JOHN ‘YOGI’ HUGHES made an instant and lasting impression on his Celtic team-mate Jim Craig when they first met.
The former defender spoke of facing his future Parkhead colleague who sadly passed away on Monday aat the age of 79 after a short illness.
The men who would go on to play a massive part in Jock Stein’s all-conquering squad of 1967 – including becoming the first British club to win the European Cup – were rivals back in their schooldays. It was a coming together the right-back could hardly forget.
Seventy-nine-year-old Craig asked: “What memory of John stands out?
“I have to go even further back to before Celtic. When I was at St Gerard’s secondary school in Govan, we were entered in the Scottish Cup and drawn against St Pat’s, Coatbridge. None of us knew where it was. In those days, you tended to stay in your own area.
NIMBLE POWERHOUSE…John Hughes in full flight.
“Anyway, their bus arrived and there was this giant who came off it. We were all 15 years old. I was about 5ft 8in and skinny as a poker and this giant came off the bus.
“He looked like a colossus. From another planet, to be honest!
“They beat us 6-0 and he scored all six from centre-forward. Fortunately, I was at right-back that day and I managed to avoid him for most of the game. I became an expert at picking just the right time to tie my laces!
“That was my first memory of coming across him. Then when I got to Celtic Park he was bigger again. One day I asked him about that game and he said: ‘Aye, I think I remember’.
“I said: ‘You think? Six goals? You should remember it!’’
Hughes fired in 189 goals to make him the Hoops’ eighth-highest scoring player in history and opened his account on his debut against Third Lanark in October 1960 and continued the trend until he left 11 years later for Crystal Palace.
UP IN THE AIR…Jim Craig keeps his eyes on the ball with Rangers’ Willie Johnston chasing.
Craig, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “John was a big, easy-going fella and one whose talent was not always appreciated.
“I mean Jinky in terms of sheer ability on the ball was in a class of his own. But next to him was Yogi and for a guy his size and build, he had wonderful control with a ball at his feet.
“Doing those runs we used to do in training between the cones, Yogi was like a ballet dancer. A big, burly ballet dancer, right enough. But he would glide around and take the ball wherever he wanted.
“The great thing about our team is that, although we were not in and out of each other’s houses every day, we would just sit wherever when you went down for breakfast at a hotel together because every single person got on. We were the same on the park and John was as friendly and approachable as everyone else.”
The powerful sorties into enemy territory had the fans singing ‘Feed The Bear’ and Craig added: “John used to worry about things a bit. That sometimes interfered with his play.
“At that time you didn’t get any help. Outside the physical aspect, there was no help or anything like that before a game. If you said you were a bit nervous, or had an injury, or felt a bit below-par, it would be dealt with back then by an: ‘Ah just get on with it, it’s a game of football.’
“You get some who are very confident and sail through life with no issues at all. Then you get ones with a lot of talent and ability like Yogi had, but sometimes have that drawback of being unsure over what’s expected of them in a game.
“But John overcame it all right. He did it brilliantly. What he did at Celtic was just superb.
”John is among the greats. The number of goals he scored in the number of games he played puts him right up there.”