Second Instalment of Quality Journalism

Came across this artice on my webtravels, America is fooked.

America eats its young

We’re sticking the next generation with debt and an unjust war. Solution: We must cut healthcare for people with “Bush-Cheney” bumper stickers.
By Garrison Keillor

Aug. 30, 2006 | It’s the best part of summer, the long lovely passage into fall. A procession of lazy golden days that my sandy-haired, gap-toothed little girl has been painting, small abstract masterpieces in tempera and crayon and glitter, reminiscent of Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning (his early glitter period). She put a sign out front, “Art for Sale,” and charged 25 cents per painting. Cheap at the price.

A teacher gave her this freedom to sit unselfconsciously and put paint on paper. A gentle 6-foot-8 guy named Matt who taught art at her preschool. Her swimming teachers gave her freedom from fear of water. So much that has made this summer a pleasure for her I trace to specific teachers, and so it’s painful to hear about public education sinking all around us. A high school math class of 42! Everybody knows you can’t teach math to 42 kids at once, kids doped up on sugar and Coke, sleepy kids, Hmong kids, African-American kids who think scholarship is white bread. The classroom smells bad because the custodial staff has been cut back. The teacher is shelling out $900 a month for health insurance, one-third of his take-home. Meanwhile, he must whip his pupils into shape to pass the federal No Child Left Untested program. This is insanity, the legacy of Republicans and their tax cutting and their hostility to secular institutions.

Last spring I taught a college writing course and had the privilege of hanging out with people in their early 20s, an inspirational experience in return for which I tried to harass them about spelling and grammar and structure. My interest in being 21 again is less than my interest in having a frontal lobotomy, but the wit and passion and good-heartedness of these kids, which they try to conceal under their exquisite cool, are the hope of this country. You have to advocate for young people, or else what are we here for?

I keep running into retirees in their mid-50s, free to collect seashells and write bad poetry and shoot video of the Grand Canyon, and goody for them, but they’re not the future. My college kids are graduating with a 20-pound ball of debt chained to their ankles. That’s not right and you know it.

This country is squashing its young. We’re sending them to die in a war we don’t believe in anymore. We’re cheating them so we can offer tax relief to the rich. And we’re stealing from them so that old gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we have a headache.

A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can’t pay teachers a decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But healthcare costs are ballooning, eating away at the economy. The boomers are getting to an age where their knees need replacing and their hearts need a quadruple bypass – which they feel entitled to – but our children aren’t entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a Ph.D. in education can strip away French and German, music, art, dumb down the social sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare, and there is nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library, which is being cut back too.

This week we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Current Occupant’s line “You’re doing a heckuva job,” which already is in common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It’s sure to wind up in Bartlett’s Quotations, a summation of his occupancy. Annual interest on the national debt now exceeds all government welfare programs combined. We’ll be in Iraq for years to come. Hard choices need to be made, and given the situation we’re in, I think we must bite the bullet and say no more healthcare for card-carrying Republicans. It just doesn’t make sense to invest in longevity for people who don’t believe in the future. Let them try faith-based medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be reamed and their hips to be restored, and leave science to the rest of us.

Cutting out healthcare for one-third of the population – the folks with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers, who still believe the man is doing a heckuva job – will save enough money to pay off the national debt, not a bad legacy for Republicans. As Scrooge said, let them die and reduce the surplus population. In return, we can offer them a reduction in the estate tax. All in favor, blow your nose.

(Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

? 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.

The devil?s in his details
Sir Alex Ferguson called him Manchester United?s ?most influential player?. Yet Roy Keane is always in trouble. On the pitch he?s belligerent. Off it he?s reclusive. Now he is the new manager of Sunderland, things have got to change. Will he learn to play by the rules? By David Walsh

An evening in May, 1999; Manchester United is winning everything and Timmy Murphy is standing at the bar in the Metropole Hotel on Cork?s MacCurtain Street, calling for a pint of stout. He had come to reminisce about a young lad he once trained, a kid not as talented as some of the others but, my God, you should have seen the attitude. ?Ah, Roy,? said Murphy, ?Roy Keane.?

Murphy was the manager of Rockmount boys team, and in Cork schoolboy football, they were kings. The club scouts came ? a contract in one hand, a dream in the other. Keane wasn?t their first choice, nor their second, not even their third. He was small, gritty rather than gifted. But when you patrol the touchline, as Murphy did, every training session, every game, you know. Better than the scouts, you just know. ?Even then, at the age of 11, Roy was the leader.?

