From: Youth team
He is: Our brightest hope
Watford's best kept secret is nearly out. Richard Johnson is about to become a star.
Do Premiership clubs not bother with scouting anymore? Or are they only interested in the expensive fannydangle of the
latest continental import? Do Australia have so many midfielders that they can afford to do without someone who can
run football matches single-handed?
Apparently so. And we should be thankful. For, while everyone else has been distracted by flash-in-the-pans and
fly-by-nights, Richard Johnson has been allowed to mature in peace. The result is a midfielder of quite astounding
potence, a Premiership player waiting for his cue.
It goes back to the final games of the 96/97 season, the dismal stagnation of thirteenth in Division Two. Somewhere
along the line the young Aussie, much-derided until that point, took it upon himself to step decisively into the
post-Hessenthaler void. While the rest of Kenny Jackett's team withered away, Johnson was suddenly a gigantic, beacon-like
presence, a sign of hope for the future. Things have never been the same.
Contributions to two successive promotions? Oh, just a few.
His midfield caretaking. Constant chasing and hassling and tracking back, punctuated by the
occasional bulldozer foul and assisted by Micah Hyde, his partner-in-crime. It's hard, unglamourous work...but it's exactly the kind of hard, unglamourous work
that's put us in the Premiership. Watch the second leg against Birmingham and let your jaw drop at the commitment
shown, particularly in plunging headfirst into the deadly tangle of McCarthy's feet in an attempt to halt one second half attack. Watch
the Wembley final in awe of his performance - the wide open spaces of that famous pitch just seemed to let him stretch
his legs a little more, herding the Bolton midfield around like dumb animals.
His passing. Christ, his passing. He's reined it in a little lately, no longer quite as ambitious but still
the true play-maker of the side. So much of what we do begins from Johnson's right boot, shut him down and we're half the side.
Always available and always aware, he takes passing back to its original purpose - he gives someone else the ball. No longer are Watford wingers left to
look sad and lonely on the touchlines. Even prime Ramage couldn't touch him for play-spreading ability, clearing the ball out of the midfield clutter and delivering it to where it
can do some damage. Whenever we venture forward for an assault on the opposition goal, you'll find Johnson fetching and carrying just behind,
dishing out the ammunition.
His goals. Bloody hell, his goals. A brief Johnno Top Three, just to refresh the memory:
3. v. Wolves 1994
Having had a magnificent victory over GT's Wolves snatched from our grasp by a last-ditch equaliser, a dispirited Watford
stumbled forward in search of a miracle. The ball reached Richard Johnson, he let rip. I remember thinking, in the second or so as his thirty yard drive screamed
goalwards (and I can still picture it), that Stowell had it covered. I was wrong, Stowell had absolutely no chance.
2. v. Carlisle 1997
Or "the goal from beyond the horizon", as I call it. To score from forty yards is one thing, to score from forty yards by
passing the ball into the net is quite another. No run-up, minimal back-lift, no clue that he was doing anything other
than clipping a hanging cross into the area - by the time the keeper had cottoned on to what was happening, it was too late.
1. v. Bristol City 1998
An unstoppable bomb of a goal. On the volley as the ball dropped outside the box, the "whump" of detonation audible even on video, and a drive
so powerful that it took Welch with it into the net. The goal of the season without doubt, probably the goal of the decade too.
As a midfielder, he's got everything. The only question mark is whether he can stay focused through the turbulence of forthcoming
international call-ups, transfer speculation and praise from Alan Hansen on "Match of the Day". If he avoids being
swallowed by his own hype, there is nothing he can't achieve.
That's Richard Johnson, then. He's not bad, as it goes.
Last updated: July 1999