By Matt Badcock
Michael Johnson used to study goalkeeping on YouTube – now the Hitchin Town stopper is seeing his hard work pay off and he says they can use their FA Cup run to rise up the table.
The Canaries reached the first round proper for the first time in 23 years as the whole town caught FA Cup fever.
Although National League Solihull Moors eventually showed the two-division gap and ran out 2-0 winners, Johnson says the whole experience has been a big plus for the Southern League Premier Central club.
“It was amazing,” Johnson told The NLP. “It was really nice to see the whole community getting behind us. A lot of the players who’ve played for us for the last four or five years came, my family and my partner’s family were there – it shows how it brought the whole of Hitchin out.
“The build-up was amazing and it makes you driven to have that every game. It’s what you play football for.
“It will help the boys. We’ve played a lot of the top teams in our league early on with a team that didn’t really know each other too well before the FA Cup run. Now we’ve got a much better understanding, a much better team bond and chemistry.
“Then, for me personally, I’ve been through a lot at Hitchin in terms of not being in the team or not playing well. But this has made me realise you should always believe in yourself and, if you work hard, good things will come.”
The 25-year-old has been the story within Hitchin’s FA Cup fairytale for his stand-out performances including two saves in their second round qualifying penalty shoot-out win against Didcot Town and a big stop from 12 yards in their replay with Leatherhead.
He may not have been between the sticks had it not been for some good fortune. An outfield player growing up, he first pulled on the gloves when he was 14 for a school game because they didn’t have anyone else and he boasted a big kick.
It led to training with Luton, but he didn’t enjoy it so instead taught himself by watching goalkeepers on YouTube.
“I must have watched hundreds of videos,” Johnson said. “I’m a Liverpool fan so lots of Pepe Reina – that’s why kicking out of my hands is a side-winder because I copied him. But I looked at everything, highly-rated goalkeeper coaches to look at hand shape, feet movement, positioning.
“The team I was playing for at the time wouldn’t let me go in goal because that’s where the coach’s son played so I never got my chance! After that I went to Hitchin’s U16s but, although I hadn’t played much at youth level, I had been exposed to men’s football from when I was 14 at Letchworth in the Herts Senior County level.”
Johnson was picked up by Hitchin boss Mark Burke from Stotfold and has gone onto establish himself as their number one.
“I’m very ambitious and driven,” Johnson said. “As soon as I get home from work I train or go to the gym because I want to give it my best shot. At the end of my career I want to be able to hold my hands up and say I’ve got no regrets.”