Surfer, photographer inventor, businessman and one of the most popular Anfield characters of the 1980’s.
Although born in South Africa, Johnston was raised in Australia where he played for Sydney City and Lake McQuarrie FC. In 1977 he wrote to Middlesbrough asking for a trial and within a year made his debut with the English First Division club.
In April 1981, Bob Paisley paid £575,000 for the attacking midfielder. He struggled for a regular place, but developed a knack of scoring crucial, and sometimes spectacular, goals as Liverpool swept all before them over the next three years, earing him the nickname ‘Skippy’ by the Kop, after the Australian TV bush kangaroo.
Despite his contributions, Johnston felt frustrated at not playing a bigger part in Joe Fagan‘s plans and, at the end of the 1984/85 season, looked set to leave. However, with Kenny Dalglish installed as boss, the player was given a new lease of life. He played in almost every game of the 1985/86 double-winning campaign and capped his most memorable year with a Wembley goal in the FA Cup victory over Everton.
Although Ray Houghton began to edge him out of the senior team, Johnston remained a valuable squad player. It therefore came as a shock to Liverpool fans when, in 1988, he announced his retirement from the game at the age of 27. At the time, he said he was quitting to look after his sick sister back in Australia but, as he later explained in his autobiography, there were other reasons too. “I didn’t need much incentive to return home. For almost 13 years, and in spite of the great friendships and hospitality we’d encountered in Britain, I’d never really mastered the chronic homesickness that had dogged me since my arrival.”
Throughout his Anfield career he was an entrepreneural figure with a range of interests outside the game. He took his cameras on the club’s tours throughout Europe, cataloguing what went on behind the scenes. In 1988 he also showed off his talent as a songwriter, penning the classic Anfield Rap. A few years later, following spells as a TV executive, he resurfaced as the designer of the revolutionary Adidas Predator football boot.
But the Anfield crowd will always remember him for his ability, his enthusiasm – and his decision to fly 12,000 miles back to the UK to help comfort the bereaved in the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster.