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Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Scotland: Bishop Devine pays tribute to 'Celtic's great ever player'
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¬†The Requiem Mass for Scottish football legend Jimmy Johnstone takes place at St John the Baptist Church, Uddingston this morning. The Principal Celebrant is Rt Rev Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell. Bishop Devine's homily follows. "It was around 8.30 am last Monday morning that radio and television news stations began to make public the news of the death of Jimmy Johnstone at his family home in Uddingston a few hours earlier. I sensed a tidal wave of sorrow across the land when people began to be aware that he had died, a river of sadness at the passing of the greatest ever Celtic player. It was the kind of sadness that eclipsed Old Firm rivalries, indeed all manner of rivalries, as Jimmy was beloved of all supporters of the beautiful game. Of course, that sorrow and pain of loss would have been felt most keenly by his wife Agnes and his son James, and two daughters, Marie and Eileen, as well as his other relatives and close friends. But next to them would have been the thousands of Celtic supporters in our land, as well as by the many more thousands of Celtic supporters worldwide. Only four years earlier, those same supporters had voted to make Jimmy the best Celtic player of all time, on a night when I was in the SECC when that same support made Billy McNeill the greatest ever Captain of Glasgow Celtic and I was privileged to announce that Tommy Gemill had scored the best every Celtic goal ≠ and we all know what that goal had to have been. All of us here will have our own special memories of Jimmy and his unique talent on the field of play. Personally, I will never forget his tormenting of Terry Cooper, the Leeds and England left-back, at the semi-final of the European cup at Hampden in 1970. But there are so many other memories that we share together. Who can ever forget the wee man at the end of the trouncing of Red Star from Belgrade skipping off the pitch with a five to one victory because he knew, giving his fear of flying, that Jock Stein had promised him that if Celtic could win by four goals, then he would not have to go. That fear of flying is something that I will return to a little later in a very different context. I had only returned from Rome after doing postgraduate studies in philosophy in June of 1964, with little realisation that Glasgow Celtic was shortly thereafter to enter into its most famous period of achievement. Jock Stein fashioned a team that was to be one of the great teams in Europe over the coming decade. For much of that time I was an assistant priest in Helensburgh, a small town west of Dumbarton. That meant that I had to leave Celtic Park about 20 minutes before full-time in order to celebrate the Saturday Vigil Mass. Nine times out of ten that did not matter as the game was already well won, so dominant was the Celtic team of that time. But I recall a game against Falkirk, on a bleak and miserable Saturday in February in either 1968 or 1969, when Jimmy tormented the Falkirk left-back by turning him inside and then outside five times within as many seconds. Sitting in front of me was an elderly supporter whom I had seen take regular sips from a hip flask. At that point he turned to me and said: "Father, please forgive the bad language. See that wee man. Is that not sheer bloody poetry" ≠ although if memory serves me well, he used a rather stronger adjective than 'bloody'. But what I remember most about those years was that Celtic Park became the field of our dreams. For a decade or so it was a place where Celtic could meet the best in Europe and beat them. No wonder that the older supporters of the club still refer to Celtic Park as Paradise. Much of that was due to Jimmy, I will never be able to forget those occasions when he would skip down the wing and from close to the by-line would provide a pass to Willie Wallace, to Joe McBride, to Stevie Chalmers or to his great friend, Bobby Lennox to score from very close range. Sometimes memory does not serve us well. But my memory of that magical decade in the years from 1964 to 1974, was that the goals rained in through the players that I have just named, with other outstanding contributions being made by Bobby Murdoch and Bertie Auld. All of this has been well documented in the press coverage of Jimmy's death, not least on Tuesday of this week. All of that coverage has been, at least for the most part, positive, in recognition of one of the finest talents ever to have played the game of football. But as I move to a conclusion, I want to pay tribute of one The Herald's Sport reporters, Mr Graham Speirs, who gave me the theme on which I will end. In his appreciation of the wee man, he wrote as follows: "In a series of interviews with Jimmy over the years, he made one memorable comment, totally unprompted, that I have never forgotten, when he said to me. Just getting through each day now with a clear conscience is a fantastic pleasure for me." Now that is the Jimmy Johnstone that I knew. In the early 1970's I was able to provide the 1.00 pm Mass in St Alphonsus parish in the Barrowland area of Glasgow. On the many more Holidays of Obligation in that era, I would see Jimmy come to be there after the training sessions. What I noticed was that Jimmy would always place himself with his back to the sanctuary, by kneeling before the cross of the crucified Christ. That only made sense to me many years later, when I began to realise that if Jimmy was not the greatest scorer of goals in the history of Glasgow Celtic, almost without doubt, he made more use of what we call the sacrament of reconciliation than any other Celtic player. Jimmy was very conscious of his shortcomings. But he paid the price for those shortcomings over the past five years in his immense efforts to find funding for research into the disease that brought his life to its end. Today is St Patrick's Day, a day, given the history of the little team founded by a Marist Brother called Brother Walfred in 1888, a team that was created to counteract the poverty of the Catholic community in the East End of Glasgow in that era, I think that our wee genius will be hugely appreciative of the fact that the date of his funeral is a day when we celebrate the feast of St Patrick. Finally, what will not be known to you is that Jimmy was approached a few years ago about what might have been an achievement that he would like to fulfil. I wonder if you can guess what that would have been? The answer is very simple. He wanted to meet the Pope of the day, John Paul II. I was contacted to ensure that I would ensure that the ticket would be in place for that Papal Audience. That was easy for me to do. But it never happened. Back again to Red Star Belgrade of all those years ago and Jimmy's fear of flying. That fear is no more and our favourite Celtic player has a whole eternity to chat to John Paul II. Together we pray: 'Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace'. Amen." +Joseph Devine Bishop of Motherwell Source: SCMO
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