|J Johnson by SHS |
The Saints were in a bit of strife in the early 1900s and got a reputation as a bit of a ‘yo-yo’ team, with relegation from the top flight in 1902-03; promotion in 1903-04 and poor form again the following campaign, saved from a second relegation courtesy of league re-structuring! For the Second Division clash at Birkenhead on 12th September 1903, at Prenton Park [home of Tranmere Rovers and a really boggy pitch at the time] the Saints had a new player, according to ‘Lancastrian’ in the St. Helens reporter: “Both clubs were well-represented and a trial was given to a person by the name of Johnson, who it is said, hails from Stockport and is a Cheshire county man”. Recent newspaper research reveals that a talented back Johnson played for the Sale Rugby Union Club and Cheshire County. Frustratingly, the articles never reveal a first name, par for the course in those days.
Unfortunately for Johnson [incidentally, the only clue to his first name is a ‘J’`. Things didn’t go too well for him or his new team. ‘Rugbyite’ in the St. Helens Newspaper gave his report the headline: “A miserable game at Birkenhead”. He went on: “The game was a miserable display of football throughout. Neither team showing anything approaching Second Division football even…the new man, Johnson, got very few chances but he did not show any brilliant form”.
Saints won 3-0 on the Wirral, despite the gloom and then it was fast forward to the next match, at home to Barrow and Johnson was once again included at right centre, with jimmy Liversage outside him. What a difference a week made to Johnson and the team! Saints won 18-6. Johnson scored one of the tries when he was put in by stand-off Tommy Hall from a scrum close to the Barrow line. Johnson’s winger, Liversage, also scored one of the tries, with left winger Neddy Bacon notching another of his team’s three-pointers. ‘Rugbyite’ in the St. Helens Newspaper was quite upbeat after the previous week’s dirge: The threequarters played splendidly both together and individually. The man whose play most pleased the spectators was probably Johnson. He improved wonderfully upon his display against Birkenhead, and in him and Jones the club seem to have got hold of two centres who understand the game and can play it”. But this match was also the centre of controversy when skipper Billy Briers was sent-off by the referee. ‘Lancastrian’ in the Reporter was most indignant: “Briers, the captain of the St. Helens team has always shown himself to be a clean and careful footballer, and it is a pity he should be blamed for what was certainly an accident. In football terms, this probably was as surprising as someone like Bobby Moore getting his marching orders many years later!
However, back to our man Johnson. He was obviously well-thought of at Knowsley Road and was appointed Vice-Captain of the seniors for the 1904-05 campaign, with Billy Briers at the helm. It is clear that he could score tries [11 in 47 matches] and in his latter days as a Saint he operated in the halves, so his hands must have been good enough to create chances for his team-mates. A versatile player indeed. Johnson played his last match against Dewsbury at Knowsley Road on 24th February 1906. The home team won 7-0 and Johnson partnered Teddy Toole in the halves. It was also the last senior appearance of another Johnson, this time the legendary forward who was nicknamed ‘Spider’. We do not know if that was the end of `J` Johnson`s rugby career or whether he joined another club, so any further information would be most valuable!