Where are they now: Willie Johnston
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WHERE HE WAS: “Wee” Willie Johnston was born on December 19, 1946, in Maryhill, Scotland, an area of Glasgow.
At the age of 18, Johnston joined famous Scottish club Glasglow Rangers FC. The local lad worked his way up the ranks and made a name for himself with Rangers.
Willie Johnston entertains the crowd by sitting on the ball
Johnston (or ‘Bud’ to his mates), was a true character in the game who loved to entertain the fans. One such instance came in a game against Rangers’ archrival Celtic. After dazzling the crowd and dribbling by Celtic defenders, he sat on the ball to taunt his rivals – a maneuver he also pulled against Bayern Munich (in the video). Always feisty, Johnston has his fair share of memorable moments throughout his career.
“I was a fast and tricky winger and there was plenty of defenders who would go out to try and break my legs,” remembers Johnston. “So my quick temper did get in the way sometimes, but I had to protect myself.”
During his time with Rangers, Johnston played 211 matches and scored 89 goals. Two of those most famous goals came in 1972 when he scored twice in the European Cup Winners Cup final to help Rangers win 3-2 over Russian side Dynamo Moscow.
In December 1972 he move to West Bromwich Albion for a then club record fee of 138,000 pounds. Willie played 207 games and in 2004 Johnston was named as one of West Bromwich Albion's 16 greatest players, in a poll organized as part of the club's 125th anniversary celebrations.
One of the crazier moments in Johnston’s career came at the 1978 World Cup. After Scotland’s opening game versus Peru, Johnston was banned for the use of stimulant Reactivan, which was prescribed for his hay-faver.
“I had to leave the country, and Vancouver sounded like a nice place” said Willie with a chuckle.
WHERE HE WENT: After leaving the United Kingdom, Johnston found a new home in Vancouver in 1979. And he was up to his usual tricks.
Willie Johnston's famous beer swig
One such memory was a famous moment in San Jose. As he prepared to take a corner kick, he took a swig of beer from the crowd, then wound up and assisted on the winning goal.
“I believe it was a Scotsman that asked me if I was thirsty as I was taking the corner,” remembers Johnston. “And I was, but the beer was really warm.”
Another memory came against heated rivals Seattle Sounders. As Johnston passed their bench, he dropped his shorts in a gesture to a former Scotland teammate who had aggravated the team.
“It was Bruce Ricoh I was mooning,” confirmed Johnston. “We did not get along.”
But what Willie will be remembered for most of all was being a part of that famous 1979 ‘Caps team that defeated the favoured New York Cosmos in the playoffs and went on to win the NASL Soccer Bowl.
“That year was really special for the club and me,” recalled the Scotsman. “Winning the cup… and nights out with Roger Kenyon and Alan Ball.”
WHERE HE IS NOW: Upon retiring, Willie ran the Port Brae Bar in his home town of Kirkcaldy, Scotland for 25 years. Today, he can still be found in Kirkcaldy, as well as at Ibrox Stadium for Rangers games where is considered a legend and acts as an ambassador for the club
“I love going to the games where I can see good football and meet friends,” says Johnston.
Willie Johnston left a lasting impression and was loved by every club he played for. We will never forget the fun times he gave us running down the wing at Empire Stadium.
At this past weekend’s match at BC Place, a new banner debuted (below) on the north end of the stadium. “Willie’s Corner” is a tribute to ‘Wee’ Willie Johnston and his famous beer swig before taking a corner kick for a goal in San Jose.