Would he fit in now?: David ‘Magic’ Johnson

To fill in the void between us becoming champions (have I mentioned that already?) and new signings coming in, I’ve decided to look back at a handful of players and ask; ‘would they fit in now?’.

In truth, it’s just an excuse to get a load of programmes out and have a rummage. I’ve been going through some old ones recently, remembering players from my youth. One I feel doesn’t get the recognition he deserves is David Johnson, known affectionately by Imps’ fans as ‘Magic’.

He played during what I can only term as an odd season in our history. When looking back at the Imps one rarely thinks of 1993/94 as a classic Keith year, but it was his first foray into management. Much was changing too, it was the first season we had squad numbers, the first season names were on shirts and that posed problems; not least getting a visible print on red and white stripes. The solution? A huge yellow patch. I kid you not.

Nicky Platnaeur and Ian Baraclough in the nicely patched shirts during a 0-0 draw with Carlisle

We didn’t kick off the 93/94 season with Johnson as part of the squad. Back then there was no transfer window and the season began with us boasting Peter Costello and Tony Lormor up front. Both had perhaps seen their best days in an Imps shirt and after the opening day loss against Colchester, Johnson arrived; too late to be announced in the programme, but in time to make an appearance from the bench.

The following home game saw him announced in the programme, but he’d already announced himself by bagging a winner away at Hereford, again from the bench. The programme for the Chester game, which we lost 3-0, said of the move: “The signing of Sheffield Wednesday striker David Johnson has received little publicity, though why this is so difficult to understand. Whilst on loan at Hartlepool last season he did particularly well and the Second Division club were reported to have offered £100,000 for him. He has also been offered terms by Scunthorpe, which he turned down and the Imps can be well pleased to have won the signature of a promising player who Sheffield Wednesday were anxious to retain.”

He has also been offered terms by Scunthorpe, which he turned down and the Imps can be well pleased to have won the signature of a promising player

Johnson stood at 6ft 2in and whilst that would mark him out as a typical ‘Keith’ striker during his second reign, the Imps played football on the deck in ’93. That suited Johnson, he was as much a winger as he was a centre forward and despite his height, his best play always came from his feet. In the end, we paid £32,500 for his services, something that irked Trevor Francis at Hillsborough who felt £100,000 was more appropriate.

On September 18th Johnson bagged his first Imps goal at Sincil Bank as we drew 2-2 with Bury, with a certain David Flitcroft on loan at Sincil Bank at the time, but sat in the stands. He earned his ‘Magic’ monicker a short while later, opening the Imps’ account in the Coca Cola Cup against Everton. In those early weeks, he could do no wrong, scoring a couple of days later as we beat Northampton 4-3, and again in the Autoglass Shield to beat Mansfield Town 1-0.

On October 6th he netted against Everton again and by the time the Sky Cameras caught him getting our consolation in a 3-1 FA Cup Second Round defeat against Bolton, we had a new hero.

He’d got eight goals before Halloween, but his form tailed off as did that of the team. He only scored five more during the season, a brace away at Torquay in April, against Darlington away (lost 3-2) and Scunthorpe at home (won 2-0) in December and in the AWS Northern Semi-Final at Carlisle as we lost 2-1.

Injury blighted the following season as Keith found himself fired and Sam Ellis came in. Johnson bagged seven, again chipping in during those bigger matches. A bit like Theo Robinson, he could be found wanting for goals in the league, but scored as we beat Huddersfield in the FA Cup to reach the third round, as well as the only goal of the game as we beat Premier League Crystal Palace 1-0 in the Coca Cola Cup, our last win against top-flight opposition until 2017.

The following season was another turning point for the Imps, Sam Ellis got the sack, Steve Wicks came and went and John Beck arrived. He didn’t fancy Johnson and after one league goal he left for Altrincham, having struggled with injury.

Could he fit in today?

It’s a different game, I get that, so making the comparison is hard. In terms of physique, I think Danny would have liked Johnson. Standing at over six feet tall, he could have been a threat from set pieces, but he had enough skill with his feet to be effective too. The problem would have been his position.

I couldn’t see him playing the hold-up role that Big John does, although he was tall he wasn’t always robust. He might have settled out wide on the right, but again he didn’t have natural pace like Bruno, nor was he bullish like Harry. If anything, he might have been better playing in the ten role, coming from deep to overlap John, but also able to add height to an attack as well.

Those injuries blighted his career at the end were troublesome and that’s the one area I suspect he could have benefitted from today’s game. Sports science would have seen him play more regularly and if he could have kept the form of those first few months going, Magic Johnson could have been more than just a cult hero for those old enough to remember him.


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