BORN WINNER: Former Watford and England manager Graham Taylor was a huge influence on the career of Gary Johnson. Picture: PA Images
By Andy Mitchell
Who inspires the inspirations in the ever-changing world of football? Which traits stand the test of time?
In the latest of our series we pick the brains of one of the most decorated managers to grace the Non-League circuit, Torquay United’s Gary Johnson.
Despite being far more famous for his exploits in the dugout than his playing career, those early days in the game and time coaching have provided his biggest influences.
They helped shape a career that saw Johnson lead Yeovil Town to the FA Trophy, Conference and League Two titles, Bristol City from League One struggles to the Championship play-off final, then Yeovil to the fairytale of a season in the second tier.
He guided Cheltenham Town straight back into the Football League with the National League title and has turned the tide at Torquay United, winning National South to kick off the Devon club’s renaissance.
All of that came after a first gig as player-manager at Newmarket Town, a role he relinquished to play a part in Cambridge United’s historic ascent from Division Four strugglers to the cusp of top-flight football alongside John Beck.
A move to Graham Taylor’s Watford, via Kettering Town, would also prove important prior to heading on to the international stage with Latvia.
WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST GAFFER AND WHY?
My favourite gaffers would be the ones I worked with as a coach. I worked under Graham Taylor at Watford and that was an unbelievable experience. He was a fantastic man manager and there were a couple of promotions along the way.
From there, I looked at what was needed from a dressing room, how to get the right people on your bus and Graham was very good at that.
He was a big influence on me, he was Mr Watford and very conventional. That came after my time at Cambridge United under John Beck which was very unconventional, although both were very focused and successful managers.
I was at Cambridge when we went from Division Four to within one match of what is now the Premier League, I learned some of the dark arts – nothing silly, more trying things with tactics. We were two young coaches who wanted to experiment with things.
Both were long-ball type managers but always with quality, it was never kicking it for the sake of it.
They both liked working on percentages, the amount of opportunities you could get to deliver the ball with quality into the opposition’s penalty area.They made sure their teams were fit as well. That’s something everyone would say but they had ways of making sure everyone was mentally fit and raring to go as much as the physical side.
WHAT ARE YOUR BEST MEMORIES OF WORKING WITH GRAHAM AND JOHN?
With Graham I would say it was about the organisation of his team.
Every player knew his job, he would go around everyone on a Thursday or Friday come rain or shine to make sure they knew.
He just oozed class, it was unfortunate he ended up with England because the documentary about him (Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job) was not a true reflection of the way he was.
John and I were just two excited young coaches who brainstormed everything, we got to the quarter-final of the FA Cup as a Division Four and Division Three side, losing to Crystal Palace and Arsenal. We had some great days over there.
HOW HAVE THEY INFLUENCED YOUR STYLE OF MANAGEMENT?
Lots of things influence your style of management, of course they are a big part of it but when you go into management yourself you need to adjust at times.
Man management is very important, so is being honest. Sometimes you have to tell people things they won’t like but you know three years down the line that they will probably agree with you.
Getting hungry, young-at-heart people that have a lot of energy is important to build that team energy. No individual is bigger than the team.
All through my successful times at Yeovil, Bristol City, Cheltenham and now Torquay, my dressing rooms would be a mirror image of each other. That’s a skill and when you look at successful managers they all seem to have that.
Winning creates camaraderie but you must start with a bunch of mates that would die for each other.
ANY OTHER INFLUENCES?
The board at Newmarket Town were a big influence because they gave me my first job.
I was player-manager of a group of mates and did okay, we won a county cup and bits and pieces.
I played myself every week whether I had played well or not – no one ever said I shouldn’t have anyway – so looking at it from a player’s point of view I suppose you could say I had an influence on myself.
He wasn’t my favourite but the late Mike Keen at Watford as well, he signed me as a professional but then released me.
That didn’t deter me and he stands out for the way that kept me very ambitious to stay in the game. It was a negative influence that turned out to be a positive one, I was not going to be defeated.
I was gutted at the time. I had played most of the games in the old Football Combination for a couple of seasons and thought I was doing okay.
They had a couple of really experienced midfielders, the club captain Dennis Bond being one. I was his understudy but he never seemed to get injured over two or three seasons – even I couldn’t catch him in training!
I look at everything, anything that comes up on TV that relates to helping people as well. A lot of it you don’t keep but it is good to look at things.
It would be fair to say, particularly for me, that my family is a big influence.
My wife has had to cope with two managers – her husband and her son (Lee Johnson) – and the hassle that goes with that. She has been a rock.
All of my family have been in football, my mum and dad, uncles, brothers and cousins, for a long time, we talk a lot and that is influential too.