Leeds United nostalgia: Johnson proved an expensive mistake

Seth Johnson.
Seth Johnson.
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For a large number of Leeds fans, the signing of Seth Johnson was something to panic about.

Plenty of supporters have learned through the years to treat seemingly positive developments at Elland Road as a sign that problematic events are just around the corner.

As the club’s aspirations grew ever grander, it was a signal to the fans on the terraces that a collapse was coming.

Johnson arrived with bombast, Leeds having acquired one of the top young talents in the country.

He was asked to sign his contract on the pitch, a deal said to guarantee massive wages. Like a photograph of booming Wall Street in 1928, the image of Johnson and chairman Peter Ridsdale grinning on the pitch takes on great retrospective meaning.

Johnson began his career at Crewe, where he quickly developed a reputation for hard work in the middle of the park. Part of Alex’s famed production line, he helped the club win a promotion from the Second Division through the play-offs.

Before long, he was attracting admiring glances from clubs further up the footballing pyramid.

Derby County made a move to sign him, but he insisted on staying at Crewe until the end of the season to help save them from relegation. Johnson achieved that goal, helping the team that trained him avoid the drop by a single point.

Having stayed at Crewe for another two months, he finally made his move to Derby in 1999, signing for £2.5 million.

At Derby his reputation only blossomed, and after making his solitary appearance for England in 2000, further interest developed and after a protracted transfer saga, Johnson made his infamous move to Leeds, signing on the dotted line for £7 million.

That evening under the floodlights was probably the high point of Johnson’s time at Leeds, as injury impacted on him settling at his new club. Before he could recover, the house of cards collapsed around him, with the financial crisis now public knowledge.

With the crown jewels sold, Johnson was pressed back into service on a regular basis in the 2003/04 season.

Infamously, a side considered to be too good to go down, went down. A player expected to help carry Leeds to new heights now found himself plying his trade in the second tier of English football.

Johnson was restored to the side in the second half of the club’s first season in the Championship.

But with the financial situation still perilous after Ken Bates’s takeover it was decided Johnson could be left out of the side to avoid further payments being made to Derby.

With his contract up at the end of the season, Johnson rejoined County, who were again divisional rivals to Leeds.

An irony of his spell at Derby, not lost on Leeds fans, was that after two years of frequent football for Johnson, he and Derby were promoted from the Championship in the play-off final only a year after Leeds fell at that hurdle.

Lee Johnson

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