Former Liverpool football legend Craig Johnston talks about the upcoming match between Liverpool FC and Sydney FC, and his business career after football
Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to money news right around Australia. Now, I think it’s fitting that our next guest has something of an introduction. I’m going to tell you, that I don’t think this introduction will be unfamiliar to him.
What can I tell you that anybody knows anything about English Premier League football will know that song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Of course, with the cop singing it in full cry at Liverpool, in one of the great anthems of world sport, because the brilliance of this is, that Liverpool is coming to Australia. Coming to play, Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on this Wednesday coming, the 24th of May. Now, the gates open at 6, the kickoff’s at 7:45 PM. There are still great seats available at ticketek.com.au. You will get all the formalities out of the way. Let’s introduce our guest. One of the all-time stars, not only English football but also of Australian football as well, Craig Johnson. In fact, I’ll tell you what I’ve got for you. We’ll introduce you now, Craig. Many thanks for your time here on the program today.
Craig Johnson: Mate, that was some introduction by the way.
Ross Greenwood: It wasn’t bad was it I’ll tell you. [laughs] We’re going to introduce you properly, don’t you? Cut the cup and full tray. I’ve got a little something else for you. Here’s a little something else. Listen to this.
Ross Greenwood: How about that, 31 years ago in the FA Cup against Everton and scoring a goal, paved your own way to the UK. There’s the real introduction, Craig Johnson.
Craig: [laughs] Thank you, thank you. You’re giving me goosebumps there.
Ross Greenwood: Yes, it’s fantastic–
Craig: It’s been a long time ago and a long way away and it seems like a lifetime away, and to have Liverpool in Sydney because it’s a first, I’ve never been to Sydney before. It’s big. [laughs]
Ross Greenwood: It is big. The fact that Liverpool this year celebrates, its 125th anniversary and also, the fact that these legends from Liverpool first team from previous years including Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and also, Steve McManaman. It’s going to be absolutely fantastic to have them here and have some of the all-time greats on the pitch as well.
Craig: Well, absolutely. They’re playing a bang-on-form team at the moment in Sydney. Again, the last game I saw Sydney FC play was against Chelsea about two years ago. Chelsea had just won the league, right? Then they came over, we thought that they would really really kill Sydney but they didn’t. It was a really, really well-contested fight. I said earlier today that that performance by Sydney that day was probably the best A-league team performance I’ve ever seen in my life.
Ross Greenwood: Which shows how much the state of the competition has come along and indeed, a lot of people are arguing now that it’s certainly Australia’s third football card, it never really was that, but just the other thing also is the number of international players that are now being bred out of that A-league competition that do find their way as you, obviously had to suffer to do when you were a kid. Many of these young fellas are going at the age of eight and the age of 12 and all that sort of stuff, and try to find their way through clinics and clubs in the in the UK and Europe.
Craig: Yes, well, there’s a big pot of gold and I don’t mean financially, I mean in terms of doing this for a living. Way back when I did it, it was unheard of that someone would actually play soccer and get paid for it. It was a new concept, and I didn’t even understand it myself. You know what? You figure out quickly it’s not about the money, it’s about the game, it’s about the love of the game. Truly as you know the global game. If you’re a young man with a good head and a good pair of feet, you can get a job in Spain, you can get a job in Italy, France, Germany.
A lot of players now are leaving Europe early retiring and going over to America and getting a game in the MLS there. It’s certainly a global game, I think that’s what I like about the situation here, this is a very, very clever and astute football market. The Aussies know their soccer inside out. Again, there are a lot of Liverpool supporters here and I feel partly responsible. The amount of people that come up especially when the clubs in Australia and say, “Hey, I watch Liverpool, I support Liverpool because of you.” I thank them as much as they thank me because this club is different to all the rest.
I’m not just saying that because I played for them. I was, funnily enough, I was a Tottenham supporter from Australia, so this club, the story, the connection with the scouts in the city of Liverpool, the triumph, the tragedy. The fact, that they’ve had a couple of Australians play for them, that’s why they’ve been back. This is the fourth time in four years. They’ve never been before 2013. This’s their fourth time in four years. One of the reasons is, when they come here they know how much this audience appreciates them being here. It’s a good story.
Ross Greenwood: It really is a great story. Tell me this, I know that you signed with Liverpool in 1991 for £650,000. Well, you are part of the squad that captured three league titles. Three league cups on the way, through including the double in 1994. Was there enough money in that career to basically last you the rest of your life or did you have to go it on the way through?
Craig: Well, first of all, it was five league championships.
Ross Greenwood: Yes. Here we go.
Craig: [chuckles] Yes, and a European Cup which is now the Champions League. I tell you exactly what it was. It was £1,000 a week. Let’s say $2000. Absolutely not. I retired when I was 27 due to my sister got a very, very horrific accident she was involved in and she was in a coma. I retired to bring her back to Australia and be with mum and dad, and look after her. I actually had to go out and get a job because basically, I had very little money saved up because the wages weren’t like they are today. They’d probably pay 100 times that today for the same standard of performance. Now I had to go and figure out the– You have to work, you have to put money on the table, you have to pay the mortgage like everyone else.
I was very fortunate that I because I knew about soccer and other sport, I got a job at Wide World Sport. My job was to, a little bit like yours is to produce six or seven minutes story once a week for Wide World Sport on a Saturday afternoon. That job was sensational because I interviewed people like Jeff Fenech when he was a world champion and Wally Lewis and all the sportsmen of the day. Peter Stirling’s who was my hero.
Ross Greenwood: Oh, which would have been fantastic, that was the golden era so Kenney Sutcliffe would have been around, Miles might be there as well.
Craig: Kenney was there, Big Dalglish was there, Alan Jones the Racing Driver, and Alan Jones the rugby one, they were both there.
Ross Greenwood: Legends all of them. These are fantastic, these are good times to be back in Australia and reminiscing of course, with football and also, with some of those great moments might as well feel great to have you on the program. Craig Johnson, one of the great superstars not only the Liverpool Football Club but also, of Australian football. One of the men who pioneered the way for others to make their way into European football. Remember, as I told you, Liverpool FC versus Sydney FC, Allianz Stadium on Wednesday this week coming. Gates open at 6 PM, kick off’s at 7:45 PM, ticketek.com.au. Craig Johnson, great to have you on the program.
Craig: Terrific. Good on you mate. Thank you.