During the evening, Murphy pulled out a photograph. ?See this? First trophy Roy Keane ever won in football.? Rockmount U11s, seven boys sitting, seven standing; their statuettes lined up in front of them. Keane is the smallest ? but the look on his face is unremittingly hard. The statuette could have been a dead fish by his feet.

What made him like that? He came from a country once described by the businessman and former rugby player Tony O?Reilly as being dogged by an ?it?ll do? mentality. ?Sure, it?s not great, but it?ll do.? Keane comes from a part of Cork city where boys learnt to look after themselves in the early hours of Sunday morning: a world where you dreamt for a while, then got battered by reality. He did the drinking, the fighting. He has always loved his home city; ?Irish by birth, Cork by the grace of God? is his verbal passport. Few exiles come back as often as he does, to stay at his parents? house.

To be what he has become, he had to separate himself from so much that he was: the fry-ups, the drinking, the fights, the things that eat him inside that made him lash out. Perhaps, most of all, he had to survive being Roy Keane, the Roy Keane. Sir Alex Ferguson described him recently as Manchester United?s most influential player. How did he come to be that? Perhaps because he was the one who said ?it?ll not do?.

He doesn?t easily agree to interviews. Two letters in the past 18 months produced nothing. A third letter was sent six weeks ago. You write it, post it and forget it. A week later, the day before his 35th birthday, my telephone rang. ?This is Roy Keane. I got your letter, I don?t mind having a chat. Can you get to Manchester tomorrow by 11 o?clock??

There had only ever been one face-to-face interview between us, four years before. The first time, he had shown up 15 minutes before the appointed time. It made me think of poor Mark Bosnich, the Australian goalkeeper who turned up late on his first morning at Manchester United?s training ground. ?What do you mean, you got lost?? Keane snarled. Back then you could get past security but not past the team?s guard dog. Now he walks into the Marriott Hotel near Manchester airport at a minute past 11. It is hard to be sure it is him, but once he is through the revolving door he puts his right hand to his face, instinctively shielding himself from the outside world. It?s a dead giveaway.

Not many adults have this shyness.

Something Martina Navratilova once said came to mind. Asked why she won nine singles championships at Wimbledon, Navratilova said it was because every time she walked on Centre Court, she felt like a little Czechoslovak girl playing people better and more advantaged than her. Keane came with that same mentality: ?Roy, they think they?re better than you.?

We sit in a room at the back of the hotel. There is coffee and water. He chooses water and though three months have passed since he last kicked a football, his pencil-thin physique remains untouched by retirement. He talks about the way he changed his diet. ?When I changed my diet, I went from the player with the highest body fat to the one with the lowest body fat. Typical me, has to be all or nothing.?

He tells about a recent visit to Ireland and an invitation to speak to the Cork hurling team: how he sensed a bond among these amateur sportsmen that you don?t get in professional football. He spoke of the togetherness; a natural occurrence, he thought, among men who had played together in underage teams and grown up together.

When he watches them play, he can see that camaraderie and it pleases him. I ask: ?Were they not intimidated?? He pauses briefly: ?Intrigued. Always trying to get inside my head.? So, then, the Cork hurlers are no different from the rest of us.

What went on inside his head when Sir Alex Ferguson let it be known he was no longer wanted at Manchester United? Twelve years of his life at the club, his wracked body became an offering, his soul became the team?s soul. Then, at the end of one bad week, it was over. The exit was quietly played out. Not much was said. ?I just knew it was time to go. Everybody knew. Sixth sense, I suppose.?

First thing he wants you to understand is that his body wasn?t up to it any more. Which is the same as saying he wasn?t up to it any more. Right side, from his hip to his knee; the severed cruciate ligament, the operation to repair the hip, they had taken their toll. He explains his decline with the lack of sentimentality that is his way.

?When I first went to United, Bryan Robson was somebody I looked up to, still do. But I was young, and when you?re young, you smell blood. It was like, ?Robbo, I?m after you, I?m taking you.? That?s the name of the game, otherwise things don?t move on. And I just felt over the last couple of years with the younger players at United, I was losing that influence. They were the ones smelling blood. In terms of dominating, I was definitely losing it. It might have been something the normal fan wouldn?t recognise, the manager wouldn?t even recognise it, but I recognised it. I was always my own judge, sometimes harsh, but in the end, I wasn?t quite at the races.?

