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Craig Johnston: Liverpool Winger And Predator Inventor

Craig Johnston deserves a special place in the history of world soccer. He was born to Australian parents, on 25 June 1960, in Johannesburg (South Africa). However, his parents soon moved back to Australia, and this is where Johnston spent his childhood.

When he was six years old, Johnston suffered from osteomyelitis. He was close to losing his leg to the disease. Luckily, he was treated by an American doctor who was on tour in Australia. Johnston’s father had aspired to become a professional soccer player, and he even trialed at clubs like Dundee United and Preston North End.

Following his father’s footsteps, Johnston started playing soccer and played for Lake Macquarie City FC in New South Wales. He also represented the youth team of Maccabi Hakoah Sydney City East FC, a semi-professional club based in Sydney. When he was 14, Johnston wrote a letter to four English clubs asking for a trial. Middlesbrough eventually answered his request.

johnson craig

Craig Johnston Leaving Home At 15

Craig Johnston had seen Middlesbrough on the team’s tour to Australia. Hence, they were one of the clubs he approached for a trial. Johnston’s call was answered by Middlesbrough, who Jack Charlton managed at the time, and the club invited him for a trial.

However, the club refused to pay for his travel and accommodation.  As a result, his parents had to sell their house to fund his plane ticket.

So, at the age of 15 years old, he left for England on a one-way ticket. However, the future five-time league champion, European Cup and FA Cup winner was given a reality check soon after landing in England.

His initial years with Middlesbrough Football Club were anything but easy.

first australian playing in english football

Never Giving Up On Your Dream

Craig Johnston couldn’t have imagined the worst start to his life in England. Upon his arrival to the north of England, he was straightway thrust into a trial game attended by World Cup winner and current manager, Jack Charlton. He endured a horrid first half as the Boro trailed 3-0 at half-time.shoot magazine

During the halftime speech, Craig Johnston was at the receiving end of an earful from Jack Charlton and didn’t get to appear in the second half. Johnston was told in clear words that he didn’t have what it would take to make it in professional football.

Dejected, he headed to trialists’ lodgings only to be told that the place was for successful trialists. Upon hearing that, the boy from Australia had no place to go. The lady in charge took pity on him and allowed him to stay in an old coal shed at the back of the apprentice’s building.

It was evident to Johnston that it would take a lot of effort to fulfill his dream. So he started working on his skills, by himself, in the Middlesborough car park. Players like Graeme Souness and Terry Cooper took notice of him and encouraged him. They also allowed him to clear their cars to help with his wages.

The situation with Craig Johnston had significantly improved by early 1977 and, after Charlton’s departure and the appointment of new manager John Neal, he got a second chance. The lad from Australia finally earned a contract with Middlesborough and made his senior debut in a FA Cup win over Everton in January 1978.

Over the next three seasons, Johnston became a regular and a key member of the starting team, and in doing so soon earned a reputation as a fast, energetic, and fearless player. He became a crowd favourite for the Smoggies.

johnson meeting the princess of wales

Signing For Liverpool Football Club

Craig Johnston established himself in the Middlesbrough squad, and his energetic and enthusiastic midfield game soon attracted attention from big English clubs, especially Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.

Almost persuaded by Brain Clough to sign for Nottingham Forest, he joined Liverpool in a £650,000 move in April 1981. This move made him the most expensive player in English football at the time.

His start at Liverpool Football Club wasn’t perfect either, as he struggled with injuries. In August, he made his debut from the bench in the 1-0 defeat to Wolves. His first Liverpool start came in the Intercontinental Cup game against Flamengo from Brazil.

His first goal for the Reds came in the extra time of the League Cup 4th round replay against Arsenal. He scored his first Liverpool goal in the 3-1 win over local rivals Everton at Goodison Park in the league.

craig johnston and ian rush with european cup trophy

Soon enough, he was an integral part of the thriving Liverpool team in the 1980s and a key member of their formidable attack. During his time in Liverpool, Craig Johnston won a host of trophies – five league titles, one European Cup, one FA Cup, and two League Cups.

