Chris Dunlavy looks at the ca­reer of Old­ham man­ager Lee John­son

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

THEY say you need a thick skin to make it as a foot­ball man­ager. Af­ter a ca­reer spent be­ing ham­mered by his own sup­port­ers, Lee John­son cer­tainly has that.

Though an Ar­se­nal trainee in his youth, the Old­ham man­ager spent all but three of his 13 years play­ing for his dad, Gary.

First at Yeovil Town, where he won pro­mo­tion from the Con­fer­ence to League One, win­ning the club’s player of the year three times run­ning.

Then at Bris­tol City, where he came within 90 min­utes of a place in the Pre­mier League only to be un­done by that Dean Win­dass thun­der­bolt for Hull.

But through­out it all, the diminu­tive mid­fielder – nick­named He Ping­ping af­ter the small­est man in the world – could never es­cape ac­cu­sa­tions that his place on the team-sheet had not been fairly earned.

“We both had to be strong,” said dad Gary, right. “When I picked him I al­ways thought ‘Do people think it’s nepo­tism?’ I never showed him any favouritism be­cause he wouldn’t have sur­vived in the dress­ing room if I had.

“We’ve been very suc­cess­ful to­gether but along the way we’d get beaten 6-0 and that was put down to me pick­ing Lee. Even when he didn’t play it was his fault, ac­cord­ing to some of the Bris­tol fans. He’s had to be thick skinned.”

Though Glovers fans swiftly came to adore their play­maker’s vi­sion and abil­ity on the ball, City fans weren’t so con­vinced – as John­son found out when he joined the club from Hearts in 2006.


“My first game we lost to Black­pool and a fella ran on the pitch, swung a punch at me and said ‘We don’t want you or your old man’, said John­son, who won a run­ners’ up medal for the SPL side.

“It’s hu­man na­ture for people to look at it and say, ‘He’s only play­ing be­cause his dad picks the team’. I would be the same, so I don’t hold it against any­one.

“It did af­fect me at times and I’d be ly­ing if I said it didn’t.When we won it was all good but when we lost I was of­ten the first one to get it in the neck.

“Gen­er­ally, though, opin­ions in foot­ball don’t al­ways re­flect re­al­ity and if you look at the points per game ra­tio while I was at Bris­tol City I don’t think there would be too many bet­ter.

“And that goes to show – al­though I wasn’t the big­gest tack­ler in the world I was brave in want­ing the ball and try­ing to get things tick­ing over and, gen­er­ally, when I played well the team played well.”

That is backed up by exRobins boss Sean O’Driscoll, who ear­lier this sea­son spoke of his at­tempts to lure John­son away from Ashton Gate.

“I was al­ways one of Lee’s big­gest ad­mir­ers as a player and I tried to take him on loan a num­ber of times,” he said. “Lee al­ways had great brav­ery on the ball and used it in­tel­li­gently. People maybe didn’t see that in him as a player but as a man­ager he has got Old­ham play­ing a cer­tain way and they all un­der­stand it and buy into it.”

In­deed they are. Ap­pointed at the age of only 31, John­son has just com­pleted his first year in charge at Boundary Park and has capped it by win­ning a nom­i­na­tion for man­ager of the month and keep­ing Old­ham in League One for the sec­ond year run­ning.

And this time, no-one can doubt he has done it on merit. Dur­ing his time at City, John­son spent ev­ery in­ter­na­tional break vis­it­ing clubs around Europe – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Ar­se­nal, Skonto Riga in Latvia – com­pil­ing reams of notes about coach­ing tech­niques.

“A lot of people – es­pe­cially top play­ers – go straight from play­ing to man­ag­ing with­out do­ing any of that,” he said.“They just get of­fered a job and say ‘Go on then’. They sort of fall into it. I wanted to be pre­pared.”


Which is why, when Paul Dickov left Old­ham late last sea­son, John­son blew the Lat­ics’ board out of the wa­ter with the vi­sion, con­tacts and phi­los­o­phy he had spent years de­vel­op­ing. And why to­day, they are one of the most at­trac­tive teams in League One.

“Lee’s team plays just like he used to,” said Sh­effield United boss Nigel Clough, who man­aged John­son at Derby . “They like to pass it around, they work hard and they’re dif­fi­cult to beat. “He was al­ways the type of player who liked to or­gan­ise and he’s do­ing great.”

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