Published: 12/10/2010 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 09:47

Shy Highland League legend possessed a deadly finish

Donald Wilson
Donald Wilson

A HIGHLAND League legend is remembered in a new book which re-writes the football history books but not in his favour.

Davy Johnston, who played both for his home town side Nairn County and Caley, was compared to his great contemporary Bobby Charlton and widely regarded as one of the finest players to have emerged from the Highlands.

However, despite a successful three-season spell at Aberdeen where he scored 37 goals in 99 games, homesickness prevented him from demonstrating his talent at the highest level.

Johnstons career is now the subject of a new book, Pittodries Silent Assassin Davy Johnston, by former Inverness Courier reporter Donald Wilson.

Davy was my boyhood hero, Wilson explained.

Apart from match reports, nothings been written about him. There are lots of books about the Highland League, but Davys story has never been told and I wanted to tell it.

Davy Johnston was selected to play at North of Scotland Schools level and even before he signed for Nairn County, English First Division relegation victims Portsmouth showed an interest in the talented young player.

Johnston made his Wee County debut at the age of 16 and before his next birthday had scored 27 goal.

That record caught the attention of Tommy Walker of Hearts, who signed him for the Edinburgh side.

However, after just five first team games, Johnston returned to Nairn in 1962 and resumed his old job at a local laundry and his place in the Nairn County squad.

In the 1963-64 season, he scored 73 goals in 46 games, beating what was then thought to be the record held by Willie Grant of Elgin City.

However, Wilson discovered that neither Grant nor Johnston were the Highland Leagues real top scorer.

Towards the end of my research I was shocked to learn the belief that Davy held the record was based on a false premise, Wilson revealed.

With the help of Caledonian Thistle and Highland League historians Ian Davidson and Bob Weir, he discovered that Inverness Thistle player Andy Juppy Mitchell had scored 77 goals in the 1955-56 season.

It was disappointing to me to learn that Davy was not the record holder, but I had to set the record straight to honour Juppys memory, Wilson 
said.

However, this does not lessen Johnstons claim to be considered as one of the Highland Leagues top players.

Rod Clyne played with Juppy Mitchell, Davy and Willie Grant and reckoned that if he was to compare the three, the best was Johnston, Wilson said.

Juppy was great on the ground, Willie was great in the air, but Davy was great at both.

Though Johnston was courted by several major teams in both England and Scotland, among them Arsenal, Sheffield Wednesday, St Johnstone and Dundee, he was eventually persuaded to sign for Aberdeen by Pittodrie boss Eddie Turnbull in 1966.

His three-season career with the Dons saw him score an impressive 37 goals in 99 appearances.

Highlights of Johnstons Aberdeen career included playing against Celtics legendary Lisbon Lions in the 1967 Scottish Cup final in front of 120,000 fans at Hampden, and a tour of Canada and the USA the same year.

Yet despite Johnstons success on the pitch, Turnbull admitted to Wilson that he never felt he got the best from the Nairn player and in 1969 Johnston again quit the top level and returned to his home town.

There he began a successful six year career for Caley, eventually racking up 156 goals in the 188 games he played for the Telford Street team,

Johnstons former team-mate at Pittodrie, Ian Taylor, said it was a great pity there was not a Caley Thistle in the Scottish League when Johnston was in his prime because he could have played at the top level in Scotland without leaving Nairn, Wilson said.

Wilson, who added that the Couriers back files had been invaluable in tracking Johnstons Caley career, believes that the tragic death of Johnstons close friend and team-mate Chic Allan in a fall from a hotel window greatly affected the player.

He left Caley for a brief return to Nairn County, then tried his hand at management leading junior side Nairn St Ninian to two successive league championships before resigning in 1979. His last contact with competitive football came when he returned as manager for a single season in 1984.

He died in Highland Hospice in 2004 aged 61.

Everyone I have spoken to in Highland football says that Davy was the best ever player to come out of the Highland League, Wilson added.

Many others have gone on to make their fame and fortune, but in terms of sheer class, Davy was the best ever product of Highland football.

Eddie Turnbull thought that if Davy had stayed with professional football from the start, he could have been as good as Bobby Charlton and like Bobby Charlton, though Davy took some tremendous knocks, he was never once booked in his life.

Not that someone as modest and reserved as Johnston would ever have made any such claims for himself, Wilson pointed out.

Harry Melrose, the former Aberdeen player, told me that Davy was always quiet in company and thought he was a bit over-awed by being among these great players, Wilson said.

Where Davy could best express himself was on the football field.

Pittodries Silent Assassin Davy Johnston by Donald Wilson is published by Desert Island Books priced £14.99.

The book is already available online and from Nairn Bookshop and will be available from other local bookshops shortly.

Wilson will be signing copies of his book at Nairn Bookshop, Nairn High Street, from 11am on Saturday 16th October.

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