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Notts Alumni: Michael Johnson

Joe Jones

The relationship between a great player and the football clubs he plays for is one of the most diverse aspects of football.

Some players spend most or all of their career at one club - Jamie Carragher, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville come to mind. Some players will transfer between clubs multiple times, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Nicolas Anelka.

And some are in between, who have played for just a few clubs but made enough of an impact at each of them to be loved by each set of fans. Michael Johnson is one such player.

Born in Nottingham in 1973, Johnson played for the well-known Clifton All-Whites, a regional youth team whose alumni include Jermaine Jenas and Garry Birtles.

In 1991, he made his debut for Notts County, away at Arsenal. It proved a baptism of fire for the then 18-year old, as a tough Gunners team containing stars such as Ian Wright and Tony Adams triumphed 2-0. Johnson also played against Coventry, Norwich, Sheffield United and Manchester City that season. Sadly, it was to be his only season with Notts in the top flight, as the Magpies were relegated that year.

The 92/93 season, in the newly rebranded Division One, saw Johnson becoming a first-team regular, playing 37 league games as the Magpies finished 17th in a very tight league, just three points above the relegation zone. Despite being only nineteen, Johnson played with maturity and composure beyond his years, and never gave less than 100%.

93/94 saw Notts perform admirably and finish in seventh, just three points shy of the playoffs. Johnson was once again a permanent fixture in defence, playing 33 league games.

The Magpies also made it all the way to the final of the Anglo-Italian Cup, where Johnson faced up to the mighty Gheorghe Hagi, the Romanian who would go on to lead his team to the quarter finals of the World Cup just a few months later. Sadly, the 17,185 inside Wembley saw Brescia lift the Cup after outplaying Notts and winning 1-0.

94/95 was a devastating season for Notts, as Mick Walker was sacked early on, and a succession of managers and unsettling off-pitch turmoil led to poor results on the pitch. Johnson played 27 league games but couldn't stop the team finishing rock bottom, though he did at least get his hands on some silverware by helping Notts win the Anglo-Italian Cup against Ascoli in March.


The summer saw Johnson move to newly promoted Birmingham City for around £300,000, and his powerful, swift and committed defending saw the Blues consolidate their position in the First Division. From that first season, the team went from strength to strength each year, finishing higher and higher, as Johnson developed more as a player and added goalscoring to his repertoire.

By 98/99, he was indispensable, having played in every league game that season and scoring five times as they made the playoffs, where they lost to eventual winners Watford.

This year would also see Johnson earn the first of his twelve caps for Jamaica, coming on as a sub against Sweden in a friendly played in Stockholm on the 27th May.

Johnson would experience play-off heartache twice more in successive years, before his team finally nailed it at the fourth time of asking by beating Norwich to finally reach the Premier League. Throughout that long, arduous and often deflating journey, Johnson was always a first team regular.

Heartache of a different kind came as the second-tier team made it all the way to the League Cup final, playing in Cardiff against Liverpool. They took the Reds, who would finish the season with three trophies, all the way to penalties, where they sadly lost out in the most erratic and agonising of ways.

In a bid to survive their first season back in the top flight, a spate of signings were made at Birmingham, which saw Johnson lose his first-team place. After playing just six games all season, he was allowed to leave, and, remaining local, he signed for Derby County.

It didn't take long for him to win a place in the Rams' first team and the fans' hearts, as he played 39 games and scored once, helping Derby survive a tumultous season where they narrowly avoided relegation.


Unlike his time at Birmingham, where each season was consistently good and saw the team finish in the top six, Derby were challenging for the play-offs one year and fighting relegation the next. Nevertheless, Johnson was consistently solid and reliable, becoming club captain in 2005/06.

The following season, under new ownership and under the tutelage of Billy Davies, Derby cemented themselves into the promotion positions, leading for most of the season before a late drop in form saw them fall into the play-off zone.

Johnson was in the first-team picture playing 29 times, although injury problems saw him miss the end of the season, including the winning play-off games which confirmed Derby's place into the Premier League. Another promotion, another set of hearts won over.

Because of a change of management and new signings being made in the close season, Johnson found himself out of the first team. Anxious to find the right club at this late stage in his career, the then 34-year old opted for Sheffield Wednesday, joining the club on an initial one month loan in September.

He instantly made an impact as he helped the Owls pick up the first points of the season against Hull on 22nd September. Such was his professionalism, class and commitment that his stay was extended to three months, the maximum possible term for emergency loans.

Back at Derby, Johnson, in a bit of a limbo, nevertheless showed immense professionalism to do his best for the club, and when he came on for the Rams in a cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday, that rarest of occurrences took place: both teams cheered his appearance and were chanting his name and praising him, a testament to a great professional and great man.

