James Connolly Johnstone (30 September 1944 – 13 March 2006), nicknamed “Jinky”, was a Scottish football player, best known for his time with Celtic, and voted the club‘s best ever player by the fans in 2002. He scored 129 goals for Celtic in 515 appearances.
Johnstone made his first team debut for Celtic on 27 March 1963 in a 6–0 defeat away against Kilmarnock in the league. His next appearance came a month later away against Hearts. He was again on the losing side, Celtic losing 4–3, but scored his first senior goal. Despite the defeats, Johnstone’s performances won him a place in the starting XI for the Scottish Cup Final on 4 May 1963 against Rangers. The young winger turned in a fine performance, helping Celtic to a credible 1–1 draw with his confident dribbling. He also scored a goal but it was disallowed due to a foul moments earlier by team-mate John Hughes. Inexplicably, Johnstone was dropped for the replay and Celtic were completely outclassed by Rangers who ran out comfortable 3–0 winners.
The following season saw Johnstone establish himself as a regular in the side. He played in 25 league games, scoring six goals. He also helped Celtic reach the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, scoring against FC Basel in a 5–0 win at Parkhead in the first round, and then scoring against MTK Budapest in a 3–0 win in the first leg of the semi-final. Celtic, however, lost 4–0 in the return match in Hungary and were knocked out on aggregate.
Celtic were struggling throughout the 1960s until Jock Stein arrived at the club in 1965. By this time Johnstone was struggling to hold down a regular spot in the first team. On arrival at Celtic, Stein had doubts about Johnstone, considering him to be too much of an individual player to the overall detriment of the team, and left him out of the team for the 1965 Scottish Cup Final. Johnstone soon won Stein round with his skill, and won his first winner’s medal on 23 October 1965 when he played in Celtic’s 2–1 win over Rangers in the Scottish League Cup Final. His 32 league appearances and nine goals over the course of the season helped Celtic to win their first league title in 12 years. Johnstone also helped Celtic reach their second European semi-final, scoring twice against Go Ahead Eagles en route, before losing 2–1 on aggregate to Liverpool in the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Johnstone was one of the “Lisbon Lions”, the team that won the then European Cup for Celtic in 1967. In an early round tie against Nantes, Johnstone’s trickery on the wing saw him dubbed “The Flying Flea” by the French press, whilst his performances over the course of the season saw him finish third in the European Footballer of the Year award.