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David Johnson was just 16 years old when he was spotted by a Manchester United scout. What followed was a long and varied career, which saw David play for Bury FC, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, and internationally for Jamaica.
“There have been plenty of highs and lows – my most memorable match was playing for Ipswich Town in the First Division play-off finals at Wembley in 2000. It was one of the last games played at the old stadium and we got promoted in front of 80,000 people.”
A special moment
“As an individual achievement I’d say winning Player of the Year for Nottingham Forest is my favourite highlight.” David joined Nottingham Forest in 2001. He stayed for five years, including three loan periods to Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Sheffield United.
“I loved my time at Forest. It was challenging, with changing managers every year and injuries, but it was worth it. I couldn’t see myself settling anywhere else.
“One of my favourite matches with Forest was against Sheffield United. I managed to score a few goals, but we lost to them later in the play-off semifinals which I still can’t believe to this day!
“I was also lucky enough to have Alex Ferguson comment on my performance. It’s always nice to get praise from a manager, but coming from one of the greatest managers of all time makes it extra special.”
Tragically, David’s playing career was cut short in 2007 when he was forced to retire for health reasons.
“I had quite a few minor injuries early on in my career, but then I broke my leg playing against Sheffield United in 2003.
“Once I recovered I told myself one more injury and I’m done – I came back and scored six goals in seven games and was named Forest’s captain.
“Then in 2005 I had a prolapsed disc in my lower spine and I knew that was it for me. I tried to keep going, but I just couldn’t get back to full fitness.
“I went to see a specialist in London – he told me I needed to stop or I’d end up in a wheelchair. I knew I had to accept that this was the end. Luckily, I had a great support network around me and a home that I loved to get me through.”
Since giving up playing, David has continued in football, working as a scout for Chelsea for four years.
“Technology has moved at such a rate it’s changed scouting altogether. Buying a player is like buying a car these days – a club or manager has certain criteria to fit, for example ‘we’re looking for a left back who’s 6ft tall and left footed’.
“Everything’s available at the touch of a button– either on scouting sites or through players’ social media. You can find out so much more than just their playing style – you can see what they do off the field, what they eat, who their family are, just about anything.
“My advice to young players trying to get into the game would be to work hard. Natural talent will only get you so far if you don’t put the work in.
“With social media you only get to see the glamorous side to football so people think it’s easy. Players start acting big before they really achieve anything, my advice is always to work as hard as you can.”
Football in the family
“My son, Brennan, is at Nottingham Forest. I always remind him that everyone has bad games but as long as you’re working hard no one can say you haven’t tried.” David now works for an agency that looks after sporting talent like David Beckham and Neymar.
“Work definitely keeps me busy, but when I’m not working I just enjoy being with my family. I still live in Nottingham and I love it. It’s ideal for work too as I can travel up north or down south pretty easily.
“I’m still a Forest fan, and I think over the last ten years they’ve had some great talent, but we still need the right manager with the vision to guide us back into the Premier league.” Being involved in the game his whole life and seeing and meeting so many world class players David still has his own favourite.
“When you watch around 500 games a year you don’t get that excited about players anymore. Neymar is definitely special, but my all-time favourite would have to be Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima – he really changed the game.
“Players like Messi and Christiano Ronaldo have broken records and they’re good players, but just lack the personality.
“If it wasn’t for football, I’m not sure what I’d be doing. It was always my dream and I tell people I got to live my dream.”