An Alternate History of Celtic (Part 8): What if Mo Johnston had actually signed for Celtic in 1989?

On 10th July 1989, life long Celtic fan and former player, Mo Johnstone stunned the footballing world when he signed for bitter rivals, Rangers. He became their first high profile Catholic signing of the modern era. 

Just weeks before, Johnston was paraded in a Celtic top with manager, Billy McNeil at a press conference after supposedly re-signing from Nantes. He had even stated that:

 “Celtic is the only club that I want to play for!”

The prodigal son had returned, or so we all thought!  

Between 1984-87, Johnston was a terrific striker for Celtic. He played a crucial role on the last day of the 1985/86 season by scoring twice in a 5-0 victory over St Mirren. This enabled the Hoops to steal the league title from under the noses of Hearts who simultaneously lost 2-0 to Dundee at Dens Park. His second goal finished one of the most memorable team goals in Celtic’s history. 

A False Dawn

It soon became apparent that the parading of ‘Super Mo’ as the man to replace Frank McAvennie was premature, as his move fell through. It was thought that he would sign for a club in England, but the unthinkable happened when he was paraded as a Rangers player a few weeks later. 

His move across the city caused shock waves on both sides of Glasgow’s great divide. Many Rangers fans refused to accept that their club had at long last broken an unwritten rule about not signing Roman Catholics! 

‘Judas’ as he became known to the Celtic support was now apart of Graeme Souness’ big spending Ibrox revolution. This was a bitter blow to the club, as not only had we not signed an excellent player, one of our own had betrayed us by signing for the enemy! 

More salt was added to Celtic’s wounds in November when Johnston scored an 89th minute winner for his new club against us. 

What could have happened?

Losing out on Johnston to Rangers was a huge psychological blow to Celtic as the team struggled to find a top quality striker at the end of the 1980s/early 90s. Johnston, a ready-made Celtic hero, would have been the ideal man to lead the attack.

Although Rangers were the club on the ascendency at the time, whilst Celtic were struggling under the old board, Johnston’s signing could have been a real shot in the arm.

The fans and the players would have rallied around him. Furthermore, the entire feeling around the club at the time would have been so much more positive than the utter disbelief and anger that was felt by his move to Ibrox.

Had Celtic signed Johnston then we would have been in a much stronger position to challenge for the league title and other domestic honours. It could even have put a halt to Rangers’ early march towards 9 in a row.

To this day, fans wonder how differently things would have turned out had Johnston actually signed for Celtic (or at least any other club than them!). Thirty years later, Johnston remains a figure of infamy amongst the support. Most fans will never forgive him for his act of betrayal. 

By Mark Nicholas

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