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The Mavericks: Maurice Johnston

Colin Payne on one of the club's great mavericks


He came from Partick at the age of 20, a black cloud already looming over his strawberry-blonde head due to dodgy dealings with even dodgier tracksuits. He was a party animal, shagger (excuse the 80s parlance, but there could be no better description in truth), and the cheeky bad boy who was irresistible to all. Maurice Johnston was a maverick, but when he took to the field, he left all that behind. We only had him for a season, but what a glorious season it was. He created, excited, thrilled, and delivered, scoring 27 goals in 46 outings in a yellow shirt. This was the year we stabilised that place in the top tier, ventured to Europe (although ‘MoJo’ played no part in that adventure) and went all the way to Wembley (he did a play a big part in that). 

Myth and legend surround his flat above the old Hornet Shop in the Vicarage Road precinct, mostly because no one really knows the truth, just that things happened. He would roll into training straight from Stringfellows, clad in an all-white suit, relying on Steve Harrison and Tom Walley to shower him down and pump him full of black coffee before remarkably putting in a shift under GT’s knowing, watchful eye. 

And he would go on to make history 371 miles north of Vicarage Road.

For, no matter what he did anywhere else, Mo Johnston will forever be known as the first Roman Catholic to play for both Glasgow Celtic and Rangers (although Rangers had had Catholic players previously, none had been openly so 

for a very long time, and Johnson was generally seen as the first in public perception). Graham Souness was on a quest to see how far the Ibrox faithful would accept an Age of Enlightenment in return for footballing success. In signing Johnston, he found out. As still we await the first openly gay professional footballer, when they eventually do break through any feared negative response will truly be nothing in comparison to what Mo endured. Death threats, hate mail and genuine vitriolic vicious bile followed from the extreme end of both sections of a community that at last had something to unite over. It’s reported that the Rangers kit man had refused to handle Mo’s kit, although the blue half of the city began to soften their stance when he scored against Celtic in his Old Firm derby debut, and net another 47 times over two seasons; although he will forever be known as Judas to those from Parkhead. Whether he had ever fully comprehended the effects of signing for Rangers is doubtful, but it’s a decision that still affects his life today.

He eventually finished a distinguished career, which included international honours, in 2001 at the age of 38 playing for Kansas City Wizards, before going on to coach in the States.

Maurice Johnston, the maverick who became a trailblazer.