Johnny lives in Weybridge with his wife Michelle and son Malachey who will be one in January.
Hi Johnny. You’re making history with this interview – we’ve only ever interviewed former players and managers before so you’re a unique Christmas special!
I’m a Christmas pudding more like! Looking forward to it though.
Ok. Can you just talk us through the build up to THAT day?
It started before that day really. I got told during the week that I was doing that game and I was gutted because I play football for a Sunday league team in London called the Heroes of Waterloo – a dreadful team, not like the name at all – and obviously the game being on a Sunday meant I was gutted as I couldn’t play. But then I looked at the score from the first leg and I realised it was well poised and should be a decent game, but they all are as I love the play offs and I think they’re brilliant. So I thought I’d just go along and make the most of it and not mind too much having to miss playing for one week.
As for the day itself, I got there at a reasonable time as the game was live on Sky as well. Our usual point was a rickety gantry which I think has gone now. It was right in the middle of the old stand and that was our normal spot but because there were too many cameras there due to it being live they stuck us up in the corner of the main stand in the wooden bit. Is that part of the stand still there?
Nope it’s all gone now, just the very last bit is remaining but all the press area has been demolished.
I thought so. But anyway, we were up in that corner towards the Rookery End – me, the camera man and the rigger. It was a bit out of the way and we didn’t have the best view but it was a great atmosphere and a great day.
How did the atmosphere compare to other games you’ve been at?
It was way better but then I see so much of the Championship and it’s always the way. The Championship has so many games compared to the Premier League that to some degree you just feel like you are chugging through them to get them out of the way and sometimes fans can feel like that as well at points in the season. When you finally get to the plays offs and the stakes are raised then the atmosphere heightens as well. They may not be fair but they are fantastic entertainment. I remember the Leicester end being packed and obviously the Watford fans were making a lot of noise right behind me in the Rookery End.
Then it all started with Vydra’s goal which was a simply brilliant goal, in fact it was probably as good as any other goal I saw in the whole of last season. I thought Watford were well on top that day but then Nugent equalised very much against the run of play. I thought you had much the better of the play and were worth the lead. Then you went 2-1 up again through Vydra when he side footed it into the corner after being played in by Forestieri I think it was…though it may have been Deeney, I’m not certain. So we were all set for extra time, and normally in our position you don’t want extra time or penalties as it means getting home an hour later so you pray it finishes in normal time! But I was ok with it this time as the game was so entertaining. But then of course the penalty incident happened which was so unjust.
I had a little monitor underneath me which we always have so if anything happens whilst we are live on air to Jeff Stelling then I can just look down at the monitor rather than turn around and show the viewers the back of my head. Because the match was live we had a live feed on to that little monitor with replays as well so we could see from the replay that it was never a penalty. I was telling Jeff about it being a travesty of justice with the penalty being awarded etc. and then everyone knows what happened after that.
You’ve been to a lot of games and seen a lot of incidents…how does that moment rank amongst them?
It has to be the best I think, just because of the drama of it all. I remember going through it and watching it unfold on the tiny monitor annoyingly so I was the only person in the ground who wasn’t looking at the pitch! I had to describe it live whilst watching the monitor. Each event that happened was even more unbelievable than the last. Almunia was crocked wasn’t he; he had a hamstring injury so after he saved the penalty he couldn’t move. So all Knockaert had to do was dink it over him, or round him, or anything! Almunia just stuck up a resigned hand almost and managed to keep it out. It was booted out and clear, and then of course you had Ikechi Anya’s touch which I think was the most underrated part of the entire move. I thought his first touch was just fantastic. The goal would never have happened had he not been able to bring it down like that and following that it went up the pitch to become a goal – it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. It was better than the similar incident at the Brentford V Doncaster game a week or two earlier because Brentford had to score that day so they all piled forward and when the penalty was saved Doncaster sort of hacked it clear and were through, whereas when Leicester missed the penalty they would have still settled for extra time but got caught out.
When the Brentford one happened we heard about it wherever we were and I remember turning to the rigger and saying that nothing like that would ever happen again. But the Watford one was definitely better due to the drama of it and also because the Watford goal wasn’t just a hack clear and a two on one situation, it was a proper move and a brilliantly constructed counter attack.
