I vividly remember walking back from Coram Fields after a Saturday morning kick about with Johnnie. We’d have been eight or nine. No more.
“Do you think you’ll be a footballer?” he asked. “No” I instinctively replied.
“Why not? Do you think Gary Lineker thought he’d be a footballer when he was our age?”
Even then, Johnnie knew he’d play football for a living. It’s all any of us ever wanted to do. Johnnie’s confidence set in as a ‘wand’ of a left foot developed and his belief was enhanced by the football wisdom and dedication of his Dad.
Peter has driven everywhere in his black cab to watch John play for Westward Boys, Spurs, Swindon Town, Colchester, Coventry, Watford, Derby County, Notts County and then, of course, Charlton Athletic.
I’ve always been immensely proud of Johnnie’s career and taken great pleasure in watching him do what we all wanted to do.
Tottenham Reserves, England under 20’s. I backed him to score first on his league debut for Swindon and he duly obliged, getting the ‘wand’ out to whip a free kick in the top corner in a manner which Charlton fans will be familiar with. Wycombe Wanders away in the pouring rain saw an amazing 3-2 victory, with the Late Jimmy Davis scoring a stunner whilst on loan from Manchester United, and his mate Sam Parkin notching the winner.
I’ll never forget being in the away end at Charlton with the Tottenham fans, celebrating wildly as Johnnie broke forward and smashed home his only goal for Spurs from 20 yards. There’s a forty yard pass for Helder Postiga to score the winning goal against Liverpool that comes to mind too, and a picture of John trying to catch Ryan Giggs.
It was a privilege to watch Johnnie take to the field against the Arsenal invincibles, standing in the tunnel against Vieira, Sol Campbell, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and all.
Johnnie enjoyed his time at Layer Road, as Colchester made their debut in the Championship. He was later mis-sold the dream at Notts County, but still enjoyed promotion in his year with Sven, Kasper Schmeichel and, all be it fleetingly, Sol Campbell.
He found his footballing home at the Valley, where he was in inspirational goal scoring form whilst captaining the Addicks as they stormed to promotion from League 1 as Champions. Never more so than when scoring match winning free kicks against each Sheffield club on consecutive weekends.
It was his finest season and it was clear that the Charlton fans loved Johnnie. The feeling is mutual. During more recent times, when many Addicks have felt a discord, Johnnie has been a constant connect to their football club. He gets it. The fans know he gets it. They see not only the player and captain who has given so much on the pitch, but also the gentleman and ambassador off the pitch, reflecting the values they’ve so desperately clung to. He’s one of them, buying away fans beers on journeys back south. They relate to him at a time when little else resonates.
It’s wonderful to hear, see and feel the affection Charlton fans show towards Johnnie. He deserves all the praise that is being showered down on him from managers and teammates alike.
It is only fitting that his playing career comes to an end having secured legendary status at a club he loves. Johnnie always knew he’d be a footballer, but to Charlton fans he’s become so much more.