COLIN JOHNSON, 1940-2020

Posted by Mickey Cooper on 9 January 2020


A second massive blow to the Deres inside ten days came when the club’s record goalscorer Colin Johnson died on 8 January.  Between 1961 and 1971 Colin scored 227 goals in 281 games, making him our record scorer by a distance.  In the list of the top goal tallies by players in a peacetime season, Colin holds four of the top six places, the others being Harry Harding and Alfie May.


For E&B, the 60s can really be said to have begun on Easter Monday, 3 April 1961.  That afternoon a new signing from Bexley, a former West Ham youth player who had played alongside Bobby Moore, turned out at home to Slough.  He had scored a hat-trick on his reserve debut against Maidenhead two days earlier, and now scored three goals in the last 20 minutes of his senior debut as E&B won 4-0.  He finished the season with a first-half hat-trick (Dennis Crawford scoring a second-half hat-trick) in an 8-0 romp against Horsham.


Colin was something of an odd man out amongst that West Ham youth team – the only Charlton supporter for one thing, and the only one at that age with a career, as a stockbroker’s clerk in the City, which was a main reason why he remained an amateur player.  E&B reaped a huge dividend in a player with a low centre of gravity, great heading ability and an eye for goal like few others in the club’s history.


He scored 28 in 30 games in 1961-62 before leaving in February for a three-month spell at Dartford.  Back for a first full season in 1962-63, he established a deadly partnership with left-winger Dickie Bernard and broke the club’s peacetime scoring record with 37, beating Jack Southcombe’s 35.  He’d reached 29 by Boxing Day but, owing to the century’s worst winter, Deres didn’t have another game until 23 February, when Colin duly got his 30th.  He then chipped a bone in a foot during training in March: he’d scored 33 in 22 appearances before the injury, and only four in eight afterwards.  1963-64 was his poorest season for Deres, with just nine goals in 23 appearances after suffering knee ligament damage in a disastrous 5-0 home defeat to Chesham on opening day and being out until late November.


Colin was back on song for 1964-65.  Warming up with four goals in a pre-season friendly against Clapton, he scored on opening day (unfortunately in a 7-1 hammering at Slough!) and in September embarked on a run of 15 goals in 9 games.  During this run he captained the side against Horsham, his 100th game, and shortly afterwards had the best night of his Deres career, when he scored all five in a 5-2 London Senior Cup victory over Tooting and Mitcham.  By the end of January the club had scored 49 goals, of which Colin had 30: he finished with 39.  He topped even that in 1965-66 with 43 (including two in the three-game Kent Amateur Cup Final v Crockenhill), which remained the club’s peacetime record until overtaken by Harry Harding in 2018-19.


Colin left for Tooting and Mitcham in the summer of 1966 along with Brendan Greatorex and Dickie Bernard, and again the latter’s service helped him rack up the goals – 46 for Tooting in 1966-67, better than any haul he managed at Park View.  The following season he returned to the Deres along with Bernard, and typically scored the first Deres goal of the season.  In the most congested campaign in the club’s history – 71 games in all! – Colin made 65 appearances, a record for any player in a single E&B season.  A double at home to Ashford in April 1968 took him to 200 goals for the club, and he finished the campaign on 38.


Then came 30 November 1968, and a London Senior Cup first round tie at Hayes.  Colin had already scored 18 goals in 23 games, but in a rough old match in which six players were injured, Brendan Greatorex sent off and Colin Murphy involved in a touchline row with the referee, Colin was involved in an accidental collision with Hayes goalkeeper Graham Roope (who went on to play 21 Test cricket matches for England).  At first a broken leg was feared, which in retrospect might even have been the better option.  In fact his knee ligaments had been severed, and doctors operating on him at St Nicholas Hospital, Plumstead, feared this might mean the end of his career.  By April doctors had advised him that an operation would clear the trouble temporarily at the cost of a permanently stiff knee.  E&B’s greatest striker had resigned himself to never playing again.  (The incident highlighted the club’s failure to insure its players against injury, and led indirectly to the mass walkout of the manager, three officials and 11 players in January 1969.)


Colin in fact recovered sufficiently to turn out for Callenders in later years.  On 7 September 1971 he made a comeback appearance for E&B at Aveley, standing in for Ray Radmore as a favour for Roy Dwight - and scored twice.  One more match, a 2-0 defeat to Bromley on 7 December, and one of the club’s greatest stories was over. 


Colin related that he’d met Bobby Moore at a West Ham club function years later, and Moore had said “I remember you, you’re the one who scored all our goals in the youth team … I’m terribly sorry, I can’t remember your name.”  “That’s all right,” Colin said to the World Cup winning captain, “I can’t remember yours either!”  In his last years Colin suffered from dementia, but had the satisfaction of watching his grandson Archie turning out for Welling United, Cray Wanderers, Stansfeld, SC Thamesmead and Beckenham Town.  Archie played for Beckenham at E&B just last November.


Colin will be sorely missed by his partner Doreen, sons Paul and Dave, daughters-in-law Kerry and Linda, grandchildren Archie, Sonny and Ellie and great-grandson Freddie.  There will be a minute’s silence for him and for Larry at this Saturday’s match v Crowborough Athletic.


Brian Spurrell


Colin Johnson, 3 March 1940 - 8 January 2020.

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