Bradley Johnson admits he'd never rule out Norwich City return after midfielder's Derby spell ends
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It was the summer of 2015 when Norwich City cashed in on Bradley Johnson - Michael Bailey catches up with one of the club's top 100 appearance makers
There’s a part of Bradley Johnson that is still in Norfolk. Still at Carrow Road. Still so fondly remembers the season he tore up the Championship and returned the club he called home back to the Premier League.
Perhaps that’s why in the two years since his departure, his name has never been too far away from supporters’ lips.
“Unfortunately I left and Norwich went down that season, and I felt maybe if I’d stayed then we had a chance of staying up. But football is football and you have to carry on.”
Johnson’s spell at Carrow Road was enough to see him sit proudly alongside Norwich City’s top 100 appearance makers. His efforts during the 2014-15 season will be told for many more years to come.
Money can buy you many things – but some are much harder to find than others. And heart is among the toughest.
“To be in the top 100 is a great achievement for me and when I look at the lads I was with – Russell Martin, Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan. It’s so good to be a part of that bracket and have the memories I took from Norwich.
“Obviously I’d say it’s the best time of my career and I’ll never forget that, especially the promotion year. I always wanted to play in the Premier League and I fulfilled that dream at Norwich. I said I wanted to get them back there and I stuck by my word, when other players left and I could’ve left.
“Obviously I didn’t get us promoted single-handedly, but I had a great season and helped massively in making it happen.”
Yet it’s not Wembley that sticks in Johnson’s memory.
“In my first three years I’d never experienced the derby,” he said. “Everyone was telling me it was a great game against Ipswich but we were in the Premier League at the time.
“Then when it happened, I knew what everyone was on about. My first was when we went there and beat them 1-0. We came back to Norwich and a few of us went out after, and it was all anyone was talking about. In my time we never lost to them either so I’ve got a good record.
“It was disappointing how I left and it coming out of the blue. I’d never begrudge anyone running football like a business and I didn’t have any hard feelings about leaving – I was just disappointed because my main aim was to get Norwich promoted and then stay in the Premier League, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Instead Johnson was moved on and the midfielder of 155 appearances and 22 goals – 15 of them coming in his final season – had to wait until last season to say goodbye.#
“When we played Norwich at Derby, the reception I got was… unbelievable,” said Johnson. “I know I scored the goal and we won the game, but I don’t think many players can say they’ve played in a stadium and each corner is singing your name.
“When I came down to Carrow Road, the reception I got there was surreal. It didn’t really feel like a game, for me. It felt like I was coming back to say goodbye.
“It was weird to play in because I didn’t get that chance to say goodbye to the fans, but they gave me a great reception and I’m sure they were happy with the result because they beat us and deservedly so. We weren’t good enough that game.
“I still keep in contact with the lads and I’m sure I’ll be coming back a lot, coming to watch their games. And we’re in the same league – so I’ll be playing against them next year.”
So what of the future beyond that? To say Johnson wouldn’t make a return to Norfolk – somehow or other – would be quite the gamble.
“My personal view is I left Norwich on a high. That season was the best of my career – and hopefully I’ve got a few more seasons in me so I can repeat it again, but I enjoyed that season so much and we had a great team. We had players who wanted the best for the club and for the city.
“It’s a great club, I enjoyed it there, I started my family there, my little boy still always wears his Norwich kits and stuff like that.
“Delia Smith made it very family-orientated for us and the wives. It’s not just about the lads who are playing each week, because we go home to our wives and they’ve got to be happy as well. Delia made sure they were happy and took them on outings all the time, and I’m sure they’re still doing that now.
“Football is about opinions. I’m at Derby now and I’ve got two more years left here, hopefully I see them out and then you never know what can happen. If Norwich came in for me I’d never turn them down, anyway.”
None of this is restricted to Johnson’s playing days either. While at Carrow Road the midfielder took on plasterer and bricklaying courses to make sure his options were open once his legs had enough. Now he’s added coaching badges to the mix – completing them in Ireland alongside former team-mates and good friends, Gary O’Neil and especially Lewis Grabban.
“I’ve done a few half-term camps for kids to get them out of their house and playing football. I’ve really enjoyed doing them, and now I’ve done my coaching badges,” added Johnson.
“The older you get, the more you look at what you’re going to do after. Gary could become a manager somewhere, call me up and ask if I fancy joining him somewhere and helping him out.
“I know playing isn’t going to last forever. That’s why I did my bricklaying and plastering courses at Norwich, because my dad is in the building trade and if anything was to happen, I know I’d could always fall back on that.
“You’ve got to be realistic and know it’s going to come to an end, and have a fallback. I could be a builder, or I could go into coach or managing. I definitely want to stay in football when I finish, and if that’s coaching young kids or in the first-team professional game, I’d do whatever as long as I was staying in football.”
And what about Norfolk, Bradley?
“I wouldn’t rule it out. My family has moved to Bishop Stortford and that’s not far from Norwich, and what I’m looking at now, given I’m 30…if something ever arose for me to come back to Norwich then I would never say no.”