It was never going to end with a kiss. Not with Keano. He left because he was told to go, cleaned out his locker the evening before the last meeting with the club chairman David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson. You can call Keane what you wish, but not stupid. Going into that meeting, he knew. The ranting, the raving, the swearing; in the end it all dissipated, replaced by Gill?s sadness, Keane?s resignation, Ferguson?s determination.

He holds onto the good times, the good days: ?I was fortunate to play for United. I enjoyed all my days there, had a good time, met some bloody good people, good characters, good men. I go back to the fellows that were there when I arrived: Robbo [Bryan Robson], Brucie [Steve Bruce], Sparky [Mark Hughes], Andre [Kanchelskis], Incey [Paul Ince], Giggsy.

?My first few years at United were very sociable. We?d agree to meet in Mulligans bar and 10 or 12 lads would show up. You were the exception if you didn?t, now you?re the exception if you do. The game has changed that much.

I liked the change when it came, the way the foreign players looked after themselves. I thought, ?Yeah, I want to play for them as long as I can.? So I changed more than anybody: new diet, knocked the drink on the head, stopped cutting corners and accepted you can?t have the best of both worlds. It wasn?t as much fun after that, but it lasted longer.?

When Keane?s United were good, they were very good. For years only Arsenal could live with them. Keane missed one entire season through injury and, of course, that was one of the leap years when the title went south. Still, they were good years. Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs, and you would have travelled a long way, paid a lot of money to watch them. Millions did. Success corrodes, though. After winning the European Cup (now the Champions League) in 1999, United were in gradual decline. The player who innocently said on the night of the victory that he didn?t care if they never won another match foretold the stagnation that would follow.

And that evening in Barcelona, Keane was still the 12-year-old with the dead fish. ?The good teams come back and win this trophy again and again,? he said, at the Nou Camp stadium. ?That?s what we?ve got to do.? Just as success chipped away at the resolve of teammates, it was repeated failure in the European Cup that did for Keane. Forget his last traumatic week at the club, or at least see it in context. Deep beneath the mountain, the volcano had been bubbling for years.

You ask him about this and it is like Hamlet, alone in a room. ?People look back on my career and think the injuries and leaving the Ireland team at the World Cup were the disappointments. None of that stuff comes into it. The biggest disappointments were the games we lost in Europe.

?Years when we just got sucked into the bull, ?the final is in Glasgow this season, the manager?s home city,? as if that entitled us to a break. ?The final?s in Old Trafford this season, made for us.? People got sucked into that.

?Even that night in Barcelona, it was a great night in the history of the club, and it will be hard to beat it, but you knew some people had reached their height. It?s human nature. I was frustrated by this. I wanted to get back there again, because as much as I thought we were a good team, until you get to a second or third final, you don?t confirm it. It disappoints me that I didn?t win the World Cup. People say ?but Roy, you played for Ireland, you were never going to win the World Cup?. I never saw it like that.?

What did he feel at the end? Anger, sadness, resignation? ?You?ve covered it all there. It had been coming. There were no tears. None. It was done. It?s the people around you that get upset. Family members, wife, parents. They care about you, so they worry. For me, it was mostly acceptance. It had been coming and then it happened. It was the right thing for United, maybe not the right thing for Roy Keane, maybe not for Alex Ferguson, but for the club. I always said, when the day came, I?d be ready. Locker cleaned out the evening before: I was ready.?

But did the end have to be that painful? ?I think so,? he says. ?I cared too much. If things weren?t going well, if new signings weren?t working out, if the reserves were having a bad time, if the youth team wasn?t doing well, I was taking it all on board. That?s what I am. I can?t be flippant about these things. This is who I am, like it or lump it. It doesn?t mean I?m not a nice person.?


He then talks about the last week, the 4-1 defeat at Middlesbrough on the Saturday afternoon, his return from Dubai, his performance as pundit for the MUTV analysis of the game on Monday, and the ructions that followed. The club opted not to broadcast Keane?s comments, which they felt were too critical of teammates. A leaked and inaccurate account of what he said was printed in several newspapers and United was portrayed as a club tearing itself apart.

?I took that defeat personal, then there was the video that was leaked and everything snowballed. That defeat still hurts me; not that we got beaten 4-1, but the way we got beaten. I didn?t even bloody play, which was even more frustrating, because part of me is saying, ?Roy, stay out of it, it?s not your business,? but I?m a player in that dressing room, and this affected the dressing room.