Were you aware it was the same ref for both the Brentford game and the Watford game?
Yes it was, Michael Oliver. Mad that he can be involved in two moments like that in such quick succession, unbelievable.
What has the reaction been like for you since that game?
It was really nice. To be honest I wasn’t too sure how I’d done at first but then quickly I had the director in my ear saying ‘well done’ and that it was great but I wasn’t sure how I had come across at first as it was all a bit shambolic! You’re never quite sure if you’ve made a bit of a tit of yourself or not. I never watched it back straight away. I went down after the game to the pitch to soak up a bit of the atmosphere and it was quite emotional, I was almost welling up. I remember seeing Richard Walker, the Watford communications guy, and he was in tears of joy. I remember thinking how mad the whole situation was.
Anyway I got in the car to head home and when I got in I received a text from my kid sister telling me that I was all over the internet already. I was a bit nervous at first as I had never really understood what ‘going viral’ actually meant! It was all over You Tube and got a couple of million hits before Sky pulled it off for some sort of copyright infringement but then I had everyone texting and ringing about it. The funny thing was I don’t think anyone would have seen it live because if people were watching Soccer Saturday then when it came to me and I said it was a penalty I think most people would have then switched over to watch the penalty for themselves. So I doubt many people actually saw it live!
We are told that Elton John got in touch with you after the game – is that true?
Yes that’s true. I was in the office on the following Friday and the receptionist rang me and said a box had arrived with my name on it. I went down and got it and it was two bottles of champagne and a note from Elton saying;
“Dear Johnny, I must have watched it a hundred times and it just gets better and better. Love Elton”
It was funny but I thought somebody must have been winding me up at first. But one of the girls in the office knows Elton’s management company so she got in touch and asked if he’d sent it. They replied that he watches Soccer Saturday all the time and he had indeed sent it. It was amazing!
Has the champagne been drunk or is it on the mantelpiece?!
There were two bottles. I gave one bottle to the office to enjoy amongst the team and then I have still got the other bottle at home. I don’t know when to drink it! I need to save it for a special time but I don’t know when that will be. I’m reluctant to open it!
You released a book recently about your travels with your role at Sky – am I correct in thinking that goal changed the ending of your book?
Yes it did. The book is about my favourite stories from working for Soccer Saturday and all the different people I’ve met. I’m from Liverpool as you can hear so the plan was to finish by going back to Liverpool and doing an interview with Jamie Carragher who was retiring. I did a big piece for Carragher at the end of last year about his time at Liverpool so I thought it would be great to finish the book with somebody like that who is a bit of a local hero. So that was the plan but then within a few days of the Watford game my publisher called me to say we needed to put that in and finish with that. I got really lucky, but Jeff Stelling wound me up saying just how fortunate I was to have a moment like that just as I bring a book out! If you were a cynic you’d say it was planned but you couldn’t plan a finish like that.
So yes I ended the book with that Deeney goal but there is another big chapter in the book that is Watford related as well with Richard Lee. He’s a top lad. Years and years ago when he was on Dragons Den selling caps we rang him up and did a piece in his cap shop. We’ve stayed in touch since then and done a few features with him including the bit with his book and also his hypnotherapy – he’s a fascinating character.
What is the name of the book?
It’s called Saturday Afternoon Fever and it is out now on Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith etc. It came out at the start of this season. There’s a decent bit of Watford in there but the stories are from all over. It’s only a tenner as well! I’ve got a copy for you to give away if I set a question to the fans?
Absolutely – go for it!
Ok – people will need to tweet you the answer (@watfordlegends) and you pick a winner from the correct answers. Whoever you choose, get their details to me and I will send them a signed copy of the book.
The question is – who provided the assist for Vydra’s first goal in that Leicester game?
Brilliant, thanks for that. We will pick a winner a week after we publish the interview and send you the winner’s details. Thanks for your time Johnny, good talking to you.
Thank you chaps, Merry Christmas to you and all the other Watford fans.