FC Halifax Town: “Everyone knows my love for the club” - Johnson hoping to extend his stay with Shaymen
Players, managers and European Super Leagues may come and go, but the presence of Sam Johnson between the sticks at The Shay has become reassuringly familiar over the last five-and-a-half years.
Johnson made his 200th league appearance for Town last month, having made his debut back in November 2015 under Jim Harvey in a season which ended with Halifax’s Wembley triumph over Grimsby in the FA Trophy.
The 28-year-old admits his double-century has gone quickly.
“It’s something I’m very proud of,” he said.
“When you come on loan to somewhere you don’t expect to stay there (for that long) but everyone knows my love for the club, and I’m looking for another 200 hopefully.”
When asked how different he is to the player and person who first joined the club, he said: “As a person, I’m pretty chilled and laid back so I’m still the same really.
“I’d like to think I’ve come on as a goalkeeper.
“You do get better as a goalkeeper as the years go on, playing more games you learn what kind of goalkeeper you are.”
Johnson agrees he gas grown in confidence and become more vocal.
“Personally, to be honest, I think I’ve been average, OK,” he said of his season so far.
“I don’t think I’ve been at fault for a lot of goals, so I’d say decent but if I’m really harsh on myself this has probably been my weakest season.
“I don’t think I’ve been horrendous, and I think I’ve been very good through the years.
“It’s up to me to get back to those standards. I don’t think I’ve had a bad season but hopefully I get back to the standards I’ve been at.”
Johnson says exposure to regular first-team football has helped him learn how to deal with the inevitable mistakes that beset goalkeepers.
“That comes through games and experience,” he said.
“Goalkeepers are going to be at fault for goals, I think when you’re a bit younger you feel like you’ve really let the lads down and it’s all your fault and everyone’s on top of you.
“But now I just deal with it, it’s about your reaction, like anything. And you can go and make a few good saves and keep it at 1-0 if you do make a mistake, that’s the way I look at it.”
Johnson has been working with goalkeeping coach Paul Oakes this season, and says he has benefited from his tutelage.
“He’s a laid back character like me so he probably lets me get on with it more than other coaches I’ve had,” he said.
“When he came in he said ‘listen, you’ve played so many games for this club, I’m not going to change much with you’.
“He’s just looked to keep on with what I’ve been doing, he listens to what I want in training. It’s been good.”
When asked where he thinks he can still improve, Johnson said: “All over, I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to goalkeeping.
“I think most keepers are, so all-round really. Kicking and distribution have got better this season I’d like to think, I’ve been working hard on that. Still not perfect.
“Commanding the area is still a big thing, but goalkeeping’s hard!
“People make comments about if the ball’s in the 18-yard box it’s got to be the keeper’s ball, but when the balls are whipped in it is hard to deal with.
“But I’m working hard, harder than ever I’d like to think off the pitch.
“I think I’m still a very good shot-stopper, it’s just the little things that need tidying up.”
Johnson has played his part in helping propel The Shaymen into a play-off push this season with a string of top-class saves, including in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win at Chesterfield.
And the stopper says this season’s Shaymen side tops any other he has been part of.
“It’s probably the best Halifax team I’ve played in, especially going forward, we score quite a lot of goals compared to how we did in the past,” he said.
“We haven’t kept as many clean sheets but that’s something we’re looking at.
“I’ve kept a lot of clean sheets and finished 14th, 15th in the league, I’m not keeping as many this season but we’re fifth at the minute, so it’s an easy choice for me which one I prefer.
“We’ve done really well and (to be in the play-off race) it’s massive for the club, massive for the fans and for the players.
“We can dream of that, and we’re looking forward to the games that are left.
“I think you saw against King’s Lynn that we didn’t crumble when we went 2-0 down.
“We could have easily fallen under pressure and it gone 3-0 and 4-0 again.
“But I’d like to praise the lads because we sorted that out on the pitch, we saw what went wrong and we put it right ourselves, we didn’t need people telling us what to do.”
And it’s not just Johnson who has improved too, with the club transforming itself into a full-time outfit since his arrival.
“When I first joined it was two days a week, didn’t really know where we were training, in Salford, Sheffield, Halifax, Leeds,” he said.
“Then it went to three days and now we’re a full-time outfit at the Brownlee Centre.
“Credit to the gaffer, he’s really concentrated on being more of an outfit where it’s more of a Football League place to be, with a dietitian helping us out, Adam (Simpson) the sports scientist, Aaron (Scholes) the physio, who is very good.
“It’s really been good to see and I can see it going further.”
Johnson has played under Harvey, Billy Heath, Jamie Fullarton and Pete Wild at The Shay, and been first-choice for all of them.
On Wild and assistant boss Chris Millington, he said: “They’re really good, I can’t say a bad word about them.
“Tactically they’re very good, very astute in what they do.
“I can’t guarantee results but I can guarantee you’ve got a manager and an assistant manager who work ridiculously hard to give us every piece of information, so it’s down to us to go and implement what they tell us.
“It’s the little things you do notice, especially with goalkeeping, which is about the one per cent’s, the inches.
“If you’re in the wrong position by an inch, sometimes it’s a goal or you can tip one onto the post.
“Sarg (Joe Sargison, first team coach) is really good, really thorough in his coaching and the lads really buy into what he’s saying because he’s got a good aura about him, and he commands respect, and the lads really buy into what he does.
“They give you little bits of information here and there, some players don’t want it, some really like to know their stuff.
“There’s players here who’ve played a lot of games and just need that bit of information to help them get that extra one per cent on the pitch.”
Johnson is out of contract in the summer, but would be happy to extend his stay at the club.
“I haven’t really discussed it but if something was offered to me I’d love to take it and keep going,” he said.
“I see a good vision from the club from what I’ve been told from the chairman and the gaffer, so I’d love to get promoted with this club. Why not?
“You might as well aim for it.
“We’ve got eight games to go and we’re right in the hunt.
“That is the goal, there’s no point shying away from it.”