Simon Bullock has spoken to Lions fan favourite Oli Johnson about his football career before he arrived at Nethermoor, including a move to Norwich City.
In the first of a two part interview Oli explains how his different moves came about and how injuries has had a big part to play in his career.
The second part of the interview will be available to read soon where Oli talks all about his time at Nethermoor and his career since departing the club.
When you joined Nostell Miners Welfare at the start of your career, did you ever expect to have the career that you did?
Absolutely not. It was never really on the agenda; I was just enjoying playing football as a bit of fun. We were just a local team, playing Sunday league football. In the back of my mind, I thought I could maybe play a league or two higher, maybe Evo-Stik level potentially, but in terms of playing football professionally, I had no real aspirations. I didn’t really show the potential either when I first started there at 18. As things developed, I did start to kick on probably like three seasons in, maturing a little bit physically, I suppose.
After you had signed for Stockport County, did you find the step up in quality to League One difficult?
More so in training really. The tempo and intensity were much higher and it did take a bit of getting used to. I saw some top players when I started there, who went on to play regular championship football and some even in the Premier League, like Anthony Pilkington. So, it did take some adapting to. I was playing mainly development squad matches and I was doing alright in those games but it was when I mixed it up with the first team, I noticed the difference. It was a bit of a struggle, but over time I slowly adapted, gained a bit of confidence and it was just the way things panned out that a few of those players ended up leaving in January and that paved the way for me to get some games. I was quite fortunate in that sense.
Then came a move to Norwich City, how did it feel to sign for a club of that stature, particularly after playing so far down the football pyramid just a couple of years ago?
It didn’t really sink in, I must admit. It was very surreal and I was just on the crest of a wave, doing well. Even before I signed for Norwich, my second season with Stockport wasn’t going great. I thought that a move may not come about, because I started well but tailed off with confidence and fitness problems. I think it was my first season that attracted attention, and I’d say it was all quite overwhelming really. I had a good start at Norwich which made things easier as well. It was just fairy-tale stuff that I wouldn’t have expected at any point.
Your first season at Norwich (2009-10) ended with the club winning from League One to the Championship. What was that like, to win some silverware?
When I joined, the team were flying, winning week-in-week-out. I think it was nailed on that we were going to get promotion. We thought we could win the league and go up as champions, which we did and I played quite a decent part in that, having signed in January. I got a winning goal in stoppage time, which was scored in a big local derby against Colchester United. So, I played my part and I was quite proud. It wasn’t a case of just going there and just riding the coattails of the club, and being able to contribute to that is something I’m proud of and will never forget.
After you left Norwich came short spells with Oxford United and York City, why did you move on from those clubs so quickly?
I went to Oxford and again, hit the ground running. I was starting every week, scoring goals and doing quite well, but that was where my injury problems started. I started getting aches and pains around my groin/pelvis and it got worse. To be honest, I think in hindsight, I shouldn’t really have tried to keep playing through it. I tried to keep training and I was having injections, which was only making me worse because it wasn’t addressing the root problem. So, I went from my time playing well at Oxford to very quickly, within the space of a few months, not being fit to play. I realised that I was in no condition to play, being back on the treatment table and ultimately, I ended up being released from Oxford which was quite disappointing because I was told I would get a new contract, as I was only on a short-term deal. Obviously, that’s just football and I was probably a bit naive to think I would still get a new deal and they’d help me sort of these problems that I was having with my body. I was disappointed, but I thought that over the summer I could just rest and let the pains recover. Then I signed for York, and thought I was OK body-wise, but in the second year of pre-season I broke down straight away. I was just having all the same problems with my groin and I couldn’t really pinpoint what was causing it. I knew I was having surgery, but I came back from that no better. I couldn’t run. Anything more than a jog and I just felt the pains. So, I ended up cancelling my contract with the club and took some time away from football to see if I could sort out the problems I was having with my body.
Thank you to Oli for taking the time out for this interview, we’ll release part two soon.