Superstar DJ – Derek Johnstone

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By Alistair Aird

Following on from the analysis of the goals scored for Rangers by Ally McCoist, the next centurion goalscorer is the man McCoist replaced as the club’s top league goalscorer in the post-World War II era, Derek Johnstone.

Born in Dundee, DJ’s rise was meteoric. A first team debutant and League Cup winner at the age of 16, Johnstone also had a European Cup Winners’ Cup medal in his possession aged 18. And he claimed that medal in Barcelona in 1972 playing as a centre half too. Indeed, there is a compelling argument to suggest that Johnstone would have netted significantly more than the 238 goals he did for Rangers had he not been so adept at playing at the heart of the defence.

Back in those days, players were listed from number one to number 11, and if one assumes that numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 were the jerseys handed to the defenders, then Johnstone started 196 of his 612 appearances in the Rangers starting XI as part of the rearguard. Only 222 (36.27%) of his matches were played in a jersey with a number 9 on the back of it.

All Games

Total Appearances 641

Total Goals 238

Total Games DJ scored in 194

Games won when DJ scored 149 (76.80%)

Games lost when DJ scored 21 (10.82%)

Johnstone was handed his first team debut by Willie Waddell on 19 September 1970. Cowdenbeath were the visitors to Ibrox on league business. Johnstone had scored nine goals for the reserves which prompted Waddell to name him in the 13-man matchday squad the day before the game. And the following day he was in the starting XI.

Colin Stein had sported the number nine jersey during the midweek European match against Bayern Munich, but he had been substituted after 56 minutes. He was named twelfth man for the visit of the Blue Brazil, and Johnstone was in at centre forward. And he had an immediate impact.

Rangers, wearing their alternate kit of red and white, took the lead after 11 minutes when Johnstone whipped in a cross that was despatched by Alex MacDonald. And 10 minutes later, Johnstone marked his debut with a goal – the first of many with his head – when he got on the end of a cross from Alfie Conn.

John Greig made it 3-0 before the break with an overhead kick – the presence of Johnstone had forced the Cowdenbeath goalkeeper, Wylie, to fumble a corner kick which created the opening – and the Rangers captain made it 4-0 after 57 minutes, netting on the rebound after his initial shot had hit the crossbar. The latter goal was the only one that Johnstone didn’t have an involvement in too as he added the fifth goal of the game in the final minute.

Johnstone was therefore off and running. We will discuss the next goal he scored for the first XI – his first in a blue jersey given that Rangers had worn red on his debut – in more detail later, but he actually spent most of his time in defence in his initial seasons at Rangers. He would only don the number nine shirt in 30 of the first 150 games he started for Rangers, and it would be August 1976 before he chalked up his 100th goal.

Links Park, Montrose was the venue for a League Cup sectional tie. Rangers won 3-0, and Johnstone opened the scoring after eight minutes. It was a trademark 1970’s goal too, a Johnstone header from Tommy McLean cross.

DJ made it 200 Rangers goals on 24 January 1981. He hit the mark with the first of two goals on the day, a 5-0 win over Airdrie at Broomfield in the third round of the Scottish Cup. It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you it was another header.

DJ had two spells at Rangers. The first ended when he joined Chelsea in the summer of 1983, but after a spell on loan at Dundee United, he was brought back to Ibrox by Jock Wallace in January 1985. He would score just once during that second stint, the second goal in a 2-0 win over Morton at Ibrox.

Wallace was one of the three managers Johnstone served under at Rangers. The others were Willie Waddell and John Greig. His 238 goals are split by manager as follows:

League Games

Total Appearances 369

Total Goals 132

Total League Games DJ scored in 107

League games won when DJ scored 78 (72.90%)

League lost when DJ scored 15 (14.02%)

Johnstone scored 132 league goals for Rangers. That marked him out as the club’s top league goalscorer in the post-World War II era until Ally McCoist surpassed him when he scored a penalty kick against Celtic at Ibrox in April 1990.

