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Almost 50 years since Scotland star’s Largs rowing boat escapade made big waves

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The day – or night – that Celtic and Scotland star Jimmy Johnstone had to be rescued by the coastguard, after he was set adrift by his team-mates, is looked back on now with wry amusement…but half a century ago it caused a real sensation and looked, briefly, as if it might put a major spoke in the wheel of Scotland’s preparations for the World Cup in West Germany.

It was on the night of May 15, 1974 that ‘Jinky’ and some of his team-mates, on returning to their Largs training base after their 2-0 win over Wales at Hampden, were given the green light by manager Willie Ormond to go out and enjoy themselves for a few hours.

Johnstone and some of his team-mates – among them Rangers full-back Sandy Jardine, Hibs’ Erich Schaedler, and Davie Hay of Chelsea – were returning, after a small libation, to their base at the then Queen’s Hotel, on the corner of Brisbane Street and Greenock Road, when they spotted a rowing boat on the shore.

Johnstone climbed in as a joke…only for Rangers full-back Sandy Jardine to kick it further out into the water.

Jardine later described how the tide began to carry the nimble-footed winger further out to sea, and how their alarm depeened when they realised Johnstone’s boat had no oars.

Largs and Millport Weekly News:

Eventually the coastguard had to be called out to rescue ‘Jinky’ and bring him safe and sound back to dry land.

And while Scotland’s supporters quickly forgave those involved, helped more than a little by Johnstone’s starring role in the 2-0 win over England at Hampden a few days later, one well-known Scottish football commentator told the News it was far from a source of amusement at the time for the Scottish coaches and officials.

Archie Macpherson recalled the controversy when he spoke to the Largs and Millport News two years ago before going on stage at Barrfields to talk about his footballing memories from down the decades.

He said: “I remember the Queen’s Hotel well. I was down there quite often to interview different Scotland managers and players.

“The Jimmy Johnstone incident caused a real furore at the time.

Largs and Millport Weekly News:

“I always found it quite strange that the Scotland team had selected the Queens Hotel as its base. It was probably a very nice place to be, but it seemed small by modern day comparisons.

“However, the players loved it; it was very homely and they felt at ease there. It worked, too, because the players went on to beat England before they went off to the World Cup in Germany in 1974.

“Largs itself was always a welcoming place, and the team used to enjoy all the hospitality that was on offer.

“They could let their hair down a bit – and nowadays the Jimmy Johnstone incident is looked back upon with a bit of mirth and hilarity.”

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Queen's Hotel in LargsQueen’s Hotel in Largs (Image: Newsquest)

The hotel closed down unexpectedly in July 2019, with signs erected saying that the premises would be undergoing a major refurbishment.

But the promised revamp never materialised, and North Ayrshire Council planning chiefs subsequently approved an application for the hotel to be flattened and flats built on the site.

Demolition work was completed in 2021, and the luxury properties subsequently built on the land by developer Glenrowan Homes are now on sale  to £500,000.

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