A piece I wrote about writing, producing and directing my latest purpleTV film; Jimmy Johnstone, is on the Glasgow Live website today. You can view it on the site, or below. The premiere screening is at the IMAX Glasgow on Monday evening!
Growing up in a football family I was always aware of Celtic’s greatest-ever player: Jimmy Johnstone.
He was part of the very fabric of our existence. On Saturday’s we set off on an expedition to Celtic Park, our legs unfurling beyond shiny turnstiles, our family shredding its protective layer at the stadium’s outer edges.
We slipped into its cornucopia with ease; football was the wallpaper of our lives. Once inside, sugary air teased our lips; minty chewing gum and the exotic scent of coconut macaroon penetrating our lungs with an intense rush of familiarity. Clinging to the warmth of my dad’s hand I skipped alongside he and my mother, my brothers and sisters, the hum of collective song dictating our fluid pace.
The tune was often his, stamping into the terracing as densely as our footprints; Jimmy, Jimmy Johnstone on the wing moulded to the firmament.
Jimmy, like I was then, was small, but he was a giant on the pitch, in the early afternoon darkness the floodlight would cast its footfall on all the shadowy figures but it was Jinky’s halo that shone the brightest, flashing into empty spaces, a beacon shimmying and shimmering in sweeping shards of brilliance. At least that’s what I think I remember. I was only seven when Jimmy Johnstone moved on.
And yet, real or imagined, fragments of those magical moments stayed with me.
As my memory began to fade, archive film and photographs stretched me back to those wordless times when sight and sound and smell were everything. Jimmy Johnstone was the paper over those fading cracks. He was a reminder of life before worry lines.
I was working at Celtic, initially in creating the museum and then latterly as a Producer/Presenter in the media team when Jimmy Johnstone became a reality.
Not only did I get to meet him but I ended up working with him, interviewing him many times, laughing in his company, listening earnestly as he and his fellow Lisbon Lions recalled the day that made them legends in their own lifetime, watching his eyes dance as his head bobbed expressively on sinewy shoulders, his tongue halting only to breathe in the Celtic air that made him soar.
Incredibly, those eyes still shone with passion when I interviewed him about his hopes for finding a cure for MND years later. At this point he had deteriorated significantly. There was no hope, but he was still fighting, not for himself, but for others suffering from incurable illnesses. He was the epitome of strength. A giant delivering a powerful message, with surprising grace.
Making a film about his life then was an absolute honour, and a significant responsibility. As well as getting to know Jimmy I also have long-term relationships with many of his Celtic teammates so I know first hand how much he means to them, the supporters, and by virtue of making the film, his family.
Consequently, it was incumbent on me to tell his story honestly, and with the utmost respect.
The film, which I wrote, produced and directed, with the support and creative inspiration of a fantastic production team at purple, has its VIP premiere screening at the IMAX cinema in Glasgow on Monday the 19 th of September. It features his wife and children, his friends, and his teammates. They have all been incredibly supportive and giving of their time, memories and emotions.
Ultimately, if I were to have one wish for it, I hope its audience will see that this isn’t just a ‘sport’ film. Yes, it focuses on a phenomenal football talent, but it reflects on so much more than that. This is a film about people and relationships, the ways in which choices, engagement, interaction, imposition and surroundings shape a person’s life, and consequently the lives of the people around them. It’s an expression of collective memory in images and words, an overspill of popular cultural emotions running parallel to the very personal and intimates memories of Jimmy’s closest family and friends.
For me it’s a poignant collaboration that celebrates a national hero from the outside in and the inside out, reminding us that relationships are at the centre of almost everything.
Jimmy Johnstone was a hero in the truest sense of the word. (“Hero: a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”) In real life he was exactly as I thought I remembered him all those years ago: small and agile, intense and alert, brave and gallus, in the canny way that our very rare Scottish working class heroes always are.
Jimmy Johnstone was produced by purpleTV for BBC ALBA and it will air on the channel on the 30 th of September, Jimmy’s birthday, at 9.30pm. I hope you can spend some time to share in his memory, a decade on from his death to motor neurone disease, age 61.