18 Feb 19
The Scottish Sun
“A lot of the enjoyment has gone out of football,” said Willie ‘Bud’ Johnston recently. “For me, it’s a game where you should go and entertain.”
And entertain is what he did.
Willie Johnston was a wing wizard for club and country
In a career where he starred on the wing for Rangers, West Brom, Vancouver Whitecaps and Hearts, and won 22 caps for Scotland, Johnston was the epitome of the tricky winger, blessed with skills by the bucketload and a turn of pace that could defenders for dead.
But trouble followed him around like a puppy.
He was sent home in disgrace from the 1978 World Cup…
It’s the single thing that everybody remembers Willie Johnston for and it’s a tad unfair, given just how good a player he was.
Johnston was sent home in disgrace from the 1978 World Cup
After Scotland lost to Peru 3-1 in their opening game in Argentina, Johnston was called in for a drugs test – and failed.
Testing positive for the stimulant Fencamfamin, Johnston protested his innocence, claiming it had come from an over the counter medicine called Reactivan.
But it was to no avail. He was sent home.
“I was in the best form of my life and had no need for artificial stimulants,” he reflected.
After testing positive for banned substance Fencamfamin, Johnston had to leave the Scottish camp
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“And in any case the Peru match was the worst of my international career, so you could hardly say Reactivan was performance-enhancing.”
On his return to Britain, Johnston was vilified by supporters and the media alike but coped in his own unique way.
“I went to the pub,” he shrugged. “You get great therapy there!”
He headed to the States to avoid the spotlight…
Johnston headed to the North American Soccer League and played for Vancouver Whitecaps with Alan Ball
Soon after his World Cup shame, Johnston moved to the North American Soccer League, joining Vancouver Whitecaps in 1982.
But he found trouble waiting for him there too.
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Once, he was fined $2,000 for mooning Bruce Rioch in a game against the Seattle Sounders.
And, in a game against the fabled New York Cosmos, he sparked a 20-man brawl after clashing with their firebrand Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia with the only players not joining in being Alan Ball and Franz Beckenbauer who watched on from the centre circle, laughing.
Cheeky Johnston though often found himself in bother
But he did won the 1979 Soccer Bowl so it wasn’t all bad news.
He was rapid…
When he started out his career, Johnston was still working as a coal miner, and often turned up at training after a shift down the mine.
It gave him the chance to show off his skills – and his raw pace.
With the ball, Johnston was grease lightning at Rangers
“At training at Rangers I used to run in my pit boots to give the other guys a chance,” he recalled.
He liked a showboat…
It’s the Scottish League Cup Final in 1971. Rangers are beating rivals Celtic and Johnston is having a great game, tormenting the opposition with his jiggery-pokery on the wing.
Indeed, Johnston’s dazzling skills are such that by the end of the game there are no Celtic players willing to try and tackle him for fear of being embarrassed again and with nobody to beat, Johnston decides to just sit on the ball and wait for a challenge.
For club and country Johnston loved to showboat on the pitch
It was like a red rag to a bull for some Celtic players who lunged in to take him out. Only they couldn’t.
Instead, Johnston stood up, dribbled round them and carried on his merry way.
The Rangers fans loved it but his manager Willie Waddell wasn’t so keen, fining him £60.
It was his temperament that saw him move south to West Brom…
Johnston moved to West Brom for an Anglo-Scotiish transfer record fee of £138,000 in 1972
The very fact that Johnston was on first name terms with the doorman at the SFA’s Disciplinary Committee should tell you all you need to know about his issues during his time in Scotland.
“Tommy, the boy on the door, got to know me very well,” he recalled.
“He’d go: ‘Milk and two sugars and a wee biscuit?’”
There were red cards galore, thousands in fines and a succession of long bans, with a 63-day suspension coming after throwing a punch at Partick Thistle’s Alex Forsyth.
Johnston could look after himself on the pitch, once receiving a 63-day suspension for punching a player on the pitch
“I used to call him Brucie; he hated it,” he explains.
Just days later, Johnston was sold to West Brom for an Anglo-Scottish transfer record fee of £138,000 in 1972.
He certainly had a sense of humour…
In his 2009 book ‘Sent Off At Gunpoint’, Johnston revealed some of the innumerable incidents that had fans rolling in the aisles.
On and off the pitch, Johnston was certainly a character
He once scored direct from a corner for Vancouver Whitecaps and then drank a supporter’s beer to celebrate and he also planted his boot up a referee’s backside, just for fun.
Bizarrely, he also managed to buy a greenhouse from a fan over the course of two games at West Brom, conducting the negotiations on the touchline whenever there was a break in play.
Good time management if you ask me. Hang on, go back to the ‘Sent Off At Gunpoint’ thing. Really?
Oh yes. It was during a friendly in New York when Rangers took on Italian side Fiorentina and, it seemed, Johnston’s reputation preceded him.
Johnston once had a gun waved at him after refusing to leave the pitch after a sending off
As he fouled one of the opposition, Johnston was shocked to see a red card being waved in his face. And he wasn’t happy.
In fact, he simply refused to leave the pitch and with the stand-off dragging on, the referee summoned the police with Johnston eventually being escorted off by an officer pointing a revolver at him.
But then he was always getting in trouble with officials…
Johnston was sent off a total of 22 times in his professional career, although he wasn’t really a dirty player.
In a career that spanned 21-years, Johnston was sent off an incredible 22 times
He just tended to lose his rag a little. Or a lot.
“I would get my retaliation in first,” he once explained.
“People were kicking lumps out of us. It wasn’t nice. They’d kick you to death. They were hurting you and making sure you were going to stay hurt.
“Off the ball, high tackles, attempts to break your leg.”
But it wasn’t all retaliation…
Johnston starred in the WBA side with Cyrille Regis and Alistair Brown
And Johnston was always the joker in the pack among his teammates
However, there was always that fiery streak that existed in Johnston’s game
But Johnston’s career will forever be marred by disgrace at the 1978 World Cup
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One of Johnston’s most notorious dismissals came on his return to Rangers in 1980 when, in a game against Aberdeen, he stamped on the throat of the Dons’ John McMaster.
It was serious. McMaster passed out and even needed to be resuscitated.
It’s an incident that Johnston regrets to this day, for several reasons.
“I’m not proud of that,” he says.
“It’s no excuse but I thought he was Willie Miller. Unfortunately I got the wrong player.”