Obituary: John (Johnny) Paton, former footballer

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Born: 2 April, 1923, in Glasgow. Died: 1 October, 2015, in Stanmore, Middlesex, aged 92

Johnny Paton was one of Celtic and Chelsea’s oldest surviving players. A clever, pacy left-winger with an eye for goal, he joined Celtic in 1942 but his career there was interrupted by the war. A navigator with the RAF, he guested for a number of clubs depending on where he was stationed and counted Arsenal, Manchester City, Millwall, East Fife, Leeds United and Crystal Palace among them. He also represented the RAF, often with him on one wing and Stanley Matthews on the other, including a fixture against the Norwegian national team. During the 1946/7 season he was “loaned” to Chelsea before returning to Celtic, where he remained till 1949.

It could be said Celtic was in his blood. His grandfather had Celtic season ticket No.2 and Johnny spent much of the 1920s into the 1930s perched on his grandfather’s knee in the stand at Parkhead behind the directors’ box.

His father was at one time on Celtic’s books. He grew up hero-worshipping players like Jimmy McGrory, who would later be his manager.

Johnny’s early promise was noted at St Mungo’s Academy and in 1937 he played for Scottish Schoolboys against Northern Ireland, alongside future “greats” George Young and Billy Steel. He was also a promising amateur boxer, noted for his “KO” punch, and won the ATC welter-weight title. Signing for Celtic in 1942 from Dennistoun Waverley, he made his debut against Partick Thistle in a Summer Cup game that year.

After the war, he was based near London, which entailed a lot of travelling to play for Celtic. One evening, while heading to meet his girlfriend at a dance at Watford Town Hall, he bumped into Chelsea player Johnny Harris, who suggested he join Chelsea for a season.

With the war over, loan deals were not permitted but the two clubs and Johnny came to a gentleman’s agreement whereby he joined Chelsea for most of the 1946/7 season.

There he struck up a fruitful partnership with legendary English international centre forward Tommy Lawton. Johnny would send over precise crosses and Lawton would head them home. Years later he recalled: “Tommy had that ability to hang in the air for a split second and pick his spot where he would head the ball.”

A few years ago, he was invited back by Chelsea to games and club functions, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He commented: “You have to admire the hospitality the club provides for ex players, it’s terrific. I think it’s quite unique.”

In December 2013 he was invited on to the pitch at half time in a game against Southampton to say a few words.With Chelsea then 1-0 down, he exhorted the fans to get behind the team and “much to his relief” they ran out 3-1 winners.

Although his Celtic career was punctuated by the war and his spell at Chelsea, he played more than 100 games for them including three very significant ones.

In May 1945, he was part of the team that won the Victory in Europe Cup against Queen’s Park, thanks to his goal. On 17 April, 1948 he played in one of the most crucial games in the club’s history.

In the last match of that season, Celtic had to beat Dundee at Dens Park to be sure of avoiding relegation. In front of 31,000 fans they did so but just, the winner coming in the 88th minute. Chairman Sir Bob Kelly later remarked: “It was the greatest ordeal I had in watching football for over 50 years.”

And in September that year he was in the team that won Celtic’s first “proper” cup after the war, the Glasgow Cup, beating Third Lanark in front of 87,000 fans.

A wage dispute and a strong dislike for religious bigotry then prevalent in Glasgow led to him leaving Parkhead and joining Brentford in the English second tier where teammates included Jimmy Hill and Ron Greenwood. After three seasons there he moved to Watford in the third tier, where he would become player/coach and,briefly, manager.

Under Walter Winterbottom he took his FA Coaching badges and worked for the FA in this capacity visiting clubs, schools and colleges.

In the early 1960s, thanks to Ron Greenwood, he was employed as coach at Arsenal, where he managed their Metropolitan League team and was credited with developing some of their famous 1971 “double”-winning players such as Bob Wilson, Peter Simpson, Peter Storey and George Armstrong.

In 1947 he married Eileen Goold – the girl he was meeting that night in Watford Town Hall when he met Harris – in Greenford, Middlesex, and they enjoyed 68 years of happy marriage together.

When Johnny finished with football, he became manager of Ealing snooker hall for more than ten years, during which time he qualified as a professional snooker referee. He also took up ballroom dancing competitively, winning a number of medals.

Eileen laughed: “When Johnny got involved in something, whatever it was, he threw himself wholeheartedly into it. He had a great sense of humour and until about two years ago he trained every day in the gym we had in our garage. Music was a big thing in his life; he was a huge Sinatra fan, having seen one of his first big concerts in New York.

“He was very popular in the nursing home in Stanmore where he spent the last couple of years, partly because many of the residents were Chelsea fans. We had great times together.”

Johnny is survived by Eileen, daughters Elaine, Virginia and Gloria, son Barry, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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