Liverpool legend’s grim assessment of Australian football
LIVERPOOL legend Craig Johnston wants to help the Australian game but says Football Federation Australia does not want the help of the nation's most decorated player.
"I want to pass on the clever stuff but these guys seem to be too clever to listen," Johnston said.
He admits the snub "has hurt me for years but I am resilient. Facts are facts, we are going backwards."
The women's game, however, is progressing beautifully, ahead of the June World Cup.
Led by superstar Sam Kerr, whom Johnston pays the ultimate compliment.
"She is to Australia what Lionel Messi is to Argentina," he said.
Written off as a prospect in his youth, Johnston says his 1986 FA Cup final goal was his greatest response to the doubters, while it still pains him to have never represented the Socceroos.
The Matildas have Australia's best chance of winning a World Cup in France when it kicks off in three months.
And Johnston loves what Kerr brings to the game, on and off the field.
"What I love about Sam is her story and her talent," Johnston said. "She is to Australia what Lionel Messi is to Argentina. There are similarities there.
"She is a cheeky little monkey. When you mention her name you start to smile. Anybody that can do that has a gift. I just hope she uses it as wisely as she has in the past and gets all the positive messages out there."
From her goalscoring exploits and somersault celebrations, to her endorsement deals and worldwide appeal, Kerr is a leader.
"She is our talisman - or taliswoman - for the upcoming World Cup," Johnston says.
THE FFA DILEMMA
Johnston is fearful at the current state of the men's game.
He wants to help, but it seems the FFA doesn't want him. Even the English Government has used Johnston in a development role.
Asked could he assist, Johnston said: "One hundred per cent. I have been around the block and lived in this industry all my life, since the backyard chooks at Boolaroo when I was six years old.
"I have always felt I have had so much to offer in all areas, specifically youth development. I have been saying this for years. Youth development is my skill in life. I have always offered my help. I want to help Australia be a better soccer nation.
"I want to pass on the clever stuff but these guys seem to be too clever to listen. It has hurt me for years but I am resilient. Facts are facts, we are going backwards."
The stream of Aussies heading to the English Premier League has dried up - and it has Johnston worried.
"That's a big thing. It means we're not good enough to play at the highest level," he said. "Ten years ago, we had eight, nine or ten players playing first division European competitions. Now we've got one or two.
"It's not good enough. We are losing all the Youth Cups and tournaments against Asian oppositions. We are going backwards, fast."
Johnston played for Middlesbrough and Liverpool as a midfielder between 1977 and 1988. He won five league titles at Anfield and the 1986 FA Cup.
He also won the famous League Championship, League Cup, European Cup treble in 1984, all after a humble start in Australia with Lake Macquarie, Sydney City and Newcastle KB United.
Johnston famously scored in Liverpool's 3-1 win over Merseyside rivals Everton in the 1986 FA Cup final at Wembley. It became an iconic moment in Australian sport.
"I remember jumping up in the air and punching the air, saying: 'I've done it, I've done it'. I think Rushy (Ian Rush) and a couple of the other players said: 'All right, all right, you've scored a goal'.
"I wasn't talking about that. 'I've done it' meant I had left Australia against the odds ... everyone said you'd never make it, including my local coaches and then (former English international) Jack Charlton, the famous coach.
"I overcame adversity myself through a disease, Osteomyelitis, when my mum signed the amputation order. So when I jumped up in the air after the goal, it was because I had done it. I had gotten through all that stuff and helped a team to win.
"I could have died on the spot a happy man because you have a dream when you're young. It's a stupid dream but if I didn't have that stupid dream I would never have scored the simple goal. It was such an important game and meant we won the double - only three teams last century won the double."
THE INSPIRED ONE
Johnston acknowledged the doubters and critics only drove him to succeed.
"Absolutely. As a top-end pro athlete, you can have all the skills, attributes and ability, but if you haven't had the hurt, guts or a little bit of mongrel, that comes from adversity and down times, then you're not going to make it," he said.
"It's a thin line. I coach kids and they come up to me and are really concerned by the fact they have had such a good life. They haven't had anything dreadful happen to them.
"They see adversity in other kids and see mongrel in those kids, a bit of angst, desire, hurt and sacrifice. Their problem is they haven't had a problem. They are saying the other kids are advantaged because they are fighting against their demons. It's an interesting way of thinking."
They were the best soccer team on the planet during Johnston's era.
He played with the legends over his nine years at Anfield - Rush, Steve Nicol, Bruce Grobbelaar, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley.
"I still can't get over it," he said.
"We were the best team in the world but you didn't think like that. All you thought about was winning the next tackle. Nobody had a big head. I think it was a cultural thing from the Scots back then - Souness, Dalglish and Alan Hansen.
"They were all hard men from the tough parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh and further north. There were no airs and graces, you were immediately cut down. There was no namby-pamby like there is today. No political correctness.
"But I still pinch myself and say 'that was me'. It's seems like I am talking about somebody else's life and career. It's like I have followed them very closely. It was a privilege to even be there. I was one of, if not the first, foreign player to play in England.
"I was lucky enough the win five League Championships, European Cup, FA Cup but it's not what you won - it's who you won it with and how you won it. When I think about my Liverpool days, I think about all the fun we had as blokes - and gentlemen.
"I could count on one hand the amount of times we at Liverpool got beaten. Less than five in nine years. I might have been the worst player in the best team but I got there. But it was that long ago. It was with black and white television, by the way. No apps."
He is proud and patriotic.
"One of the biggest regrets of my life was I never played for my country because I simply couldn't back then because the systems weren't created for players to come back home like they have now. It was impossible for me to play for Australia and keep playing for Liverpool," he said.
"I had to make the choice and I did which was, in some circles, badly received. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm more Australian than any Australian soccer player I know. I am more heart and soul, Australian bred.
"Every time I pulled on that Liverpool shirt, or Middlesbrough shirt, I was representing Australia and my country. I don't want to sound like a flagwaver but I am an incredibly proud Australian."
NRL AT HEART
Johnston cheered for Parramatta before Newcastle entered the competition back in 1988.
"I think Newcastle (can be premiers)," he said. "I had a beer with Benny Elias the other day, he was my favourite.
"The Knights didn't exist when I was growing up. It was Parramatta. It was Sterling, Kenny, Cronin, Grothe, Steve Ella, now you're talking.
"Ray Price, what a warhorse. No-one could play with that much pain, heart and guts and then you had Sterlo's brain ticking over in the middle. It was a joy to watch and they played with a cavalier attitude, like Liverpool."