Modern day English football is an industry that leaves very little room for error. For its managers especially, it can prove to be a ruthless and unforgiving business. One bad spell or black spot on any CV could hamper a coach’s chance of progressing within the game. With more at stake and a more unstable and at times disillusioned fan base, very rarely does football provide second chances. However, among this season’s breath-taking achievements in the football league, one particular triumph seemed especially fitting.
Yeovil Town’s promotion to the Championship for the first time in their history marked a memorable season for Gary Johnson’s men. The Glovers’ success aptly came ten years after Johnson led the Somerset outfit into the football league following promotion from the Conference. But the promotion campaign also marked a special occasion for Johnson following a disappointing spell in what has been an otherwise remarkable managerial career.
In the space of just over three years, the former Latvia boss went from being 90 minutes away from becoming a Premier League manager to parting company with a side hovering above the League Two relegation zone. Following a successful first spell at Huish Park, which saw him lead them into League One after two promotions in three seasons, Johnson moved to fellow league rivals Bristol City early in the 2005/06 campaign. Despite a tough start at the struggling Robins, Johnson eventually began to transfer some of the magic he had worked at Yeovil to Ashton Gate, and his first full season in charge saw City promoted back to the second tier for the first time in almost a decade.
City’s improved fortunes under Johnson continued in the Championship as they reached the play-off final following a fourth place finish. However, they would miss out on reaching the Premier League for the first time following a 1-0 defeat to Hull at Wembley.
Despite the progress made at Ashton Gate during his tenure, Johnson was not without his critics throughout his time at Bristol City. Just under two years after leading them to Wembley, Johnson left the club after failing to emulate the form produced that season amid speculation of unrest in the dressing room. But it wasn’t long before Johnson was back in football, and just weeks later, he was handed the task of leading Peterborough back into the Championship following their relegation to League One.
However, it was to be a short-lived stint in the hot seat in Cambridgeshire, as just nine months after taking charge it was a similar story for Peterborough and Johnson as he departed by mutual consent following an apparent fall-out with club owner Darragh McAnthony. Johnson was not the first manager to fall foul of McAnthony’s harsh and erratic approach to the game at London Road. This was all despite leading Posh to a creditable seventh place in the table when he left in January 2011, but once more, Johnson was not out of work for long.
However, in spite of all his success in the higher divisions, it was lowly Northampton Town, sitting 16th in League Two at the time of his appointment, that offered him his next challenge. This showed that Johnson was willing to go back to where he started in order to re-build his management career, an attitude that should never be undervalued or unappreciated. But Johnson’s ace and experience with Yeovil did not rub off on the Cobblers, as it had done with Bristol City. Despite maintaining their league status, his spell at Sixfields was even shorter than at Peterborough, lasting just eight months before exiting the club following a poor run of form which saw them plummet to 20th in the table.
Johnson’s stint at Northampton remains his only real failure in league management. Yet this could easily have seen the end of Johnson’s time as a coach. Regardless of his success in the West Country, his disappointing time at Northampton, who have since been promoted, could easily have been enough to put any chairman off hiring him in the future. However, his return to Yeovil last January offered him a chance of redemption at the place where his coaching abilities really began to catch the eye of punters. And Johnson has seized this rare gift with both hands.
He replaced Terry Skiverton, a Yeovil legend who had played under Johnson in the promotion seasons of 2002/03 and 2004/05, who became Johnson’s assistant as part of the new set up. Credit must go to Skiverton for standing by the club despite his removal as manager. Johnson emulated Skiverton’s performance of the three previous seasons by maintaining the Glover’s League One status, and they have not looked back since.
Armed with the league’s eventual top scorer Paddy Madden, signed from league rivals Carlisle after a successful loan spell, Yeovil stormed to fourth place in the table, finishing above pre-season favorites such as Sheffield United and MK Dons.
Play-off successes over the Blades and Brentford at Wembley meant that Yeovil, playing conference football just 10 years ago, are now one promotion away from the Premier League. It was a fairytale conclusion for both Johnson and the club following a nervy and uncertain period for both parties. From the wrong end of the basement division to the Championship in less than two years marks an extraordinary turn around for Johnson. And with the Yeovil faithful eagerly awaiting the opening Championship fixture, it would be no surprise if there was still much more to come from this remarkable manager back at this remarkable club.