Craig Johnston: Liverpool’s ‘80s Aussie star who won trophies, flew back after Hillsborough and created the Adidas Predator boot

JAMES NOBLE takes a look at the brilliant work of the 60-year-old Australian on and off the pitch.

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Craig Johnston has quite the honours list. Over the course of his time with Liverpool, he scored 40 times across 271 appearances and won five league titles, one European Cup, one FA Cup and two League Cups. That included being part of the 1985/86 League and FA Cup double-winning side.

He was affectionately nicknamed ‘Skippy’ by Reds supporters, after the cartoon bush kangaroo character, and swiftly became renowned for his tireless workrate on the pitch. Something that came to mirror his actions off it.

Born to Australian parents in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised down under, his proactivity levels were evident early.

Aged just 15, he wrote letters to a number of English clubs asking for a trial. Middlesbrough may have been the only ones to reply but he eventually did enough to earn himself a first-team chance there, nonetheless.

His aforementioned traits are thought to have been the primary reasons behind Liverpool’s decision to sign him in April 1981.


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The Reds would win the European Cup in Paris the following month. Johnston wasn’t involved that night and, although it would take time, he displayed typical determination to earn himself more consistent first-team opportunities in the latter-half of the 1981/82 campaign.

That process was kickstarted by a crucial extra-time goal that helped see Liverpool past Arsenal in a League Cup last-16 tie at Anfield that December.

While he wouldn’t feature in the later rounds — with the Reds eventually retaining the trophy — Johnston’s role was soon to grow.

In the 1982/83 season he scored 10 goals in 42 appearances. This represented his best goalscoring campaign for the club and the following year he would become a European Cup winner himself as Joe Fagan’s Liverpool saw off Roma on penalties at the Italians’ own Stadio Olimpico.

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Two years later, in Kenny Dalglish’s debut campaign as player-manager, the Reds secured their famous double as Johnston scored the second in the 3-1 FA Cup Final win over Everton.

His final two seasons at the club were considerably more stagnated. That was partially down to persistent injury issues and, more significantly, concerns over his younger sister Faye’s health.

At Christmas time in 1986, a gas leak caused by a faulty heater in her Morocco hotel room left her in a coma in hospital and Johnston rushed to be by her side. At the time, this was kept from the press.

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Johnston would return to Australia 18 months later, after making his final appearance in the 1-0 1988 FA Cup Final defeat against Wimbledon. This allowed him to care for his sister, who had suffered brain damage as a result of the accident.

Already thoroughly endeared to the Liverpool faithful for his immense commitment levels during his playing days on Merseyside, his response to the Hillsborough disaster less than a year after his departure spoke volumes of both the relationship developed and his own humanity.

He flew over to attend the memorial service at Anfield, held seven days after the tragedy, and then remained in the UK to both support survivors in hospital and help counsel the bereaved families.

With the help of the Liverpool supporters club in Sydney, Johnston also raised around $100,000 to help the families, in a further exceptional piece of support.

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The Aussie appears a genuine force of nature, and one who has used his drive for good on a number of fronts.

A true entrepreneur, he created successful Australian game show, The Main Event, in 1990, has his own brand of surfboards and has been a full-time photographer — amongst many other innovations and achievements.

He is perhaps best known, though, as the creator of the Predator football boot that has been a notable asset for Adidas since 1994.

He had the idea of wrapping the rubber from a table tennis bat around a boot in order to create more grip — and spin — on the ball. After creating a prototype and having it rejected by Adidas and other manufacturers, he enlisted some high-class help.

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That was in the form of German legends — and Adidas users — Frank Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, whom he filmed wearing and using the boots. That did the trick. Adidas took the product on and the brand’s longevity says it all.

Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Fabinho are just four of the high-profile wearers of the boots in the quarter-of-a-century that has followed.

Things could have been so very different. Bone disease osteomyelitis very nearly saw Johnston’s leg amputated at the age of just six. Jack Charlton — Middlesbrough boss at the time of his trial — is also said to have encouraged him to return to Australia after originally being unimpressed by what he saw of the 15-year-old.

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He had ample reason to give up on his ambitions. But he didn’t.

That admirably driven approach appears to have been a consistent trait throughout his footballing career and his life.

It earned him a shot, enabled him to become a league, cup and European Cup winning footballer and then saw him become a genuine, multi-faceted innovator.

Proof that it is, indeed, the most transferable of skills.


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