MAGIC JOHN­SON

Ex-Derby and Birm­ing­ham favourite Michael John­son re­flects on his ca­reer

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Jake Evans

MICHAEL JOHN­SON was a rock at the back for club and coun­try for 19 years, fac­ing some of the world’s greats like Ronald­inho and Zine­dine Zi­dane.

It was a ca­reer full of ups and downs but the man him­self feels for­tu­nate to carry so many spe­cial mem­o­ries.

Lo­cal boy John­son be­gan his ca­reer at Notts County and soon es­tab­lished him­self in the first team. He moved to Birm­ing­ham, then Derby County and ex­pe­ri­enced a brief loan at Sh­effield Wed­nes­day be­fore fin­ish­ing his ca­reer back at Meadow Lane.

He formed close con­nec­tions with the clubs he played for, al­ways keep­ing up to date with how for­mer teams were pro­gress­ing. His level of com­mit­ment never went un­no­ticed and he re­ceived fan­tas­tic re­cep­tions from the sup­port­ers of each club when he re­turned for matches.

John­son made a to­tal of 562 ap­pear­ances, scor­ing 19 goals. He also played 12 times for Ja­maica dur­ing his time with Birm­ing­ham.

In all, John­son was a model pro­fes­sional, even if on one oc­ca­sion he did for­get to put on his shorts...

FIRST CLUB

Notts County. I joined the club at 14 and when I was 16 I be­came a scholar. In that sea­son we got to the FA Youth Cup quar­ter-fi­nal and won the Youth League which, for a club like Notts County, was a big achieve­ment.

I was for­tu­nate enough at 17 to be deemed as one of the most promis­ing play­ers of the youth team and I man­aged to go on and make my de­but against Arse­nal at High­bury. Un­for­tu­nately we lost, but it was a proud mo­ment for me to make my de­but at such a young age.

BEST MAN­AGER

The best per­son I have worked with was Mick Mills when he was as­sis­tant-man­ager at Birm­ing­ham. Mick was the great Ipswich right-back and for­mer Eng­land cap­tain in the 1980s. As a de­fender he un­der­stood my game, but most im­por­tantly he un­der­stood me.

He was a good man-man­ager and had bags of knowl­edge hav­ing played in World Cups and en­joyed Euro­pean ad­ven­tures with Ipswich. I re­ally lis­tened to him and ex­celled play­ing un­der him.

BEST TEAM-MATE

Christophe Du­garry. He was a World Cup win­ner with France so he was ex­tremely ex­pe­ri­enced. He came to Birm­ing­ham in 2001 at a time when we looked doomed for rel­e­ga­tion and he sin­gle-hand­edly turned the for­tunes of our sea­son around and made sure the club stayed up.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Our goal­keeper at Birm­ing­ham, Ian Ben­nett. He had a real dry but bril­liant sense of hu­mour.

He did nu­mer­ous re­mark­able im­pres­sions of the school teacher in the film Kes. He also had an­i­mal noises down to a tee. He used to do the noise of a fal­con and kestrel, he was just hi­lar­i­ous and al­ways had the chang­ing room in hys­ter­ics.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

The shorts in­ci­dent while I was play­ing for Derby. I wasn’t sub many times in my ca­reer but I was just com­ing back from a ham­string in­jury, so I took my place on the bench.

I was wear­ing some see-through cy­cling briefs that you nor­mally put on un­der­neath your shorts. I put on my jog­ging bot­toms over them.

Mid­way through the first half one of the de­fend­ers went down and George Bur­ley said ‘Come on Johno, get ready you’re go­ing on’.

As I made my way back to the dugout I pulled my jog­ging bot­toms off and ran on to the pitch. When I ran on I could see some of the play­ers were laugh­ing, and I could hear a gasp from the crowd. I didn’t know what was go­ing on.

The ref­eree slowly came over to me to re­mind me I needed to go off and put my shorts on. When I looked down I had th­ese skin tight, see through cy­cling shorts on in front of 25,000 peo­ple!

What topped it off was when I ran to the chang­ing room we were a man down and within a minute they had scored. You can imag­ine what the man­ager was like at full-time.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

I was part of the squad at Notts County that got pro­moted un­der Neil Warnock.

I sam­pled the at­mos­phere of what it was like to be in a pro­mo­tion win­ning team – and it was some feat as we made the old First Di­vi­sion, only to be im­me­di­ately rel­e­gated the sea­son be­fore the Premier League kicked off.

