First posted on April 13th, 2016
Happy Birthday Mo who will be 53 today. I know some of you may have choked on that sentence there and the thought of wishing Mo all the best is just too much for you but as a Scotland player Mo played some great games for the team and provided quite a number of goals. With 14 goals in 38 appearances, Mo sits 9th in our all-time goalscoring list. His goals per game average is better than Dalglish, McCoist, Kenny Miller and James McFadden. He scored six goals on our way to Italia ’90 and scored doubles against both Spain and France at Hampden in World Cup Qualifiers.
Having moved from Partick Thistle to Watford in 1983, Mo scored 23 goals in 29 games in his first season with the Hornets and indeed was part of the team that played in the FA Cup Final losing to Everton in 1984.
Jock Stein gave Mo his first cap in 28th February, 1984 against Wales. Mo was given the second half replacing Frank McGarvey of Celtic at half time. Scotland had been leading 1-0 with a Davie Cooper penalty but the Welsh equalised within two minutes of the start. However, Mo had a dream start to his Scotland career and popped up with the winner in the 78th minute.
Mo was then given the final 28 minutes of the game against England at Wembley, the following May but could not provide that winning touch as the Scots drew 1-1 with Mark McGhee scoring early for Scotland.
Jock Stein would start Johnston in the next six Scotland games on the trot. Mo scored one of the six goals against Yugoslavia at Hampden in September, 1985 in a friendly that only had a measly crowd of 18,512 attend. By this time Mo was a Celtic player.
November 14th, 1984 will be well remembered by the crowd of just over 74,000 as Mo scored two first half headed goals against Spain at Hampden in a World Cup qualifier. A second half goal by Goicoechea threatened to ruin the party until Kenny Dalglish put us two clear again in the 75th minute and it was party time.
For Mo that was as good as it got in the qualification for Mexico 1986 as he would not feature too often in the latter half of the campaign. Following the death of Jock Stein and the emergence of Alex Ferguson as Scotland manager his opportunities became slimmer as Fergie gave him the boot for indiscretions in an Australian hotel following the play-off against the Aussies in 1985.
Mo had often courted problems off field and this was to prove his undoing now as he would miss the 1986 World Cup altogether. It’s a pity if you look at the strikers who played in Mexico ’86; by this stage Mo had a better goalscoring record than them all including Nicholas, Archibald, Sharp, McAvennie and Sturrock and a solitary goal against Uruguay would have seen us progress past the group stages.
Andy Roxburgh reinstated Johnston to the Scotland side after the World Cup but the 1988 Euro campaign was a relatively poor one for Scotland and Mo would only contribute one goal; a third against the mighty Luxembourg at home after David Cooper had hit a first half double.
By the start of season 1987-88, Mo had become a Nantes player and this would prove to be his best spell in a Scotland jersey as he lit up the qualification campaign for Italia ’90 in a way that few Scotland players ever have.
Before all that though Johnston scored Scotland’s second goal against Saudi Arabia in a friendly in Riyadh in February, 1988.
Cap number 21 and the World Cup campaign began in Oslo, Norway. Paul McStay had given Scotland an early first half lead but Jan-Aage Fjortoft had equalised just before half time and that’s how it stayed until the 63rd when Mo scored after a bit of a scramble in the penalty area and we gave those Norway boys one hell of a beating.
Next up was a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia when once more Mo scrambles the ball home for the opening goal.
Cyprus, February 1989 and Mo picks up an early through ball and slots it past the Cypriot goalkeeper in Limassol to give Scotland the lead but we would need to second half goals from Richard Gough to win the game 3-2 in the dying moments.
Next up France with Platini in charge at Hampden and more glory for Mo and Scotland as his two goals either side of half time puts the French to the sword. Again these are not the greatest goals but they signified a striker at the top of his game. As would the next game, as Mo scores an opening goal with a wonderful overhead kick to give Scotland the lead against Cyprus at Hampden in April ’89. Although, the Cypriots equalised in the second half, Ally McCoist scored what proved to be the winner in the 63rd minute.
And that was the end of Mo’s golden period for Scotland having scored six goals in five consecutive World Cup ties; each contributing to Scotland’s points tally, so much so they could afford to lose to both Yugoslavia and France away from home and only need a draw with Norway at home to qualify. It would be Ally McCoist who would provide that; scoring just before half time at a nervy Hampden which became even more so when Norway equalised with a minute to go. By this time of course, Mo was a Rangers player and incurring the wrath of the green and white half of Glasgow.
Prior to Italia ’90, Mo would score at Hampden in a friendly v Poland, where Gary Gillespie flighted a perfect ball past Andy Goram to give the Poles an equaliser, his second Scotland own goal, which is more goals than some of our strikers have hit.
It would be fair to say Mo didn’t have a great Italia ’90 and perhaps he and Scotland had peaked too soon, once more. Mo would play in all three games and would take the responsibility of the penalty against Sweden in the second game to ensure Scotland’s 2-0 win but once more Scotland failed to progress.
Mo did more or less retire from the International scene after the World Cup playing two halves in a couple of games and that was it for him.
So Happy Birthday Mo and thanks for those glorious moments in the dark blue of Scotland (and of course in the red and yellow of Partick Thistle; sorry couldn’t help myself there) as these are what I will choose to remember of you.