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The Big Interview part one: Johnson - Villa fans are different class!
Tommy Johnson on claret and blue career.
20th Feb 2014
The Big Interview part one: Johnson - Villa fans are different class!


Brown

There's no question Tommy Johnson was adored by the claret and blue faithful in his two-year spell for Villa.

After all, this was the man who was dubbed "Super Tommy Johnson."

But it's fair to say the feeling is mutual as Johnson discusses the supporters who cheered him week after week in the late 1990s.

He said: "The fans at Villa were different class. They were superb, truly superb.

"I think they appreciated me because of what I gave to the club on the pitch.

"I was hard working. I used to shoot on sight too - that was a big thing with the lads in the dressing room. I often didn't pass it - I just had a go. If I missed a chance or something went wrong, I wouldn't mope - I'd just get on with it.

"I wasn't the most skilful player to put on the claret and blue but I gave everything for that shirt.

"I always played football with a smile on my face too because I loved playing for the Villa.

"I think there's a picture of me after the cup final win and I'm wearing a daft comedy wig - that sums me up because I enjoyed it so much! The song that came from my nickname was amazing."

Johnson arrived at Villa in a £1.9m deal from Derby County in January 1995.

After easing himself in for three full games and a couple of substitute appearances, he gave a magnificent performance against Wimbledon with a hat-trick in the astonishing 7-1 victory at Villa Park.

It was a moment he remembers fondly in a season of consolidation for Brian Little's men.

He continued: "I had previously gone from Notts County to Derby County, which in itself was a stepping stone. The Rams were in Division One.

"When I heard about Villa being in for me, I immediately thought about the size of the club and the history behind it.

"We played Leicester in the play-off final in 1993-94 and Brian Little was manager of Leicester.

"If Derby had won, I would probably have ended up staying with them as they would have been in the Premier League.

"But it was ironic that Leicester won, they went up, Brian went to Villa and then he signed me. It was a strange situation. I was delighted to go. It was the right move.

"I remember being struck by the atmosphere at Villa Park when I arrived.

"I knew about the Holte End already - one of the biggest stands in English football. But the atmosphere all over the ground was electric.

"It was a struggle at first. We were down in the bottom half of the table and it was just about staying out of trouble. But, in spite of those struggles, the mood was still great. The whole place was top-class - the ground, the training ground, the players, the staff - everything. It was geared for success.

Johnson

"The hat-trick against Wimbledon in my first season was great. That set me off.

"I was aware Villa had paid a lot of money for me and I was just delighted to get that trio to get me going.

"It was only a few years later that I realised it was a header, right foot and left foot - the perfect hat-trick they call it, don't they?

"Those are the moments you remember. It was my first hat-trick in the Premier League! I kept the matchball.

"After that season, the gaffer made some changes. He looked to change the team. He signed younger players. The gaffer wanted to freshen it up with young British players.

"In came the likes of Tayls [Ian Taylor], Drapes [Mark Draper], The Gate [Gareth Southgate], Franny [Franz Carr] and Wrighty [Alan Wright]. We all knew each other from the England U21s and the gaffer wanted us to carry that on at Villa."

Johnson

What Little created for that 1995-96 season was a squad of substance, style and spirit.

Johnson points to the perfect mix - younger starlets like Dwight Yorke and Savo Milosevic and experienced aces like Andy Townsend and Paul McGrath.

Villa won the League Cup with a fabulous 3-0 win over Leeds at Wembley, reached the FA Cup semi-final and finished fourth in the Barclays Premier League.

Johnson also insists that a lot of that success is down to the camaraderie in camp.

He added: "It was an amazing season.

"We got The Gate, Drapes, Savo - and Yorkie signed a new contract and established himself as a centre-forward then.

"We still had a few of the old timers like Nigel Spink, Paul McGrath and Steve Staunton.

"We had a good mix of up-and-coming players and established internationals who had seen it and done it.

"Pre-season was really good and we carried it into the season.

"We got the formation right - three at the back - with Charlesy and Wrighty bombing on. We had Tayls, Towny and Drapes and - when I started playing - I was in the hole behind Savo and Yorkie.

"It was a free role, pretty much, which was brilliant for me. I just went where I wanted and did my best to support Savo and Yorkie.

"It was a great season and we had a great feeling.

"Team spirit was unbelievable and we had brilliant players.

"Andy Townsend was different class. Paul McGrath was unbelievable. He didn't train much but when he played he was incredible.

"Stan Staunton had a wonderful left foot but used to moan for fun. Nigel Spink looked after us.

"We had a great mix. The banter was good. We were winning games. We were successful.

"You can imagine what the dressing room was like.

Johnson

"There were plenty of daft things done - and I was involved in most of them. It was such a fun dressing room. It was a real great place to be.

"It started when Drapes used to walk in every morning with his daft clothes on and continued after training.

"There was always something kicking off in the dressing room that had us in bits. But, trust me, when we went on that training ground, we meant business."

Johnson missed out on the Wembley showpiece, sitting out the glorious game from the bench.

But what some still don't know to this day is that he was just glad to be involved at all!

He continued: "I got injured against Ipswich in the FA Cup match in February.

"That gave me about six weeks until the final.

"I played in the first leg of the semi-final when we drew at Arsenal 2-2 but then I missed the home leg.

"My main aim was just to get fit because I was still struggling with my thigh at the time. It was constant work to make the final.

"I wanted to be involved. My first session back was the day before the final.

"The gaffer was brilliant. He put me on the bench. When I see him now, though, I hammer him for not putting me on.

"But just to be involved was brilliant.

"The togetherness was second to none in the group.

"We travelled down a couple of days before the final and when we won it, everyone stayed down in London for a get-together. Everyone was in the hotel, even the office staff. The wives and kids were there - it was fantastic.

"It was the first trophy I had won. Just to be part of it was great.

"I was so grateful to the gaffer. He didn't have to put me on the bench. He could have picked someone else. There were only three subs then, too!"

His appreciation for Little still continues to this day as he recalls life under him in B6.

Johnson

He admits Little was a "quiet man" but one who got his message across day after day during his tenure in the Villa Park hotseat.

Although Johnson admits he didn't agree with the mild-mannered manager during initial talks about a move to the claret and blues.

He added: "The gaffer was great. He was very quiet but you knew where you stood with him.

"Doug Ellis saw something in him that he liked after his great spell at Leicester. He was terrific to work with.

"You realise now what hard work it is being a manager or a coach.

"He came up with the system of three at the back - he was probably one of the first to use that formation.

"He had his full-backs pushing on and me in the free role.

"When he told me he wanted to play me there I was having none of it. This was before I signed! He said he saw me playing in the hole behind the strikers. I was thinking 'no I am a centre-forward, I want to score goals.'

"But when I see him now, I say 'yeah you were right!' That was my best position.

"I still speak to him now. He's in good fettle and it's great to see.

"We had a great backroom staff to work with too - Alan Evans, John Gregory, Paul Barron and Jim Walker. They were fantastic. There was Kevin MacDonald and Tony McAndrew too.

"I owe a lot to them. They helped ever such a lot."

Look out for The Big Interview part two on Friday as Johnson discusses his difficulty in leaving, his thoughts on Villa now and sharing a dressing room with Paul Lambert.

Snap up match tickets for Villa v Norwich.

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