Celtic legend Peter Grant thinks that the iconic transfer of Mo Johnston to Rangers 30 years ago was the reason the Gers went on to dominate Scottish football through the 1990s.
Grant told how MoJo has attended the 1989 Scottish Cup final with the Celtic squad ahead of an expected return to his former club but there were warning signs that day that his something was amiss.
The Alloa Athletic manager, appearing on Open Goal, also told how some innocuous banter on a Scotland trip ended up being how he learned the striker had decided to join Rangers instead – and insists that Celtic paid the price for it over the next decade.
“The first warning sign was probably the Cup Final,” Grant told Open Goal’s Si Ferry.
“We’d beaten Rangers in the final and we’d ‘signed’ Mo and I was going away with Scotland after the cup final – Mo travelled with us on the bus to the game.
“So I’m sitting with him on the bus and he goes ‘everything’s done, I’ve just not signed the paperwork’ so I didn’t think anything else of it since he’d been and had his photo done and everything [the photo of his ‘unveiling with then-manager Billy McNeill] so he comes down as a Celtic player, really, to the cup final.
“We went away for the Rous Cup against England in Chile and we were at Turnberry and I’d seen Big Billy (McNeill) down and he’s storming away. He was down to see Mo.
🎥⚽️| Peter Grant tells @siferry8 about his shock and anger around Mo Johnstone’s u-turn move to join @RangersFC rather than @CelticFC as he believes it was the catalyst to the club’s struggles in the 90s
— Open Goal (@opengoalsport) September 13, 2019
“So then we’re going to train and Coisty is going ‘me and the wee man are going to terrorise you next year, Granty.’
“I laugh and say ‘I know we are Coisty’ and Mo tells me he’s ‘going to sign for Rangers’.
“‘Away ye go’ I said but Mo went ‘no I’m going to sign for Rangers’ and I still didn’t believe him.
“So we trained and then he was announced as a Rangers player. That should never have been allowed to happen. For me, the cost of that was the next nine years of torture for Celtic.
“Mo Johnston should never have been allowed to sign for Rangers. Anyone else, they can have him but not Rangers.”
There’s much more to blame how utterly woeful Celtic were at times in the 90s than just Johnston’s signing as years after he left Ibrox they were still signing second-rate dross and finishing fifth in the league.
While much is made about lots of other issues surrounding Johnston’s switch – including the often-repeated but totally false claim about him being the first Catholic/high-profile Catholic to play for Rangers – little is made of the effect it had on Celtic’s players and management.
Signing Johnston didn’t only pinch a fantastic player from under their noses, it very quickly reminded Celtic that even the ‘dyed-in-the-wool Celtic men’ would rather head across the city and play for the wildly more ambitious side.
That psychological blow really pushed home just how eager Graeme Souness was to make Rangers a real force, both at home and domestically, and the fact that it’s still seen as controversial 30 years later shows quite the impact it had on the other side of the city.
Even the seemingly ‘safe’ signings were no longer ‘safe’ signings and players with ambitions of prolonged success found themselves heading for Edmiston Drive rather than Kerrydale Street.
30 years on and it’s a signing that still hurts Celtic fans and players to talk about – and it’s unlikely that there will be a transfer anywhere in the world that has the same impact as Johnston did when we walked into the Blue Room at Ibrox on July 10th, 1989.