OBITUARY: Albert Johanneson

Albert Johanneson was the first black footballer to achieve true prominence in the English professional game. Others before him, such as Roy Brown, of Stoke City, and Doncaster Rovers' Charlie Williams (who became better known as a comedian), enjoyed worthy careers just after the Second World War, but the personable South African's dashing exploits with Leeds United in the 1960s gave him a far higher public profile.

Johanneson was a left winger whose explosive pace, bewitching sidestep and knack of scoring goals made him one of the most effective early contributors to the revival at Elland Road inspired by Don Revie.

Having been recommended to the then Second Division club by a teacher in his home town of Johannesburg, the 21-year-old Johanneson impressed on a three-months trial with Leeds, and then became one of Revie's first signings in April 1961. Conditioned by a life of rigid apartheid, Johanneson was understandably unsure of himself initially, not even knowing if he was allowed to join his white colleagues in the team bath. They responded by stripping him of his kit and plunging him in; a rough-and-ready welcome but a warm one which he appreciated.

Thereafter, Johanneson settled well both on and off the pitch, winning promotion to the senior side, and became a favourite with the Elland Road fans. They, like the vast majority of other supporters, judged him purely on his merits as a footballer, and he stood out as one of the few entertainers in an essentially dour team. Incidents of racism were extremely rare, though on one occasion he complained that an Everton defender, whom he didn't name, had called him a "black bastard" during the heat of a particularly bitter match. Revie's advice was to "call him a white bastard back."

Johanneson distinguished himself in the latter stages of Leeds's successful battle against relegation in 1961-62, then became firmly established in the side and was the joint top scorer with 13 League goals as they won the Second Division championship two years later.

He was especially effective in tandem with the club's skipper, Bobby Collins. As the effervescent little Scottish schemer put it: "Albert could fly and I could put the ball on the spot for him. When he was in his stride there weren't many who could catch him."

Johanneson's performing peak came, perhaps, in 1964-65, when the newly promoted Leeds were pipped for the title only on goal average by Manchester United, then lost the FA Cup Final to Liverpool. In retrospect, that Wembley defeat - Johanneson was the first black player to appear in a final, but made disappointingly little impact - marked something of a watershed in his career. It was as though his self-belief, always rather fragile, had taken a severe knock and he was never quite the same again.

Soon after that he lost his place to the England international Mike O'Grady, and then became increasingly peripheral through a combination of niggling injuries and the rise of the brilliant Eddie Gray. Accordingly, Johanneson was no more than a bit player as Revie's Leeds matured into a mighty footballing force and it was no surprise when he left to join York City, of the Fourth Division, in the summer of 1970. Though in his 31st year, he had much to offer the Minster men and in his one full season at Bootham Crescent, he helped them gain promotion. He continued to be dogged by fitness problems, however, and retired in 1971.

In the years that followed, Johanneson fell on hard times and his health suffered as he became dependent on alcohol. A gentle fellow, he had been popular with his team-mates, some of whom attempted to help him over his difficulties.

Poignantly, though, he died alone in a tiny council flat in a Leeds tower block, aged only 55, and had reportedly been dead for several days before his body was discovered. It was a pitiful end for a man who, in his pomp, had thrilled huge crowds and earned their affection.

Ivan Ponting

Albert Johanneson, footballer; born Johannesburg 12 March 1940; played for Leeds United 1961-70, York City 1970-71; died Leeds c24 September 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links