In the 1983-1984 season, he was a part of the Liverpool team that claimed the treble – League Champions, European Cup, and League Cup Winners. Two years later, he helped the club claim the League and FA Cup double.

By now, Craig Johnston was tipped to win international honors. With such a diverse background, he qualified to play for any number of countries, including the four home nations, South Africa and Australia. He once famously stated that playing football for Australia would be like surfing for England.

craig johnston with fa cup

How Old Was Craig Johnston When He Retired

Craig Johnston’s retirement from professional soccer came as a shock to everyone. Johnston decided to hang his boots following the 1988 FA Cup final against Wimbledon. He was only 28 years old at the time and still an essential part of the Liverpool side.

However, the winger decided to call it quits and move back to Australia to care for his sister, who had suffered permanent brain damage in 1986. The news of his retirement first came out in a tabloid, against his wishes, on the day of the FA Cup final.

Initially, his decision angered Kenny Daglish, but the Liverpool boss finally gave his blessings when he learned of the reasons behind Johnston’s decision.

Overall, he scored 40 goals in 271 appearances for the Merseysiders.

beckham with the adidas predator boot

Designing The Adidas Predator Soccer Cleat

Upon moving back to Australia, Craig Johnston didn’t end his association with soccer. Instead, he started coaching kids in his home country.

During one of the training sessions, he coached kids on how to bend the soccer ball, but kids could not follow through due to constant rainfall. At this stage, one of the kids quipped, ‘I can’t feel the ball. My boots are made of leather, not table tennis bats.’

These words sprung an idea in Johnston’s mind, and he attached the rubber of a table tennis bat on top of a soccer cleat with a rubber band. This fixed the issue with wet leather cleats and further prompted Johnston to work on a new type of soccer cleats.

At first, all major brands like Adidas, Puma, and Reebok rejected Johnston’s prototype of new soccer cleats. This compelled Craig Johnston to seek help from legendary German players like Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Paul Breitner.

His understanding was that Adidas, a Germany-based company, would respect the opinions of such national legends. Johnston recorded these players playing soccer wearing his prototypes and showed this footage to Adidas.

After working on his prototype for five years, Johnston finally sold it to the German sports manufacturer in exchange for royalty worth 2% of all future sales. As a result, Johnston’s prototype was released as Adidas Predator, and these cleats went on to become one of the most famous soccer cleats.

Eventually, Adidas bought out Johnston’s share of 2% in exchange for a one-time multi-million payment.

craig johnston coaching kids

Where Is Craig Johnston Now?

After selling his Predator share, Craig Johnston tried his hands on several things. First, he invested most of his earnings in a youth football coaching system called SoccerSkills.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of support from organizations such as the Football Association, it turned out to be a loss-making venture and resulted in bankruptcy for Johnston. It also cost him his marriage.

Johnston always had a passion for photography, and for the next step in his professional career, he decided to pursue the same. As a result, he has managed to make a decent career out of photography, and currently, he is in the same line of work.

In his years as a photographer, Johnston has shot famous golf stars such as Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, and Phil Mickelson. His past as a football star was unknown to many of these golfers.

Over the past ten years, he has been diagnosed with three types of skin cancer.  It has caused him some life-threatening challenges over the years.  Because his life partner is Vivienne Lewis, he watches a lot of Tottenham Hotspur matches these days. Her father Joe Lewis, owns Spurs.

Typically, he spends much of his time in England and Florida and returns to Australia a couple of times a year.


Craig Johnston Playing Career And Honors

Full Name: Craig Peter Johnston
Birthdate: 25/06/1960
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa

Playing Career:

  • Middlesbrough 1977–1981
  • Liverpool 1981–1988

Total Appearances: 335 Appearances, 56 goals

Playing Honors:

  • 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86, 1987–88: English First Division Five League Titles
  • 1982–83 and 1983–84: League Cup Winners
  • 1983–84: European Cup Winners
  • 1985–86: FA Cup Winners

johnston receiving his first under 21 cap

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