?I was seeing players doing stuff off the pitch, had the feeling it was affecting them, and it came to a head with that defeat. That feeling, I?ll take it to the grave. And yes, I nailed certain people. This was a match I watched in a pub in Dubai. I had a foot injury, the club said take a break. I walked out at 3-1, I couldn?t take any more. I took the publicity with a pinch of salt, senior figures at the club should have done the same. Everyone got sucked into it, when they should have known better. I think, in the end, the manager was swayed by certain people he works with.?

A number of people at Old Trafford believe that at a difficult meeting involving players and coaches following the public airing of Keane?s criticism of some teammates, there was some sharp swordplay between the then skipper and assistant coach, Carlos Queiroz. The coach accused Keane of disloyalty, a brave accusation at the best of times. To use an expression he likes, he then nailed Queiroz by reminding him it was he who ran off to coach Real Madrid and only came back to United when things didn?t work out in Spain. The feeling is that Queiroz went to Ferguson and made it ?him or me?. Since Keane?s time was almost up, it was him.

One United player, asked if he had spoken to his captain in the aftermath of his departure, complained he didn?t have his number. I ask Keane if this wasn?t unusual? ?My brother works in a factory, I doubt if all his workmates have his number. When I was at Celtic, some of the players said, ?Can I have your number?? I said, ?No, I don?t want you annoying me with banter.?

?By the time I left there, two guys had my number. But it?s not something you?re going to give away. One or two of the United lads ? actually, seven ? have my number. People are going to be surprised by this, so I will name them for you. Ruud ? obviously he?s gone now, Ollie [Ole Gunnar Solskjaer], Gary [Neville], Butty [Nicky Butt] ? he?s gone too, Shaysie [John O?Shea], Quinton [Fortune] and Giggsy.?

Not long after his exit, Keane went back to United?s training ground to return his company car. ?The players gave me a lot of respect. I said goodbye and there were no hard feelings.

?United wanted me to have my testimonial, and showed their class as a club in the way they did everything for me. That brought closure. By the end of my time, a lot of the players didn?t like me. I?m convinced of that. Possibly they wouldn?t admit it, but there?s no doubt in my mind, the players had just had enough of me; they were just ready for a change. Ready for a different voice in the changing room. I was losing that influence.?

How is his relationship with Alex Ferguson?

?I wouldn?t have a clue. He?s a manager I played under, he taught me a lot, gave me a chance, and hopefully I repaid that with some decent performances. Then it came to an end.?

Affection? ?No, I wouldn?t say affection. Respect. The bottom line is, he?d always look at the bigger picture. Whatever he does, and maybe he?s upset a few people, he will always do what he thinks is best for the club. I?ll give him that.?

He says you were the most influential player in the club?s history. ?I don?t agree. I?ve never believed one individual can have that much influence on a team. People used to say this about Eric [Cantona], but I didn?t get sucked into that. Eric was a major influence at the club, but I saw him as the final piece in the jigsaw. He wouldn?t have worked if the other pieces weren?t in place. You can?t look to one player, a Rooney or whoever. You can?t have other players thinking, ?Okay, Wayne, go and do it for us.? Different people have different jobs, some more glamorous than others.?

So how good is Rooney? ?For me, the jury?s still out on Wayne. I think he?s got a hell of a lot to do. Wayne has achieved nothing ? would probably say that himself. I would judge players over a few years, rather than one or two. He?s got potential, like I?ve got potential to be a good manager. Potential is one thing, doing it is another. I feel this season could be a good one for him.?

Will the scrutiny hurt him; diminish him? ?A lot of players bring it on themselves, they and the people who are advising them. When I see young players doing deals for five books, I scratch my head. I did a book when I was 31, after a few years of half-decent success. A book deal worth 2 or 3m is not going to alter the lifestyle of a player who could earn 50 to 100m, but it can be a distraction.?

He moves effortlessly into anti-celebrity mode; for here was the man who preferred not to attend the celebrity wedding of his friend David Beckham, who now says he would rather be back drinking cider behind the school wall than sell photographs of his wife and children to OK! or Hello! magazines. As a young manager, he knows it is something he will have to confront.

?They say managers are losing control over players, but there are times when you can put your foot down. Players get away with things now they wouldn?t have been allowed to do a few years ago. My answer would be no. And it would annoy me if one of my players did a shoot for a celebrity magazine. Can you do anything about it? First time, maybe it happens before you can stop it, but there can be consequences, something to make them think twice before doing it again.

