02nd January 2018


Ex-Huddersfield player Tony Johnson spoke to about his rugby league days, life after the sport and that moment against Wigan

Foster Care

Tony Johnson is a name fondly remembered by Fartown fans.

The strong-running back row forward broke on to the scene in 1973 and played in 99 games over a nine-year stint at Fartown, but the road to the rugby pitch differs from present players at Huddersfield Giants.

Born in 1956, Johnson came from the Paddock Civil Youth Club and didn’t want his school team to break up once they left. After moving the youth club – initially with no Coaches – he began an under 17’s team where the team would teach themselves. That was until Ian Silvers came along to structure the team.

“Maurice Oldroyd said we need a Coach but we couldn’t afford one. He got us Silvers and he came in and put structure to us, he could see things we couldn’t.

“That season Fartown came along and Peter Gronow asked me to go down to training. That meant playing in the second team with Fartown – known as the ‘A’ team. I played three or four times then signed.

“When you signed on then it was like £700. I worked at David Browns at the time and I could buy my own scooter! I ended up buying a motorbike for work and I thought that was great because I used to get a bus to work.”

With transport worries seemingly a distant memory from a young Johnson’s mind, it was at technical college where he found out that he’d be starting for Fartown for the first time. Perhaps a day where he learned more about himself than any other day at the college.

“I was at tech because I was an apprentice engineer. I got a phone call and they said someone was injured and that I’m playing tonight, which was short notice. Once you get in with the lads in the first team you want to be with them. You want to be there and it makes you more ambitious.

“There wasn’t that rush to get in the first team, though. We were ambitious and sometimes it took longer. My first game in the first team was against Castleford for a Floodlit Trophy match.

“The competition was tough. Here I was playing in the side of Malcolm Branch and being competitive with him for a place. He was in his prime and I’d get a game whenever he wasn’t playing. Eventually I’d get in the side and get a run.”

As Johnson started to prove himself at the elite level he was selected for the GB U24 squad before spells at Wakefield, Bradford and Hunslet in the 1980s.

“I was there on centre or wing, second row or loose forward; I was supposed to be versatile. They’d look at it being versatile, and players are doing that today. In those days you were either a back or a forward. Peter Gronow was trying to tell me that I was a back but he said for me to put another stone on: Drink more beer. Eat more food.

“I was 14 stone at my heaviest so I was never a big 16 stoner because I was always a runner back in those days. You do find that you become a bit more defensive. I was big at one time in defence. I played above my weight and I just needed the right person to put me in a gap and I’d be off.”


When asked about his favourite match, though, it could only be the 9-7 win against Wigan where both sides had three men sent off. Johnson was named man of the match after being floored an incredible four times during an unbelievable battle at the birthplace of rugby league:

“I can’t go anywhere without people saying, ‘is your head still on?’. In those days to have a camera is a special game. Yorkshire TV was doing one game a week and when they came to Fartown it was different.

“I was targeted as they knew I was the runner. Glenn Knight would play out wide and I’d go behind him. He’d run at the centre and put me under the gap. Wherever he went I was supposed to be. That was the set up that week and Wigan must have sussed that. I was nearly through then I was on floor.

“Once, we went to train a young team at a school in Barnsley. Glen said he wanted to introduce Tony Johnson, he said oh hang on, just lie on floor, now do you recognise him?”

Even when he retired from rugby league in 1986 his playing days weren’t quite over. With redundancy hitting David Browns, Johnson applied to the fire service and the police service. In the end, he’d end up proving a hit in both the police force and their rugby team:

“Those were the two places I thought I’d be useful. I did social work and worked in youth clubs where I introduced rugby. I was doing voluntary work and just thought I want to do a job where I’m helping people. I was still fit because when I joined there was a Sergeant at Wakefield and he rang me up saying he runs the force rugby team, so that was it.

“They gave you half a day off to play sports on Wednesday’s. When I joined they knew I played rugby and asked whether I’d play for the police. I said I want to be a Policeman but people call on you and I ended up playing for West Yorkshire Police.”

That rugby involvement seemed to spark off a revived Johnson and when Gary Hague came knocking on the door (albeit to switch different codes) to play for the YMCA he was only going to receive one answer:

“Hague was the superintendent and got in touch and said to see if I’d play for the YMCA and I started playing there on Saturday’s. I enjoyed rugby again.

“The level they play at, you come off and you don’t have the cuts and bruises that you have in rugby league. I was playing at centre and I just ran with it. I was 29 when I joined West Yorkshire Police. In my early 30’s I was up at YM and I got another 10 years playing which you couldn’t do in rugby league!”

With his playing days now well and truly behind him, Johnson still involves himself with the sport as he makes the half-time draw at Huddersfield Giants; something he’s both pleased and proud of:

“I do the half-time draw. I’ve kept in touch with players and then Ken (Senior) put me forward and said he was retiring as Chairman of Association and then they all voted for me. Along with the President we have decision making to do. I knew the layout and people who work here and I was in the right place at the right time. I am also on the heritage committee where I met Dave Thorpe who’s the Club Historian.”



Heikki Kovalainen




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