January 06, 2012

Kenny Johnson – Hero and Legend

MICK HUTCHINSON on a Poolie great. 


In a modern day game, that sees players that are transferred for millions of pounds, barely hang around long enough for the ink to dry on their expensive contracts, modern day heroes can sometimes be hard to find; harder still to find are legends

So the recent death of ‘Pools hero and legend Kenny Johnson following a short illness at the age of 80, is a very humble and honest reminder of a player who in the very real sense of the word was a true hero for the fans and the town that he played for; and a legendary figure for those not even old enough to see him play.

The deserved and fitting tributes that have followed his death, have neatly chronicled his football career. From those earliest beginnings, when he signed as an amateur from Seaton Holy Trinity Juniors, for his one and only league club Hartlepool[s] United, following a Church League Cup Final in May 1949. His New Year’s Eve debut in that same year against Bradford City at The Vic would first endear him to ‘Pools fans. It resulted in a 3-0 win, in which he scored the first of 98 league goals as part of an overall club total of 106 - both still club records. But it wasn’t all hero worship. His second game for ‘Pools ended in a 6-0 hammering at Lincoln City, quickly followed by the realities of war and National Service in the Army that limited him to only six ‘Pools appearances over the next three seasons.

On his return from military service - having been signed as a professional in the Great North Eastern Hotel at London’s King Cross - he was soon to be ensconced in his favourite number eight shirt, and with a goal on the opening day of the 1953/54 season at Chester, a legend was soon to be born. His would be very much the identifiable name from those halcyon ‘Pools days of the mid 1950’s when such other notables as Guthrie, Newton, Moore, Stamper, McGuigan and Luke, would help to conjure up memories for so many of the club's most famous and memorable days."...converting to a deeper midfield role towards the end of his playing career, he somehow managed to play in every other position for the club, including in goal – twice!"

The most famous of all as we know, Saturday 5th January 1957, when the Busby Babes came to town and together with a Kenny Johnson goal, and against all odds, those notables so very nearly pulled off the unthinkable and impossible.

Of course heroes as we know have to go that extra mile. Quite apart from finishing as the club’s top scorer in 1956/57 and again in 1960/61, and later converting to a deeper midfield role towards the end of his playing career, he somehow managed to play in every other position for the club, including in goal – twice! A rumoured move to Wolves never quite materialised leaving him a one club man when his fifteen year playing career came to an end in 1964 after 413 first team games.

Since his retirement a number of protagonists have chased after and failed to catch his ‘Pools goals total. The club’s most famous 60’s double act Mulvaney and Phythian couldn’t get near to it between them – Mulvaney 33, and Phythian 55. Terry Bell was next up, and, but for an enforced sale to Reading, might have had a fighting chance of catching him. Newton, Houchen, Allon, Baker and Boyd – all needed two bites at the cherry – all never quite made it (Boyd still of course has a chance), leaving Johnson still out in front in the club's leading scorer stakes, a fact he was always immensely proud of.

For many current ‘Pools fans, Kenny Johnson was a hero to their fathers and their grandfathers, and as the years continue his ‘never say die’ commitment to the team, and his passion for the club have passed into folklore, and rightly so, elevating him to legendary status for all fans alike. A family man, he also ran a successful business in the town, and was employed by the club in a match day corporate hospitality role, but it is his achievements on the pitch playing for his one and only club that have rightly placed him at the very top of Hartlepool United’s list of all time greats. - Kenny Johnson - Hero and Legend.