The greatest living Welshman…
Well known around The Hawthorns as the greatest living Welshman, by his own admission, Andy Johnson only qualified to play for Wales because one of his ancestors, “took the dog for a walk over the Severn Bridge once!”
In spite of the tenuous connection – and the fact that, like Ryan Giggs, he’d earlier represented England at youth levels – Jonno was typically wholehearted in his play whenever he put on the Welsh shirt.
Before coming to join the Throstles, Jonno had already collected seven caps for the country before falling out of international favour as Nottingham Forest dropped out of the top division.
The move to West Bromwich didn’t bring with it an instant recall, but when Albion sealed promotion back to the Premier League in 2002, Jonno was swiftly back in the thick of things, travelling out to Croatia to play in Varazdin.
His international rehabilitation was put on hold when he broke a toe in a game against Bolton Wanderers at The Hawthorns in February 2003, a game where he nabbed a late equaliser to keep our hopes of avoiding relegation briefly alive.
By the time he was fit to return to the Welsh squad, on a close season tour of the United States, the Baggies were down, but manager Mark Hughes didn’t hold that against him, and kept Jonno in his Welsh plans as the dragon nation entered a vital period in the European Championship qualifying campaign.
Defeat in Milan meant that Wales finished second in their group and had the chance to qualify via the play-offs, which paired them with Russia. All seemed to be well after they had earned an impressive 0-0 draw in Moscow, but defeat in the Millennium Stadium four days later meant that Jonno missed out on the chance of terrorising a major international competition.
Jonno played his final game for Wales in August 2004 out in Riga, but by then, it was clear that he wanted to concentrate his energies on keeping Albion in the Premier League, an effort that was rudely halted by a crunching tackle from Luis Boa Morte at Fulham in January 2005.
From there on, Jonno was something of a bit player on the field after regaining fitness, but he was never less than a monumental presence in and around the football club.
The kind of player who is the life and soul of any dressing room, he was the practical joker par excellence, not above tying mice to your steering wheel or nailing your new shoes to the ceiling. You could hear Jonno for miles around when the mood took him, belting out jokes, insults and anecdotes all day long.
Little changed after he left. When we next encountered him in a game at Leicester City, spying the Albion TV camera on the pitch after the final whistle, he sauntered out from the dressing room, onto the field, fresh out of the shower, with only a towel wrapped round his waist. “Right boys, we ready for the naked interview then?”