His goals were split between the old Division One and the Premier Division. The inaugural season of the latter was 1975/76, and DJ scored the club’s first ever Premier Division goal, lashing in a volley from the edge of the box on the opening day of the season as Rangers defeated Celtic 2-1 at Ibrox.

To reinforce the point that Johnstone spent much of his early Rangers career in central defence, 32 of his 132 league goals (24.24%) came in Division One.

Season 1977/78 saw Johnstone at the peak of his striking powers. He netted 25 league goals in 33 appearances, and included in his haul were hat tricks against Motherwell and Ayr United. And when the title race with Aberdeen got tight as it entered its final furlong, DJ came to the fore. Between 1 April and 19 April, Rangers played five league games, with Johnstone scoring seven of the 10 goals Rangers netted.

72 of Johnstone’s 132 league goals were scored at Ibrox. The other 60 were spread around 18 different venues:

One of the most notable ‘away’ league goals scored by Johnstone was on 24 April 1976. Rangers travelled to Tannadice to face Dundee United in their third-last league match. A midweek win over Motherwell at Ibrox coupled with Celtic’s 2-0 defeat against Hibernian at Easter Road meant that Jock Wallace’s side held a five-point lead over their Old Firm rivals. Celtic had a game in hand.

But Rangers hadn’t lost in the league since 6 December, and a Johnstone goal after only 22 seconds stretched that unbeaten Premier Division run to 19 matches. Meanwhile, in the east end of Glasgow, Ayr United were beating Celtic 2-1 which meant that Rangers’ lead was unassailable. Johnstone’s goal, his 16th in 33 league games that season, had thus sealed the first-ever Premier Division title.

Scottish Cup

Total Appearances 57

Total Goals 30

Total Scottish Cup ties DJ scored in 24

Scottish Cup ties won when DJ scored 21 (87.50%)

Scottish Cup ties lost when DJ scored 0

Only Jimmy Fleming (44) and Bob McPhail (31) have scored more goals in the Scottish Cup for Rangers than Derek Johnstone.

His first goal in the competition came against Celtic in May 1971, the first of four he netted in the Scottish Cup Final. The others came against Hearts in 1976 and Aberdeen in 1978.

DJ scored twice in the 1976 Final, with his first goal firmly fixed in folklore. Having scored inside the opening 30 seconds a week earlier in the league at Tannadice, Johnstone got in early again at Hampden. Tommy McLean flighted in a free kick and Johnstone rose above the Hearts defence and powered a header beyond Jim Cruickshank. The goal was timed at 41 seconds. It later emerged that the referee, R. H Davidson, had started the match off minutes before the traditional 3pm kick off which effectively meant that Johnstone had scored before the game was due to start!

The fact that Rangers were contesting the final was down in no small part to Johnstone. Rangers had faced Motherwell at Hampden in the semi-final but found themselves 2-0 down with only 20 minutes remaining.

Needing a lifeline, Rangers got it when the referee, J. P Gordon, awarded them penalty after Johnstone had been felled by the Motherwell goalkeeper, Stuart Rennie. Alex Miller scored from the spot. Johnstone then got his head on the end of a typical hoof up the park from Peter McCloy to level the match at 2-2, and when John Greig’s free-kick from the halfway line broke to Johnstone inside the six-yard box, he poked a right foot shot into the net to secure the comeback.

Scottish League Cup

Total Appearances 85

Total Goals 39

Total Scottish League Cup ties DJ scored in 31

Scottish League Cup ties won when DJ scored 28 (90.32%)

Scottish League Cup ties lost when DJ scored 1 (3.23%)

The first of Derek Johnstone’s 39 goals in the Scottish League Cup was the one that witnessed him explode onto the Scottish Football scene. It came on 24 October 1970 against Celtic at Hampden Park.

The day before the game, the back page of the Evening Times reported that Willie Waddell was playing his cards close to his chest. Unlike his counterpart Jock Stein who named 14 players, Waddell was being obdurate, declaring to the media that he wasn’t going to provide them with his pool of players.

