Happy Birthday to Derek Johnstone who will be 62 on November 4th. Derek played 14 times for the Scotland and perhaps was hindered in being available as both a striker and centre half in his career and maybe if he had stuck at one or the other, may have accumulated more caps. Ultimately though, Derek will be known more for the games he didn’t play in, rather than the ones he did.
Derek’s first burst of games for Scotland came in May / June 1973 where he was picked by Willie Ormond as a centre half. With the Scots having been roundly beaten by England 5-0 the previous February, Ormond decided to go with a new central pairing for the Home Internationals.
Derek would start his first game against Wales at the Racecourse, Wrexham in May 1973 lining up alongside Manchester United’s Jim Holton. Holton is a Scottish legend but he would only win one more cap than Johnstone. He would play in seven games in 1973 and eight in ’74 with only one being after the 1974 World Cup; admittedly some of those games, goals and memories are among our collective greatest. Injuries would really put pay to Holton’s Scotland career though.
Also, making their debuts that day were fellow Rangers players Peter McCloy, Derek Parlane and one Daniel Fergus McGrain of Celtic. Scotland won 2-0 that day with George Graham, then of Manchester United scoring both goals.
Unfortunately for Johnstone and Scotland that was as good as it got that summer. Defeats followed at home to Northern Ireland (2-1) and then a 1-0 loss to England at Wembley. Two friendlies followed; the first a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in Berne and then the big one. Scotland v Brazil; the World Champions at Hampden on June 30th. 78,181 people turned out for this game including a little rapscallion from Sunny Milton seeing his first Scotland game. Although, there was no Pele; there was still Rivelino, Jairzinho and Clodoaldo from the 1970 World Cup winning team. As for Derek, he scored the only goal of the game unfortunately it was in his own net!
Next up for Scotland was that famous night at Hampden where we qualified for 1974 World Cup with Holton providing one of the goals, as for Derek he was dropped and replaced by Celtic’s George Connelly making his debut that night.
World Cup ’74 would come and go before Derek got another chance to prove himself, however it was only a four minute appearance as he came on as a sub for Kenny Dalglish as the Scots beat East Germany 3-0 in a friendly at Hampden in October, 1974. Another sub appearance six months later, April ’75, in a friendly against Sweden in Gothenburg saw him in a more midfield position after coming on for Lou Macari inn 54 mins. Scotland would equalise though Ted MacDougall of Norwich City in the 86th minute.
Again, Johnstone would disappear from the national scene returning a year later in a starting line-up that included Johnstone Andy Gray, Kenny Dalglish and making his debut Willie Pettigrew all in attack. Pettigrew would score in only two minutes and this was to be the game’s only goal.
Derek would also make two subs appearance in that years’ Home Internationals coming on in both the 3-0 win against Northern Ireland at Hampden in May ‘76 and also the 2-1 victory at Wembley a week later.
1978 and things had changed; Willie Ormond had stepped down and the ebullient Ally MacLeod had taken charge, the previous year. Scotland had already qualified for Argentina without Johnstone being involved, however he was racking up the goals for Rangers that season and merited his chance for a place on the plane to Argentina.
Derek came on as a sub against Bulgaria in the February as Scotland won 2-1 at Hampden with goals from Archie Gemmill and Coventry’s Ian Wallace.
May, 1978, Rangers had won the treble with Johnstone contributing 38 goals and Derek had won both the Writers and Players Player of the Year award. He was given a starting place against Northern Ireland and lightened up a dull affair of a game with an equalising flying header in the 36th minute. Another lacklustre performance against Wales a few days later from the team saw Derek being one of the few who would come off the pitch with some credit due to a 12th minute goal, in a game that is perhaps best remembered for Willie Donachie’s own goal from a pass back to goalie Jim Blyth of Coventry.
However, two goals in two games, a great season and the mandatory perm was not enough for Ally as Derek was dropped for the game against England at Hampden, which Scotland lost 1-0.
MacLeod’s preference to start with Joe Jordan is often seen as flawed, both in the England game and all three or our World Cup games but to be fair Joe did make contributions in both the Peru and Dutch games. However, it was Ally’s choice of utilising Joe Harper as a sub instead of Johnstone in the poor one all draw with Iran that is perhaps the hardest to fathom.
Scotland had both the Scotland and England Players of the year that season and neither Johnstone nor Andy Gray would see a minute of play in the Argentine; Gray wouldn’t even make it into the squad.
MacLeod out and Jock Stein in; the winter of ’78 would herald a new era for Scotland, sadly for Derek he was not to be part of it and would only make one more appearance in a Euro Qualifier in December 1979, when he started up front alongside Kenny Dalglish. Belgium would blitz Scotland with three goals in a thirteen minute period in the first half, which we never recovered with John Robertson managing our only counter in the second half.
So that was it for Derek, with the younger Stevie Archibald starting the next game and Andy Gray getting a consistent place in the team he was never to pull on the Dark Blue of Scotland again.
So Happy Birthday DJ as we remember another of Scotland’s If Only conjectures. All the best.