As if Mediterranean weather conditions in Glasgow wasn’t unusual enough, what would two life-long Southend United supporters be doing sat on the Hampden Park steps chewing the fat over football north of the border?
In the foreground, youth teams representing Queen’s Park and Kilmarnock provide a competitive encounter at an enclosed Lesser Hampden. Adding to the unusual nature of this occasion, a crowd of around fifty enthusiasts perch themselves, in some cases precariously, to catch a glimpse of the action. If ever further evidence was required that the Scottish public love their football, this was it. Anyway, I’m waffling – Two Southend United fans – Hampden Park steps…
Born and bred in Southend-On-Sea, Glen Johnson grappled with supporting the Shrimpers alongside a playing career at Canvey Island which saw him represent the Park Lane club from the age of ten right through to the first-team at Isthmian League level.
“My earliest memory of watching Southend was New Year’s Day 1992 when we beat Newcastle United 4-0 at Roots Hall – I went to the match with my dad and brother,” the 35-year-old told Yellow Sport.
“Dad took us to Roots Hall from an early age. He and my brother are still season cardholders. It was difficult for me to attend regularly with my playing commitments. Matchday support fell away somewhat because of my situation.
“My dad and brother have renewed their tickets this season. He has a picture back at the house of Stan Collymore bursting down the right-wing against Luton Town. You can see me, dad and my brother in the front row of the East Stand – Fantastic memories.”
Following a playing career exclusively with Canvey Island, working alongside the likes of Ashley Harrison and Danny Potter, Johnson took up the coaching mantle; “I’d always had an interest in goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaching,” he continued.
“I’d left Canvey, stopped playing and floated around non-league without particularly enjoying it to be honest.
“But I started a goalkeeping brand and off the back of that an academy. That is how I fell into the coaching side of things. It has just progressed from there really.”
Having largely provided back-up at Canvey, the game was about to offer Johnson some terrific opportunities: “My first post was in Baltimore, America with a team who were the sister club of Crystal Palace.
“Unfortunately, by the time I got there – around about 2010 – the relationship fizzled out. I believe Palace was having financial issues – the association had died off a bit but it was still an eye-opener to work in another country.
“Then I worked in India with Pune FC. It was an amazing experience. We were in the Asian Cup and played matches in Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma and Vietnam.
“Just from a life perspective and experience, it was a fantastic time. It was challenging as well. It wasn’t the easiest place to live. I was out there for just over a year and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Johnson returned to the UK, serving Braintree Town, Boreham Wood, Gillingham and West Ham United’s up and coming women’s section.
But his time with the Gills had left an impression on former Southend, Palace, Spurs and Orient winger, Peter Taylor, who himself had forged a successful career in management throughout the game, including at International level.
“I joined Dagenham & Redbridge and was there for about three years. Peter was the manager – I’d worked with him at Gillingham, where he was Director of Football.
“At the time, I was working with West Ham United’s Women’s team. He told me the club wanted a full-time coach for the keepers and asked if I would be interested.
“Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. It was great to work with Peter again. Everyone knows what he has achieved in the game. He is so well respected – He even gave David Beckham the England captaincy during his spell as interim boss with the national team.
“To get the phone call and move back into the men’s game, I thought was a really good opportunity, especially as Dagenham had just been taken over by the American consortium and there was a lot of positivity surrounding the football club and its future. I wanted to be a part of that.
From East London to South-East Glasgow – While Celtic and Rangers continue to hog the limelight north of the border, SPFL 1 outfit, Queen’s Park have quietly gone about their business, displaying ambitions far beyond their third-tier status.
Founded in 1867, the Spiders are the oldest football club in Scotland and they provided Glen with another chance to broaden his knowledge in a highly competitive environment
“It was an interesting one, actually,” he explained.
“I’d done all my coaching badges over the years with the SFA. About six or seven months ago, I passed the UEFA ‘A’ Goalkeeping Licence. I was the first one in the class to pass.
“I think I’d done reasonably well and perhaps impressed the SFA. With the SFA being based at Hampden and Queen’s Park right next door, I think a recommendation made its way from one to the other.
“I had a chat with Laurie Ellis, the Head Coach and CEO, Leeann Dempster – it all just fell into place.”
Queen’s Park has just taken residence of Lesser Hampden and they are developing the ageing facility into a super new stadium with an impressive all-weather playing surface: “It is a club very much on the up,” Johnson told me.
“We have moved into Lesser and a new training ground as well, which I believe is comparable to Championship level in England.
“The facilities that have been put in place will hopefully provide a platform to bring success to the football club.
“What’s great about the football club in my eyes, is that we are trying to build a really solid infrastructure.
“My role is first-team goalkeeper’s coach, but also to oversee the academy goalkeepers as well as being involved in putting a curriculum in place to help and guide the academy goalkeeper coaches.
“You can see the redevelopment work which is going on. It is a really exciting time for Queen’s Park Football Club.”
Glen confessed that it was easy to identify just how passionate Glasgow, and indeed Scotland is for football: “It’s unbelievable.
“You only need to take a look around here now. We have people clambering for a view of an under 18s game.
“I think Scotland performed well at Euro 2020. I’ve always really enjoyed the game up here.
“There was a bit of an ongoing joke in the staff office at Dagenham. For instance, people would be talking about the game they’d watched on the telly the previous evening. Barcelona, Real Madrid, the Premier League, Liverpool.
“I’d say, ‘no, I watched the Scottish Championship on BBCiplayer’ – For some reason, I find it more interesting.
“I think the game up here is a lot better standard than people give it credit for. I have been really impressed with the level since I’ve been up here.
“In terms of the football madness, perhaps I’ve not fully experienced it first-hand just yet. But I’m living in Hamilton. We have the Accies and Motherwell on the doorstep.
“We’ve played against Partick Thistle, Clyde, St Mirren, there are so many football clubs in a small area. On top of that, of course, you have Celtic and Rangers which are arguably two of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s a fantastic footballing nation.”