Meantime, back at Ibrox, Waddell and Jock Wallace had taken 16-year-old Johnstone into the boot room, thrust some match tickets into his hands and told him he would be part of the starting XI. He was then instructed to go home and get a good night’s sleep!

Johnstone’s inclusion surprised many, and he was led out at Hampden by a stand-in skipper too. Ronnie McKinnon deputised for John Greig who was suffering from a bout of flu. Greig’s place was taken by another youngster, Alfie Conn.

Rangers, without a major trophy since their Scottish Cup win in 1966, started well, and Malcom Munro of the Evening Times reckoned they were the better side in the opening 25 minutes. To add weight to that argument, it took Celtic 37 minutes to earn their first corner kick. It came to nothing, and four minutes later, Rangers were ahead.

Conn fed the ball to Willie Johnston on the right wing, and ‘Bud’ hung up a cross into the heart of the penalty area. Johnstone was sandwiched between Billy McNeill and Jim Craig, but he rose above them and nodded the ball out of the reach of Evan Williams. It proved to be the only goal of the game. A star was born.

The only League Cup match Rangers lost when Johnstone scored was against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in September 1979. Rangers had beaten the Dons in the League Cup in the previous two seasons – 7-4 on aggregate in season 1977/78 and 2-1 in the Final in season 1978/79 – but Alex Ferguson’s side triumphed on this occasion.

Goals from Willie Garner and Joe Harper gave them a 2-0 lead at half-time, and a second-half goal from Alex McLeish put Aberdeen in a strong position. Johnstone’s goal 17 minutes from the end reduced the arrears and offered Rangers hope ahead of the return leg at Ibrox, but it proved false. Aberdeen won 2-0 in Glasgow and Rangers were out.

European Competition

Total Appearances 35

Total Goals 9

Derek Johnstone made his European debut as a substitute when Rangers drew 1-1 at home to Bayern Munich in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in September 1970. Some 18 months later, he was facing Beckenbauer et al again on the Road to Barcelona. Having worn the number eight jersey for the matches against Torino and Sporting Lisbon, DJ reverted to centre back when Ronnie McKinnon broke his leg in second leg in the Portuguese capital. He wore number five for the two legs of the semi-final against Bayern Munich and the Final against Moscow Dynamo too. He was thus a European winner at the age of 18.

His first European goal came against the Turkish side Ankaragucu in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in October 1973, and his nine goals were spread across all three of the major European competitions:

The last of Johnstone’s three goals in the European Cup came on a famous night in Eindhoven in November 1978. After a no-score draw at Ibrox in the first leg, Rangers travelled to Holland to face PSV Eindhoven at a venue where the Dutch side had never lost a European tie. And they looked to be extending that record when Harry Lubse rattled in the opening goal inside the opening minute.

The home side were still ahead at half-time, but 13 minutes after the restart, Rangers were level. It was another goal that was a hallmark of the 1970s too, Alex MacDonald ghosting into the box and finding the net with a diving header.

PSV took the lead again a couple of minutes later, but Johnstone restored parity with a brilliant header after 66 minutes. Kenny Watson unleashed a shot from the edge of the box, and Johnstone, stationed inside the six-yard box, diverted the ball into the net. A sublime goal from Bobby Russell sealed the victory with a couple of minutes left on the clock.

Incidentally, Johnstone was ordered off twice in his Rangers career and both of them came in European competition. And both of them were on Swiss soil too.

The first dismissal came in Zurich in September 1976. Cautioned in the first half by the Spanish referee, Emilio Guruceta, Johnstone received a second booking for dissent in the dying moments of a game Rangers lost 1-0 against FC Zurich. A 1-1 draw at Ibrox in the first leg meant that they exited the European Cup at the first hurdle.

