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Roger Johnson fronts up to fans on his Wolves nightmare

Roger Johnson’s four-year Wolves career was turbulent to say the least.

Roger Johnson on the mic, joined by Matt Murray and Richard Stearman. Picture: Martin Hodgkiss.
Roger Johnson on the mic, joined by Matt Murray and Richard Stearman. Picture: Martin Hodgkiss.

Signed from Birmingham in 2011, the centre-back was handed the captaincy but controversy followed as Wolves crumbled to relegation from the Premier League.

The 39-year-old’s relationship with Wolves fans, and the club, is clearly strained but stepping into the Cleveland Arms pub for a ticketed event to face the music, he was greeted with open arms.

But why do the event in the first place?

“I keep in touch with a lot of the lads and we’re still good mates. A few of the boys that had done it said it was good craic so Matty asked if I fancied doing it,” Johnson told the Express & Star.

“I thought I’d get it all out in the open. Whatever it is they want to ask (they can) and we move forward. It was 10 years ago now. I’m sure there’s people that still don’t really understand what happened so let’s talk about it.

“Maybe they think I’m stupid or brave, but we’re all human beings and football fans and if I could give them some answers then everyone will be happy.”

Karl Henry was unceremoniously stripped of the captaincy as manager Mick McCarthy handed it over to Johnson. To this day, it is often used as a stick to beat Johnson.

He added: “I’ve asked myself a million times ‘should I have taken it?’, but the person I am, to be a Premier League captain, I don’t think anyone in the country would turn that down. Mick had his reasons with Karl for doing it, which I wasn’t aware of. It didn’t pan out how we all wanted to so in hindsight should I have taken it? You’d probably say no.

“I was doing well at every other club I’d been at previously so I took the bull by the horns.

“If you’re not getting results everyone will point fingers and look for reasons why. It was just a bad time at the club and the league doesn’t lie, we weren’t good enough as a squad.”

It seemed a strange decision to supporters and that was feeling was shared in the dressing room – but on the face of it, Johnson’s transfer looked like shrewd business from Wolves.

“We were delighted that a player of his calibre was coming to the club,” said Richard Stearman, who joined Johnson for the event.

“We needed high-profile players and we needed to improve. Him coming to the club – we were delighted as a dressing room.

“The captaincy issue was a strange one for us all. We thought Karl had done a good job and then the captaincy changed. Rog didn’t ask to be made captain.

“We were a young team trying to do the best we could, we kept our heads down.”

After what was a less than favourable start to life at Molineux, the atmosphere around the club became toxic.

Johnson admits that his performances were far from impressive and as the team struggled it all came to a head on February 12, 2012.

McCarthy’s last game as boss was the embarrassing 5-1 home defeat to rivals Albion – a new low.

Johnson said: “It was not nice. To lose in that way to a rival, it was a devastating day.

“We weren’t good enough on the day and after 38 games we weren’t good enough as a team or squad.

Stearman added: “It was tough, especially losing to them in that way.

“We knew afterwards what it could mean in terms of Mick going. We were gutted first and foremost with the result but we also let him down, ourselves down and the fans down.

“It was tough but ultimately we didn’t do our job well enough.”

Wolves spiralled in the latter stages of the season and in March 2012 Johnson was disciplined by the club, with reports suggesting he turned up to training drunk – something he vehemently denies.

“I wasn’t playing at the time and went out for some food with two pals of mine, who I won’t name,” Johnson said.

“I came in on the Monday and trained. I think we had a Sunday game so we were in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I get pulled on the Wednesday and told ‘you came to training drunk on Monday’. I said ‘did I? Why didn’t you say anything on Monday then’. I trained Monday and Tuesday and they told me this on Wednesday.

“I don’t get it. I don’t know why or how it came about. The club weren’t doing great at the time, I was captain and wasn’t playing – whether the owners wanted to single me out, I don’t know. I’d love to know the answer myself.”

When asked if the club could have done more to support him, Johnson added: “I think so. Regardless of how you’re performing the club should look after the individual.”

Relegation came and Johnson stayed in the team under Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders, before the unthinkable happened and Wolves dropped to League One.

The defender was one of several players not issued a squad number and frozen out by new boss Kenny Jackett – and although Johnson was unhappy with the way they were treated, he understood a change was needed.

He said: “It had taken it’s toll and after a double relegation you need change. I knew it was coming.

“If I got offered the opportunity to try and right the two previous seasons I’d have stayed and have fought. I’m not the guy to give up.

“100 per cent I would have stayed in League One, but I doubt the fans would have wanted that. I’m part of the reason we were in that league and given the opportunity I would have 100 per cent wanted to right that wrong.

“But it needed change and thankfully for the club it worked.

“How we got treated I don’t agree with but that’s how they dealt with it at the time. We’re employees of the club and you have to get on with it and we did.

“Everyone that was in that squad that got outed dealt with it really well. We were professional about it.

“I think they were probably trying to catch us out so they could fine us but we turned up and trained with whatever facilities we got given on the day.”

Johnson had short loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham before leaving Wolves in February 2015.

However, controversy struck again in the summer of 2014 before his exit when he appeared on Soccer AM and said: “I’m employed by the club so I’d probably give up a fair amount of money if I just walked out.”

Johnson has previously said he wished he could take those comments back, but when quizzed further on them by the Express & Star he was more bullish in his approach.

“Would you leave your job without having another one? It’s the same for every other person,” he said. “It’s how the press worded it and twisted it. I said what I said. I’m not going to leave a job until I know I’ve got another one. I don’t know anyone who has just walked out on a job. To walk away from your income is a mental decision.”

After a four-year spell that was anything but successful, lessons have been learned from both Johnson and the club.

Former team-mate Stearman, who is still close friends with Johnson, summed it up perfectly.

He said: “I think there were mistakes on both sides. I’ve experienced it myself, not every transfer will work out and it’s the same with managers and staff.

“I had it personally at Fulham, it didn’t quite work out for me, and that’s just the way football works.

“Rog joined the club at what turned out to be a difficult time. It’s hard for players and staff and unfortunately it didn’t work for Rog.

“Look at his career prior to Wolves and he was the main man wherever he went and performed fantastically well, to the point he nearly got in the England team.

“It was a disappointing time but also for Rog, he would have been gutted with how it panned out.”

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