Though they are different people, he got on well with Beckham. ?Becks was always going to go down the celebrity road once he got married. Not in a million years could I live that lifestyle, but I?m sure he couldn?t live mine. You give people the freedom to live it their way, but first time you see it?s affecting their football, you put your foot down. There?s loads of people who get sucked in: Jonny Wilkinson and Michael Owen always spring to mind. The day after Owen broke his foot, he?s doing an article and I?m thinking, ?Work on your recovery, man. Do that article next week, next month, next year.? Wilkinson, the same. When you get an injury, the early days are vital. I?ve done it both ways, where I?ve had an injury and been out on the town that night, and later on, when I focused properly. They?re kidding themselves, but that?s the name of the game these days.?

He talks about the future and his decision to become a manager. At first he wasn?t sure. The football life wasn?t so wonderful at the end. For all his resignation, he didn?t plan to leave United by the back door. The affair with Glasgow Celtic didn?t do it for him. Parts of the experience he enjoyed, and it surprised him how much he enjoyed the Celtic dressing room. Better than United?s? ?Less nasty?, he says. ?In every changing room, players get ripped. People have taken the piss out of me; ripped me for not drinking, ripped for doing yoga, ripped for my diets, for my clothes, for my Irishness. But you give it back.

?When I say the Celtic dressing room was better, this is not a criticism of the United lads. I was as bad as any of them. We ripped people for the wrong things; the car, the house, the way you dressed. In Scotland it was more old-fashioned. I enjoyed that. Maybe you don?t get the bull up there that you get in the Premiership.?

He learnt, too, about living out of a suitcase, without a family. He spent three months in an Edinburgh hotel. Cinema in the afternoon, long, anonymous walks in the evening. ?Here I was, a 34-year-old man going to the pictures on his own in the afternoon. It made me think about when I came to England first, the 18-year-old in Nottingham who went to the pictures in the afternoon. Here I was, 16 years on, back at the pictures. My life had come full circle.?

While in that Edinburgh hotel, travelling to and from training, missing his Manchester-based family, he thought about Sebastian Veron, his one-time Argentinian teammate at United. ?Celtic couldn?t have done enough for me, but it was a lonely life and I wish now I had been a bit easier on some of the foreign lads who came to United. I always thought, ?You?re on the pitch now, do it.? I regret that now. I was very hard on Seba, and I was wrong. When he came, I was expecting miracles. When they didn?t happen, I was always homing in on him, and I now know it takes time.? He wanted to play his best for Celtic but he didn?t; his body wasn?t up to it and, without his family, it was tough.

Through the traumas, Theresa and their five children have been his anchor. ?The bad times, that?s when you need a family. I read a book recently about the loss of identity sportsmen feel when they stop. ?Roy Keane, Manchester United.? ?Roy Keane, Ireland.? ?Roy Keane, Glasgow Celtic.? There?s always something after your name. With your family, you have an identity that?s separate from that.?

The decision to become the manager of Sunderland was taken while with his family in the Algarve. They would not have discouraged him: they know he is a better father, an easier husband, when spending his intensity on football. He thinks he will be a good manager but he reminds you; so does everyone starting out. The key for him is he has to find out. Two lines from Julius Caesar could have been written for him: ?Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.?

And so we talk about management. He has watched Jose Mourinho?s arrival into the Premiership, the way he has taken on Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. ?Mourinho?s got something. A blind man could see that. And he has the edge at the moment. He plays games and I think they can have a big effect on his team and on the opposition. Do you remember when Chelsea played United at Stamford Bridge, end of last season, and there?s two minutes to go in injury time, and he gets up, walks up to where the United lads are, and he?s shaking Alex Ferguson?s hand and the game is still going on? Two years ago no one would?ve done that to Alex Ferguson.

?The manager would not have liked it. But Mourinho is saying, ?The game is over, the league is over, 3-0 to us.? But Alex Ferguson would have taken that on board. That?s what good managers thrive on, that kind of slight. People love to criticise Mourinho, but I like watching Chelsea. They?re well organised; they know their jobs.?

That last part came easily to Keane. Perhaps his last great performance in a United shirt came on that February evening in Highbury last year. Facing down Patrick Vieira in the tunnel before the kickoff and then dominating the game.

He remembers it clearly: ?Arsenal started it that night with Gary [Neville]. Vieira had a go at Gary. Gary?s not really a fighter.? So, what did you say to him? ?The Sunday before, there was a two-page spread about Vieira in The Sunday Times, and he was bragging about all the good things he was doing in Senegal. He?s building this academy, saving kids from the street. It irritated me. Self-praise is no praise. And so I said to him, ?If you?re that worried about Senegal, why didn?t you f***ing play for them?? [Born in Senegal, Vieira moved to France and played for his adopted country.]

