There are certain events that I remember exactly where I was in each and every person’s life. Normally it’s down to momentous historical events such as the death of Lady Diana, the 9/11 terrorist attack or the shooting of JFK.
There is though one such event that stands out in my own life. I know that I was in a cottage at a golf venue in Ireland July 15, 2003 when the sports news on the Irish channel RTE announced Glen Johnson, after only appearing in the claret and blue for 16 games, had been signed by Chelsea for £6 million and heralded the start of the Abramovich era.
What made this transfer even more poignant was not the fact that West Ham were once again a selling club but that the player in question was just 18 years of age. I fully expected to see West Ham legends Paolo Di Canio and Joe Cole leave but not this one.
Not this product of the Academy who had come in at a difficult time of the season and shown that he was not just a product for the future but one of the present – a player who would help us regain our Premier League status. Instead he went on to be part of another team that won a Premier League championship, the FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield and represented England 54 times.
Yet despite all these honours and at the age of just 34, he announced his retirement in January with little fanfare. He was a player who, in my eyes, was one of the best right backs ever to be produced from our famed Academy.
He joined our Academy at just nine years of age and he signed his first professional contract just before his 16th birthday. Amazingly he was loaned out to our great rivals Millwall before making his West Ham debut on January 22, 2003 against Charlton.
After that debut he became an integral part of the West Ham team who were desperately fighting relegation. Johnson started the remaining 14 league games under the great Trevor Brooking after Glenn Roeder’s collapse and Sir Trev had clearly seen something in the youngster.
This was a run which saw the club lose only three times but ultimately relegated with a record 42 points. Then came that transfer where he became the first player signed under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
At Chelsea, Glen only made 41 appearances and joined Portsmouth on a season-long loan before finally making this a permanent move in August 2007. There was, of course, a West Ham connection here as Harry Redknapp was the Portsmouth manager and it was during his time there that Glen won the FA Cup.
His performances had clearly impressed a certain Rafael Benitez who took him to Liverpool for £18.5 million.This must have been the pinnacle of his career as he also had Chelsea fighting over his signature too but he decided on a new challenge.
It was for the Reds that he played more games (160) than at any other club finally leaving in 2015 to move to Stoke. Sadly injuries began to take their toll and after 57 games, he was released after the Potters’ relegation from the Premier League.
With no clubs showing a real interest and Glen stating that he ‘always wanted to retire at an age where my body still felt good’, he finally, after 365 appearances in the Premier League, announced his retirement on January 21. For me I feel, despite all his career success, he just may be overlooked as a West Ham great.
This is due to the fact that we almost seem to be in a stopping point on his football journey. After all, 16 first team appearances in the claret and blue is not a great amount. But let’s not forget that although as a professional he spent six years at Liverpool he was actually at the Hammers for a total of nine years.
It’s also pretty clear that if it was not for the short-sighted appointment of the board in the appointment of a manager not up for the job, he would have been at the club a lot longer.
With that relegation in 2003, the club simply needed the money and Glen was one of the players sacrificed as a result. Let’s not forget that the team of 2003 will not only be remembered as the team that went down with the most point total but it was also the most talented.
Glen Johnson’s assured performances in those 16 appearances should never be forgotten but sadly he will always be another of those ones that got away.
I’m sure that every Hammer fan will wish him well in whatever he has planned next and I hope that in future years he will be welcomed back here at West Ham as another wonderful product of that famed Tony Carr Academy.