Almost a year later, Johnstone saw red again. Rangers faced Young Boys Berne in the Preliminary Round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup and travelled to Switzerland defending a narrow 1-0 lead from the first leg. It was 2-2 on the night – Johnstone had opened the scoring for Rangers in the first half – when, with 14 minutes left, the Italian referee, Riccardo Lattanzi, felt that Johnstone had kicked out at one of the Young Boys defenders and brandished a red card. Minus the suspended Johnstone, Rangers lost 3-0 on aggregate in the next round to FC Twente Enschede.

Other Games

Total Appearances 95

Total Goals 28

The 28 goals scored by Johnstone in what would fall under the umbrella of ‘non-competitive’ matches were netted at venues ranging from the Empire Stadium in Vancouver to Telford Street in Inverness. His first goal as Rangers captain came at the latter venue in July 1978, and his haul also included three goals against Everton and a goal against each of the Manchester clubs too.

The first two of his three goals against Everton came in August 1971. The Everton side featured some of the notable names that had played their part in their title win in season 1969/70 – Howard Kendall, Alan Ball, Colin Harvey, and Joe Royle were all named in their starting XI – but Johnstone stole the show.

He opened the scoring five minutes before half time, pouncing on a rebound after the Everton goalkeeper, Gordon West, had parried a shot from Alfie Conn. And he added a second nine minutes after the restart, tapping in a cross from Willie Johnston at the end of a move that featured John Greig and Tommy McLean. The latter was making his first team debut after joining Rangers from Kilmarnock and he would provide a plentiful supply the ammunition for Johnstone throughout the 1970s.

Johnstone scored against Everton again in November 1981 – the 1-1 draw was a testimonial for Colin Jackson – and a couple of months prior to that he had opened the scoring in a 2-0 win over Manchester City at Ibrox. Joe Corrigan was the beaten goalkeeper, and that meant DJ had completed a Manchester double, as he had also scored against Manchester United in March 1974.

There was unrest among the supporters before kick-off – Jock Wallace had to come out and appeal for calm – and that filtered on to the pitch too. In a tempestuous match, John Greig equalised an early goal from Brian Greenhoff three minutes into the second half, but United went ahead again when Alex Forsyth, who would later play for Rangers, scored.

Johnstone then headed Rangers level before a foul by Jimmy Nicholl on Quinton Young resulted in a penalty kick that was converted by Derek Parlane.

It should be noted at this point that none of the 238 goals scored for Rangers by Johnstone were penalty kicks. In the 1970s, the responsibility from twelve yards usually sat with either Parlane, Sandy Jardine or Alex Miller. In fact, Johnstone only took one penalty during his time at Rangers, against Queen’s Park at Lesser Hampden towards the end of his Rangers career. He scored, giving him a 100% success rate from 12 yards!


Derek Johnstone made 641 appearances for Rangers and scored 238 goals. His season-by-season record is as follows:

Although he was regarded as one of the finest centre forwards in the UK at times during his career, his preferred position was actually centre-half. In an interview with the Rangers News in September 1972, he said:

I’m happy to play anywhere really but if I could choose my position it would be centre-half. I enjoy trying to build up attacks and watching play develop in front of me, rather than at centre-forward, working always with my back to the opponents’ goal.

You could say DJ was Scotland’s answer to John Charles, the legendary Welshman who showed similar flexibility to play at centre-half and centre-forward during his time with Leeds United and Juventus. Charles boasted a higher goals-per-game ratio in league football – a goal every 1.93 league games compared to one every 2.795 games for Johnstone – but arguably DJ played more often at the back than Charles did.

It is therefore Johnstone’s adaptability that explains why he doesn’t make it into the higher echelons of the list of top marksmen for Rangers. Had he not played so often at the back, then it is certain that he would have found himself bracketed among the players that have scored more than 300 goals in a Rangers jersey.

Irrespective of where he lies on that list, Derek Johnstone should still be lauded as one of the finest centre forwards ever to play for the club. His contribution to the club and the iconic moments highlighted in this article means that he will forever be our superstar DJ.

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