Sadly, despite improving the squad and winning the fans' hearts in just thirteen games, a permanent contract at Sheffield Wednesday wasn't to be, as the Owls opted to sign a young Mark Beevers instead.

The Owls' loss was the Magpies' gain, and on 29th February 2008, Notts saw the prodigal son return to Meadow Lane. Initially on loan, Johnson slotted straight into the back four and played twelve times, scoring the winner against Rochdale and helping the team narrowly avoid relegation.

His final season as a player was with his hometown club, as Notts signed the player on a permanent one year deal. Another tricky season for the club saw Johnson play 29 times, his experience helping the club survive another year in the Football League. His final game came against Dagenham and Redbridge on 25th April 2009.

Earlier on in the year, he was offered the chance to become youth team manager the following season, which he duly took up. During the enigma that was the 09/10 season, he temporarily took over the first team reins with Dave Kevan, and during his two matches in charge, he won one and drew one.

Sadly - and how many times have I found myself saying the word in this article - things didn't work out at Notts, he was dismissed when Paul Ince was relieved of his duties and replaced by Under 12s coach Brett Adams.

Not one to be affected by setbacks, Johnson carried on studying for his coaching qualifications, and in June 2012, he qualified for the prestigious UEFA Pro Licence. In October, he rejoined Birmingham, taking charge of the Under-16s squad in the academy.

A campaigner for equality in sport, he demonstrated his coaching techniques in a FA-funded scheme aimed at promoting coaches and managers from minority ethnic backgrounds in August 2012, and in November, he spoke to the BBC about the lack of opportunities for black and Asian coaches, drawing from his own experiences in the field.

Johnson has also involved himself in several ambassadorial roles, which include Help Harry Help Others, a charity raising awareness of brain cancer, Birmingham Children's Hospital, and Real United Football Club, a Nottingham-based team set up to reduce substance misuse and related criminal activity amongst young people in Nottingham.

In the last two years, Johnson has been an ambassador at Derby, where he carries out a wide variety of roles including coaching, mentoring, assisting corporate clients and media for in-house station Rams TV, as well as a board member at the League Managers Association and a founder member of On Board and Sports People's Think Tank, and his latest role - manager of Guyana.

A tireless, inspirational man throughout his whole career in every venture he's been involved in, few players are as cherished and revered by so many different clubs, fans and people as Michael Johnson.

What did you think of Michael Johnson when he was at Notts? Do you have any stand-out memories of him? Let Pride of Nottingham know by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.

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Interesting, full of depth and personally my favourite Notts Alumni so far!

Personally someone who I feel we shouldn't of departed company with, as our youths progressed pretty nicely under Johnno and Brett Adams does okay, although I feel Michael is the ideal type of person to work with young footballers. He helped bring a fair few through our system, who haven't yet made it into our starting 11 but we owe thanks to Michael Johnson for the parts he's played in our club.

Excellent Write up Joe!

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apart from your youth setup and his time towards the end of his career i'm not familiar with him. this gives outsiders or those with limited info a much better idea, so i can actually glance at his career with this nice write up.

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He was reliable,dedicated,popular and professional for us Rams in the best and worst of times.He is obviously someone who wants to put something back into football and the community.

           Another excellent,informative post-Thanks Joe.

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These are very good!

Michael had a spell with Derby in the premiership right? I recall him and Steven Gerrard having moments when Derby sunk out of the league. He looked pretty decent!

Thanks Joe.

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He was a great player, his commitment and attitude were second to none, unfortunately he never played in the Premier League as much as he should have. It's a shame, but Jonno never seemed to complain, he just got on with it and as a result he is a fan favourite not just at Notts, but at Derby, Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday too. Here's hoping he gets the chance to become manager sooner rather than later.

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Are you sure Joe? 


I can't find anything about Derby playing in the cup against Liverpool (FA or League Cup) but maybe Super Ram could shed some light on it. I swore blind he did

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Are you sure Joe? 


I can't find anything about Derby playing in the cup against Liverpool (FA or League Cup) but maybe Super Ram could shed some light on it. I swore blind he did

Look at the arms! You'll see a sign.. :)

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As mentioned by Joe he didn't play as much as he should of.

I wonder how many appearances he made and with which teams, certainly a strong defender. Jamaica should of called him up more too :)

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Pride of Nottingham is an independent fansite devoted to Notts County, the world’s oldest professional football club. Created in 2013, it has served as a source of Magpie news, features, match previews, reports, analysis and interviews for more than three years.

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