Gary couldn’t sit around do­ing noth­ing when stricken Chel­tenham called

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Gary John­son ’s phone buzzed with an un­known num­ber last week­end, the out-of­work 59-year-old dared to dream big.

“I hoped it was Man United say­ing they wanted me to re­place Louis van Gaal,” quips the for­mer Yeovil boss. “In­stead, it was the team at the bot­tom of League Two. But you know me – I love a chal­lenge.”

Yes, foot­ball’s Ter­mi­na­tor – the man who ab­so­lutely will not stop – is back in the dugout. Barely a month af­ter leav­ing Huish Park, John­son has been tasked with sav­ing free-fall­ing Chel­tenham from Non-League obliv­ion.


He’s per­formed mir­a­cles be­fore, turn­ing Latvia into a com­pe­tent foot­balling unit and haul­ing Yeovil from the Con­fer­ence all the way to the Cham­pi­onship. Yet surely even John­son thought twice about tack­ling a side who have won just twice in 2015.

“Not re­ally,” in­sists John­son. “I get fed up at home pretty quick. I’m not a DIY man. I don’t like gar­den­ing. If I’m not out on the train­ing ground I just pace up and down the living room all day.

“I’ve been in foot­ball 27 years and, be­sides the sum­mers, I’ve prob­a­bly spent two weeks out of a job. This time it was over a month and it felt like a long time.

“I know it’s a tall or­der. But when some­body has specif­i­cally cho­sen you to help them, it’s very dif­fi­cult to turn them down.

“And Chel­tenham have al­ways been good to me.When­ever I’ve gone there to watch games or play matches in pre-sea­son, when­ever I’ve loaned them play­ers – they’ve al­ways looked af­ter me. So rather than sit and wait, I thought I’d get busy and try to save them.”

Un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, John­son might still be fight­ing to stay out of League Two. Hav­ing led Yeovil from the Con­fer­ence to League One dur­ing his first fiveyear stint, John­son re­turned to Huish Park af­ter an ab­sence of six years and duly com­pleted the job, win­ning a fairy­tale pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship in 2013.

Yet the in­evitable strug­gle and rel­e­ga­tion left last­ing scars and John­son was sacked in Fe­bru­ary af­ter the Glovers slipped to the foot of League One. The for­mer

Bris­tol City and Northamp­ton boss isn’t bit­ter but, with Yeovil seem­ingly doomed to the drop, feels chair­man John Fry and Huish Park board are pay­ing for fail­ing to rein­vest the Cham­pi­onship cash.

“It was dis­ap­point­ing, es­pe­cially when I heard this week that they’d made a £1.4m profit last sea­son,” he ex­plains.


“I could have done with some of that money be­cause we didn’t have a very big bud­get to stay in League One this year.

“We had six or seven reg­u­lars in­jured and we couldn’t bring

in like for like be­cause they told me the Fi­nan­cial Fair Play limit had been reached. I was sign­ing play­ers for next to noth­ing.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing a chat with the board about what the fu­ture held for Yeovil.With the FFP rules and the gates that we got, I felt we weren’t go­ing to have a big enough turnover to com­pete, even in the third tier.

“They dis­agreed.They said the bud­get was the 14th high­est in League One, but it wasn’t. I know that for a fact.

“I’d never fall out with the peo­ple at Yeovil be­cause I had a fan­tas­tic time there. But we were at log­ger­heads. I felt fi­nances were go­ing into other things when they maybe needed to be fun­nelled to­wards keep­ing the team in the di­vi­sion.”

Trans­fers, of course, won’t save Chel­tenham. The win­dow is shut.The loan mar­ket, too.The only weapons at John­son’s dis­posal are 800-plus games of ex­pe­ri­ence and the squad he in­her­ited fol­low­ing the fruit­less spells of Mark Yates, Paul Buckle and Rus­sell Mil­ton in charge this sea­son. Is it enough to ex­tend the Robins’ 16-year stay in the Foot­ball League?

“We’ll see,” he says. “But I’m hope­ful. I know what’s needed. I know the type of peo­ple you need on your bus. Yes, my bus was al­ready full of pas­sen­gers but I’ve had two days with them and I’ve been re­ally pleased with the re­sponse.

“I haven’t come in blind. I’ve worked with a few of the play­ers at my pre­vi­ous clubs and I’ve watched the team be­cause it’s just up the road from Yeovil.

“They aren’t a mil­lion miles away and there’s def­i­nitely room for im­prove­ment – sprint­ing more, get­ting back in quicker, shape and or­gan­i­sa­tion, all those lit­tle things where you think ‘Yeah, I can give them that’.”


Not that John­son is fool­ing him­self that his ex­pe­ri­ence gives him an edge over his rel­e­ga­tion ri­vals.

“Just look at the man­agers down here,” he says. “I’ve done nearly 900 games now.

“Ron­nie Moore at Hartle­pool must be close to that, Micky Adams at Tran­mere can’t be far

be­hind. Rus­sell Wil­cox at York has been an as­sis­tant for many years. You’re not com­ing up against rook­ies.You’re com­ing up against wily old foxes.

“What Ron­nie’s done at Hartle­pool shows why. That club were dead and buried but a bit of spirit and a bit of or­gan­i­sa­tion and sud­denly they’re win­ning matches.”

Mind you, Moore has had since De­cem­ber to fine tune his res­cue act. John­son has seven games to make up a two-point deficit.

Make that six matches to wipe out a three-point gap fol­low­ing a 10 de­feat in his first game in charge at York on Fri­day.

“I know it’s a chal­lenge,” he adds.“But peo­ple said that when I went to Latvia and when I went back to Yeovil. I’ve never re­gret­ted any of those moves.

“And If I pull it round, I’ve done the play­ers a favour, I’ve done the fans a favour and I’ve done my­self a favour. I don’t see it as a risk.

“To have been in the game so long and have the suc­cess I’ve had, I’ve been blessed.

“But I’m not fin­ished yet. I want more suc­cess and I’m sure I’ll get it. Start­ing with keep­ing Chel­tenham in the Foot­ball League.”

ALL SMILES: Gary John­son, chair­man Paul Baker and for­mer boss Rus­sell Mil­ton, who will as­sist him

PAIN: De­feat to Ply­mouth prompted Chel­tenham to call John­son

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Gary John­son reads the pro­gramme be­fore his first game in charge of Chel­tenham at York on Fri­day

GONE: Paul Buckle had 79 days in charge

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