?A week or so later he said I didn?t understand the history of what he?d come through. And he?s right about that, and I was probably wrong.?

We talk about the World Cup in Germany. He went to one of the games and felt it was a wasted trip. As for England, he knew before they went there: ?No chance.? Too few world-class players. ?I like Gerrard, Lampard and Wayne, but they still haven?t done it on a world stage, and then there?s all this bull around the team.? He didn?t find the Wags amusing. ?What kind of person wants to be pictured going out for a meal? They were annoying me, and they?re not even my wife.?

He then talks about the sending-off of Zinedine Zidane in the final. ?I could understand what he did 100%. I could sense his frustration: he?d just missed a header before that, then a pass went astray; you could see he was getting a bit tired, and all you need is a flippin? comment at that moment. That?s what used to happen to me.

?You see, at that moment it doesn?t matter who is watching, doesn?t matter that it?s a World Cup final. It could be a park field. That moment comes and it is ?F*** you, f*** everybody,? and bang! Zidane?s got that streak in him; if he didn?t, would he have been a brilliant player?

?I think of the last game I played for Celtic. I gave away one or two passes. Two stray, silly passes, and it eats away at me. All you need then is someone to say something.? He doesn?t want to return to his collisions with the Norwegian Alf-Inge Haaland, but this train of thought drives him there: ?I remember at Leeds, when I?d done my knee [in a lunge at Haaland]. He irritated me, that?s all it was. If a certain person says it at the wrong moment, then ?bad day?. At Old Trafford, when Haaland was playing for City, he had been mouthing off in the media, slagging off the club. I took that personal. We?d lost the Wednesday before to Bayern Munich in the European Cup, and it was a case of ?Sod it, just sod it.??

He thinks about what he has just said, realising there is a part of him that we will never fully understand, and he begins to laugh.

?Anyway, they?re my excuses,? he says.

?Very genuine excuses.?

Old article on Jimmy Johnstone by Hiugh McIllvaney

The Sunday Times
The big interview: Jimmy Johnstone
Hugh McIlvanney
18 May 2003
Hugh McIlvanney salutes the Celtic legend who is fighting a fatal illness but still displaying the same glorious spirit that mesmerised opponents.

Motor neurone disease has a habit of making its unanswerable point sooner rather than later but none of us should be surprised to find that Jimmy Johnstone is convinced he can give the rare and desperate affliction a serious argument.

As a football player, he was irrepressibility incarnate, and behind the darts and feints and miracles of close control that made him the most unsubduable winger Scotland has produced it was always possible to discern as the core quality of his game a defiant, irrational optimism.

The daunting odds represented by the size and strength and talent of the best defenders could not impinge on his gloriously simple conviction that he would break their morale. His spirit did as much as the hypnotic blur of his dribbling skills to dismantle the will of the opposition and to implant him deeply and permanently in the affections of a nation for which, despite a thousand disenchantments, football can never quite lose its capacity to provide a vehicle for dreams.

Now, as Johnstone undergoes his treatments, and does his training runs as if to stay ahead of the deadly stalker at his heels long enough for a cure to be found, there flows in on him a warmth that is something far beyond even the concerned and appreciative feeling invariably generated by a great sports performer who is suddenly reduced to frailty. What many Scots feel for him is nothing short of a cherishing love. Part of the charm he has exerted on them relates to his swaggering refusal to be discouraged by the limitations of his stature. He is 5ft 4in tall but in action he had a heart as big as a church and the ingenuity to topple giants, so he wasnt an inappropriate hero for a small country.

The inexhaustible cheek he brought to his play could not fail to strike a chord with his race. Johnstone didnt simply thrill spectators. He made them smile and sometimes laugh out loud at the outrageous brilliance, the sublime impertinence, of his antics. Yet it would be ridiculously insulting to imagine him as a mere trickster, a sideshow footballer. He was the real article, comprehensively equipped to be a precious asset to his own team and a nightmare to those they were facing. It is true that dribbling was the essence of his genius and in that department he was utterly unique. Other wingers might fairly be rated more reliably devastating (Garrincha, George Best, Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews come to mind) but none of them assailed opponents with such a complex, concentrated swirl of deceptive manoeuvres or ever conveyed a more exhilarating sense of joy in working magic with a ball.

