Norwich City midfielder Johnson recalls one of his darkest days
Facing Arsenal in the Premier League today forces Bradley Johnson to revisit one of the darkest days of his life.
Norwich's combative midfielder and boyhood Gunner admitted rejection by the north London giants as a teenager almost saw him lost to the professional game.
Johnson has since rebuilt his career in the lower leagues to eventually push himself onto the fringes of the England set-up following a series of consistent displays for the Canaries since a free transfer summer switch from Leeds.
'I remember the day – I'll never forget it,' he said. 'Liam Brady phoned up my dad. I was sitting in the front room and my dad came off the phone and told me that they weren't going to sign me. I just started crying. I was a young lad supporting the team and playing for the team. I'd been there so long, seen all my close friends getting contracts and me not getting it broke my heart. So I stopped playing football for about a year and a half and then worked my way up.
'I have a strong family behind me and a lot of credit goes to my mum and dad. Now I look back and there's not one player from my age group still at Arsenal now. There are about three or four who have really pushed on and made themselves professional footballers out of it – hardly any of them are playing.'
Johnson admits that crushing early knockback allied to the support of his family helped forge the player now excelling at the heart of Norwich's midfield.
'I don't think I've got anything to prove. I've spoken to the coaches at the time, Roy Massey and Liam Brady, and they wished me well and congratulated me for how well I've done,' he said. 'I'm playing my football now as a Norwich City player. I enjoyed my time at Arsenal and I'm still an Arsenal supporter, but today I won't be.
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'I've got a strong family behind me and my dad didn't let me get my head down. My dad and my mum and my brothers all stuck behind me and told me to keep on pushing on and it's given me great confidence. They'll be there. They're always there. They haven't missed a game for me since I've played professional. It's a lot easier.
'When they used to come up and watch me at Leeds they used to have to make a weekend of it, come up on the Friday and stay until the Sunday, but now it's only an hour's drive so they can come and go when they want.'
Johnson's presence could be vital if City want to establish a bridgehead in a key central area of the park against the free flowing visitors.
'We have to stand up to them, get into their faces and that's one of the strong points in my game,' he said. 'I get into people's faces and don't make it easy for them. We have to do that as a team today. I think we have done that against the bigger teams in this league, so we're going to do that again. If there's a ball there to be won, I'm going to win it. You have to get in their faces and make it uncomfortable for them because everyone knows they like to play the ball on the floor and pass and move, but if we can disrupt their game I hope we'll get something out of it. We're going to come up against players who can win games single-handed – but we stick together as a team and we can stop that.'