. As was my ritual before each game, I would polish my boots and (for luck) rub the back, sides and toes 7 times, which was the number Jinky always wore. When I did this, a ginger-haired genie came out of the boot that was the spitting image of Jinky. The story told of the mischief he would get me into. Jinky the genie was like Dennis the Menace in a green and white hooped top instead of a red and black striped one. And when I wore his boot, I began to play as brilliantly as he did - dodging tackles like I had never been able to do before. The teacher, who had been filling in for my regular English teacher, gave me a mark of 77%; which was a nice touch. She obviously picked up on the idea of the lucky number 7. Wasn’t it great that the magic number was so significant in Andy Murray’s fantastic triumph at Wimbledon a few weeks ago?
The twitter feed afterwards summed it up perfectly:
The mark for that essay was the best I would ever get. Although it could never make up for not having the genuine Jinky’s boot, it gave me an idea. I might not have the real deal but I could pretend that one of my own had magic powers – my own ‘Jinky’s boot’.
So I again went through my pre-match ritual of polishing then buffing my boots 7 times on each side. However, unlike the story of course, a genie didn’t come out of the neck of the boot and I didn’t start playing like Jinky. But it did inspire me to be more confident when I played. I was also more brave, just like my hero used to be when he was up against defenders whose sole aim was to hack him to the ground.
I became so attached to my ‘Jinky’s boot’ that I wore it for much longer than I should have. I had to finally stop wearing it and the left one that went with it as my toes were getting so crushed that they were agony to play in.
I’ve kept my ‘Jinky’s boot’, though. And, anytime I’m looking for a wee bit of inspiration or luck, I get it out, polish it and buff it up 7 times on each side. Although Jimmy Johnstone’s been dead a few years now, it reminds me of the wee man’s magic on the park; and also his bravery, not only during his playing days, but right to the end when he was suffering from Motor Neurone Disease. No matter what, I will always believe in that genie called Jinky.