With Birm­ing­ham I man­aged to get pro­moted to the Premier League after sev­eral failed at­tempts. When we got there in 2002, it was a feel­ing of sheer re­lief be­cause of the dis­ap­point­ment of the at­tempts be­fore that.

We had been in three pre­vi­ous play-off semi-fi­nals and lost them all, so you think you are go­ing to be tagged as a nearly team, but then to ac­tu­ally do it like we did against Nor­wich, is some­thing that will re­main with me for­ever – an im­mense feel­ing.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

I’ve had a few real for­tu­nate mo­ments in my ca­reer which I look back on with great pride.

The pro­mo­tion with Birm­ing­ham in 2002 was a high point. In 2007 I cap­tained Derby County but I didn’t play on the day of the play-off fi­nal against West Brom. I dam­aged my me­dial lig­a­ment lead­ing up to the semi-fi­nal, but I still climbed the steps at Wem­b­ley to lift the play-off trophy for Derby as club cap­tain – some­thing that will stay with me for­ever.

Also play­ing for Ja­maica.The first time you go back home, your fam­ily is in the crowd and the na­tional an­them is play­ing, you re­alise that this is the pin­na­cle. No mat­ter what hap­pens they can’t take that away from you.

To go to Kingston and play in the na­tional sta­dium in front of a full house, live on na­tional TV, was amaz­ing.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

Cris­tiano Ron­aldo when he was at Manch­ester United. You just didn’t know what to do with him.

If you gave him half a yard, you were out of po­si­tion and he pun­ished you with a shot or he would go past you. When he’s on his game he’s un­playable. It is no sur­prise that he’s now gone on to be ar­guably the best player in the world.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

The League Cup fi­nal de­feat to Liver­pool in 2001. For a club like Birm­ing­ham to get to the fi­nal was fan- tas­tic and I thought to my­self, would this be my only chance of win­ning a medal in a cup com­pe­ti­tion in Bri­tain?

You don’t get a chance to com­pete in fi­nals that of­ten through­out your ca­reer, so when we got there it would have been great to win and off the back of that we would have been talk­ing Europe.

Rob­bie Fowler scored an in­cred­i­ble goal. We had a penalty and then should have had a sec­ond penalty, so you start think­ing it isn’t meant to be.

The game fin­ished 1-1 and the minute it went to penal­ties I knew we were go­ing to lose be­cause of the stan­dard of play­ers they had.

No dis­re­spect to our team, I just knew we had a miss in us some­where. The day was tinged with great pride

see­ing the sea of blue but the worst place to lose is a cup fi­nal. To get that close and walk past the trophy at the end of the game is hard to take.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

The Azteca Sta­dium in Mex­ico be­cause of the high al­ti­tude. Within 20 min­utes of the game start­ing it felt like you had played an hour and a half!

You were short of breath, it was boil­ing, ex­tremely hu­mid and all of a sud­den you felt like you were jog­ging rather than sprint­ing. The Mex­i­cans were used to it so we got beat 5-0.

How­ever, the at­mos­phere was tremen­dous.To play for your coun­try in front of 120,000 was an im­mense feel­ing, but when you come off be­ing beat 5-0, it wasn’t such a good place to be!

FAVOURITE PLACE TO PLAY

An­field. I loved play­ing there and I’m a soft Liver­pool fan. I like the tra­di­tion and what the club has been do­ing over the last few years. As a kid grow­ing up it was bril­liant to watch them.

I loved the grounds I played at – Meadow Lane, Hills­bor­ough, Pride Park and St An­drews. Th­ese grounds were spir­i­tual homes for me.

AM­BI­TION

I’m cur­rently am­bas­sador at Birm­ing­ham City FC. I do a lot of con­sul­tancy work with gov­ern­ing bod­ies. One day I would like to be coach­ing and maybe get a man­age­rial po­si­tion.We will have to just wait and see. I’m now a fully qual­i­fied pro li­cense coach so it’s just about get­ting that op­por­tu­nity.

Best team-mate: Christophe Du­garry Fun­ni­est team-mate: Ian Ben­nett Tough­est op­po­nent: Cris­tiano Ron­aldo Tough­est place: Es­ta­dio Azteca

Big­gest achieve­ment: Derby cap­tain for

pro­mo­tion

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