As he spurted and braked and doubled back to humiliate a helpless adversary for a second or third time weaving and teasing the man punch-drunk at impossibly close quarters, occasionally holding the ball on his instep to draw a forlorn lunge, changing direction with an abruptness that suggested his pelvis might come asunder it was sometimes claimed that being more orthodoxly direct would have increased his effectiveness. While we were watching him torment Tarcisio Burgnich during Celtics swashbuckling demolition of Inter Milan on that night of nights in Lisbon 36 years ago, when Jock Steins Glasgow and District Select became the first British team to win the European Cup, a leading Fleet Street sportswriter turned to me and said: Johnstones not very economical, is he? My colleague had missed the point that the wee man, with Steins enthusiastic approval, operated on the principle that the surest way to destroy defences was first to demoralise them. Dont worry, I told that other reporter, Burgnich is about ready to start shouting for a cab to get him out of here.

The Italian defender was painfully aware that there was nothing vaudevillian about the trickery he was confronting. Johnstone had the tools to inflict a variety of damage. His short bursts of acceleration were electric and his striking of the ball was excellent, whether passing, crossing or shooting. He had a sharp instinct for finishing, and scoredmemorable goals. His exceptional balance enabled him to rock and sway and tumble through tackles like an acrobat and, though he buzzed and flitted as elusively as an insect, he had the sturdiness of a pit pony.

He did then, but its a poignantly different story now. Motor neurone disease (Johnstone has the most common form, ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a wasting condition that attacks the wiring system connecting the brain to the muscles, eroding the peripheral nerves to the point where everything from the movement of limbs to the functioning of the lungs for breathing and the tongue for speaking is terminally affected. The brain itself remains alert and active as the body surrenders around it, a process requiring fortitude on an unimaginable scale. Only two individuals per 100,000 of population develop MND annually. Don Revie, the former England forward and manager of Leeds United and England, died of it, as did the actor David Niven. It cut down the Iron Horse of baseball, Lou Gehrig, at the age of 37 in 1941, and in America ALS is widely known as Lou Gehrigs Disease.

Johnstone, who will be 59 on September 30, was diagnosed as having the condition in the autumn of 2001 and when subsequent newspaper reports referred to life expectancy after diagnosis a span of four-to-six years was usually mentioned. Although a spokesman for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in Glasgow supplied me with a substantially lower figure as the average, Jimmy himself continues to talk confidently of the future. And when I spent two-and-a-half hours alone with him the other day, he was so ebullient that I had pangs of guilt about my natural inclination to interpret his upbeat pronouncements as a triumph of attitude over reality. Words came in a torrent of confirmation of his combative eagerness to reach out for any prospect of taking the fight to the enemy within him. You have to be positive, he said. A lot of amazing things are happening in that big world out there and I think the research into stem cells is particularly hopeful. Theres a Professor Manzini in Italy whos doing advanced work with stem cells and Im due to see her in June in Turin. As well as Manzini there are six other trials going on in different places. The pharmaceutical companies are hampering the research, the bastards, and the British government arent doing enough, but theres progress being made. I believe sooner or later there will be a cure for everything. I know about the worst scenario with MND. Your throat swells up, you lose your voice, you lose your legs, you cant breathe. If you worried about all that it would put you in the grave. With me, its just my arms and hands that are affected now and its the frustration and awkwardness of not being able to do things I did automatically thats the biggest problem, like dressing myself or pouring out a cup of tea or driving a car. But I still do a running session at the local fitba park three times a week and when I had respiratory tests recently they said I had the breathing of a 20-year-old. Im still singing like a lintie (a linnet), stealing the songs of Bono and Bon Jovi. Ive really enjoyed my part in a documentary being made about me.

We had met on the south-east edge of Glasgow at the headquarters of a firm owned by Willie Haughey, an especially supportive member of the throng of loyal friends with whom Jimmy is surrounded. The discreet opulence of the company boardroom made an improbable setting after some of the livelier locations in which we had come together infrequently but convivially over several decades. His clothes were loose-fitting and casual, with a notable absence of the buttons that his weak arms and clawed hands cannot manipulate, and the diminishing of his physical presence was unsurprisingly conspicuous. But the vigour and mischief of his personality were unimpaired and much of our time together was spent laughing, often at episodes in the past but also at elements of his recent experiences that he has found funny. He has twice visited the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, for checks and treatment and to become involved in a controlled trial of a drug that may prove beneficial to victims of MND, and he was amused to discover that one of the doctors dealing with him was a passionate Celtic supporter from Dublin. He had fun, too, with another physician who is half-Sicilian. I told him it was easy to guess his background when he gave me a reaction test by scraping his car keys along the soles of my feet.

His gratitude to all the doctors and lay people who have sustained him had Jimmy urging me to include a catalogue of names, but I pointed out that listing carried the risk of hurtful omissions and, in any case, those helpers knew how he felt and wouldnt be craving public thanks. Understandably, he became most animated when he praised the saintly steadfastness of his wife Agnes and the support of his son and two daughters and his grandchildren. Where once there was a thatch of red hair, his skull is now hairless and his pale face shows the strain of what he has been enduring, but once on the subject of Agnes he was suddenly young again and the almost feverish intensity was back in his delivery, with the bright blue eyes looking as if they might jump out of his head.

As an acknowledged alcoholic with a well-documented propensity for spectacular escapades by no means all of them as endearing as the 1974 maritime adventure that saw him cast adrift from the Ayrshire coast, and in more ways than one from the Scotland team, in a rowing boat that had oars but no rowlocks he recognises the pressures he put on his family life: Its miraculous that Agnes has stuck by me after all Ive put her through. I have hellish remorse. By rights I shouldnae be here. Considering the people I got involved with in certain situations, the things I did and the things I said, I could have had my throat cut. I was on my way out, losing the house and everything. Willie Haughey put it all right for me. He set out rules, especially about the drinking. I didnt do all that Willie required but he has gone on backing me up. I keep my distance from the drink these days.

Its good not to wake up in that state where you cant look this one or that one in the face. My Catholic faith has meant a lot in my darkest times and the big man upstairs has looked after me, but it cant be take, take, take. You have to give something back. Ive tried but I havent given enough back.

He admits that battling with MND has tightened the focus of his priorities, not least his approach to what he eats and drinks. So sensitive is he about the threat of his body being invaded by toxins that he insists on bottled water not only for drinking but for cooking and eschews foods that most of us would regard as unmenacing, such as mushrooms, bacon and tomatoes. His worries over pollution in the public water supply have a retrospective application. He was born

the son of a miner in what was the Lanarkshire coalfield and suspects that the hazards there werent all underground. The miners houses had lead piping, and also as boys we happily drank out of the burns when we were playing around the pit bings, so the odds that we were being harmed were high enough.

Nothing, however, could conceivably reduce his emotional allegiance to the raw, industry-scarred landscape from which he sprang. Though his present home is nearby it is specifically to his place of origin, Viewpark, Uddingston, that he cleaves, turning relentlessly lyrical about a vista that would hardly have inspired a lakeland poet: Viewpark! I love the place. I wish they could freeze that time, that era, and let us live in it. The field of dreams. From the grounds of St Columbas Church I can see my life stretched out before me. I can see the house at 647 Old Edinburgh Road, where I was born, and Im standing in the yard of the chapel in which I was baptised. Right in front of me is the primary school I attended and two miles on is Birkenshaw, where I met the love of my life, Agnes. And 10 miles on again is Celtic Park, Paradise, where it all happened for me.

So much that was momentous happened for him in the green and white of Celtic that last year he was voted the greatest player in the history of a club that has been producing candidates since 1888. His commitment to the cause is undiluted and he is yearning fervently for a Celtic victory in Seville on Wednesday. Martin ONeill would be more entitled to confidence if he were able to call on a time-machine to summon up the little red-headed magician who was for so long a huge boon and an occasional bane in the managerial existence of Jock Stein. Many of the most entertaining passages of my conversation with Jimmy were devoted to establishing the definitive versions of the folk-tales that have accumulated around his career, and in a majority of those Stein was central.

One of my favourites concerns the day when the winger was substituted in a home match against St Johnstone and became so incensed that, as he stormed off, he threw his jersey at Stein in the dugout. Going up the tunnel, Jimmys blood chilled as he heard a sinister irregularity of footfalls behind him and realised that his nemesis was limping in pursuit. I thought seriously about escaping out into the car park and getting on to London Road, he recalled. I had this picture of me galloping through the East End with my studs clattering. But instead I dived into the dressingroom and locked the door. When Jock started hammering to get in, I was cowering behind the door, whimpering, Will ye no hit me, will ye no hit me? Only Wee Jinky could have put himself in that predicament. But, of course, there were many things that only Wee Jinky could do.

The Scottish Motor Neurone Disease Association can be contacted on: 0141 945 1077. Website:
Source: The Sunday Times