Johnstone won't feel the pressure if given chance to represent England

Sam Johnstone insists he won’t feel the pressure if he represents England at Euro 2020… as the West Brom goalkeeper opens up on his on-field ‘comfort zone’, why he had to leave Man United and a possible summer return to the Premier League

  • Sam Johnstone will join up with Gareth Southgate’s England squad on Saturday 
  • He will go up against Jordan Pickford, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale 
  • Despite his rise at West Brom after several loan spella, he remains grounded
  • He speaks about his Man United departure and West Brom’s style of play 
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.

The legendary Australia all-rounder and former World War II pilot Keith Miller once said that pressure was not playing cricket, but was ‘having a Messerschmitt up your arse’.

Sam Johnstone has his own version. For the West Brom and now England goalkeeper, pressure would not be taking the role of his country’s last line of defence at the European Championship this summer. 

Instead, pressure is standing on a chair on a hotel in Burnley in front of Yeovil team-mates you have met minutes earlier, and then belting out an initiation version of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’. 

Pressure for Sam Johnstone would not be playing in goal for England at this summer’s Euros

The 28-year-old West Brom keeper will join Gareth Southgate’s squad in Middlesbrough on Saturday

That was the situation the 28-year-old, who joins Gareth Southgate’s squad in Middlesbrough on Saturday, was faced with when he made his first loan move from the Manchester United youth set-up eight years ago.

‘I got the call on the Friday, went to the team hotel and 20 of the players were waiting for me to sing,’ he recalls. ‘Doing that was worse than playing in front of 80,000! My comfort zone is on the pitch, not on a stool. I turned up, sung the song, ate, slept, did my finger in the warm-up and then went back to United for rehab.

‘I played for Yeovil without ever going to Yeovil. If I’d have known I was going to do my finger I’d have told them I’d do the song next week!’ Johnstone will go up against Jordan Pickford, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale for the Three Lions gloves. It is a far cry from the Glovers and subsequent loan spells at Scunthorpe, Walsall, Doncaster and his hometown club, Preston.

Despite his rise, he remains grounded, thanks in no small part to a no-nonsense Mancunian landlady.

He will compete with Jordan Pickford (second from left) and Dean Henderson (right) for the No 1 jersey

Despite his rise, most recently with West Brom in the Premier League, he remains grounded

‘When I was 15, United had us move into digs and go to a local school. I was with Zeki Fryers, who’s now at Swindon, and we were looked after by a lady called Lynne. She was great – she was a midwife and she’d wake us up with a cup of tea every morning but she was also strict. We had rules on our bedroom walls and if we were on the computer after 9pm she’d turn the Wifi off.

‘One day she told us that she had breast cancer, which was a shock. She said that we could move out or we could stay – but if we decided to stay we’d have to help with the chores. How could you just walk out? She showed us how to cook, how to iron, hoover up. 

‘We dug in and helped but it was fun at the same time. We’d have a laugh. She’d show us things like how to cut the chicken. It sounds small but then you go on loan and move out and you’ve got the basics to get by.’ 

Johnstone won praise and promotion with North End, but fell agonisingly short of repeating the trick at Villa, who lost in the play-off final at Wembley. Those years of league football convinced him his time at Old Trafford was over.

Johnstone won praise and promotion with his hometown club Preston North End

He fell short of repeating the trick at Aston Villa, who lost in the play-off final at Wembley

‘David de Gea was there and he’s only a little bit older. He’s unbelievable so it was always going to be a struggle to get in. Having played for win bonuses to pay for things, in front of crowds, I didn’t want to go back to just training. 

‘I wanted to go back to Preston and Louis van Gaal (then United manager) said no so I missed a season. I wasn’t getting any younger so I spoke to Jose (Mourinho) when I came back from Villa and he agreed to let me go.’ 

A £6.75m took him to West Brom and another promotion. Despite subsequent relegation this season, Johnstone has won praise for his own performances and was first called into the England squad in March.

‘It was my first season in the Premier League so I left nothing to chance. I’d put the kids to bed at home (outside Manchester) and drive to a personal trainer in Preston and do an hour in the gym. Working on core, speed, power. I also got a chef in to make sure I was eating right. 

But his loan spells away convinced Johnstone (right) he had to leave Manchester United, with ‘unbelievable’ David de Gea (centre) ahead of him

Louis van Gaal (right) stopped him re-joining Preston before Jose Mourinho (left) let him go

‘I was a bit apprehensive – I faced Jamie Vardy in the first game but, and this might sound stupid, you realise it’s only football. They are still shots, corners, it’s just that the standard is higher.’ Following relegation, now-departed manager Sam Allardyce turned on critics for labelling his style direct.

‘We had to simplify it,’ Johnstone says. ‘We can’t play like Man City – that’s just the truth. The manager said if you can pass to someone next to you who can then go forwards, then do it. But if you pass to someone next to you who’s going to get tackled and put us in the s*** then don’t do it. 

‘People just play different ways. If it wasn’t on go long and try and win the first and second balls. We had some improvement.’ Johnstone has a year left on his Hawthorns contract. Rumours of a move have been rife with the likes of West Ham, Tottenham and Southampton listed as potential destinations. So how will he keep his mind on the job this summer?

‘It’s easy – I just turn up and train,’ he says, laughing. ‘If anything is going to happen it’ll happen. I’m a West Brom player and I’ve a year left. I’ve enjoyed playing in the Premier League and we’ll see what happens but in all seriousness it’s meet up on Saturday, take it in, train with top players and learn. 

Johnstone admits he was a bit apprehensive facing Jamie Vardy on the opening day 

‘If I do get called upon I’ll be ready.’ His future may be up in the air but Johnstone is planning for life after football. He recently became a shareholder in a company Kiistone, which does not sound like the average investment for a top flight footballer.

‘I had work done on my house a couple of years ago,’ he explains. ‘And there’s always a bit of nerves. Is the job going to get done? Are they trustworthy? Are they going to rip you off? But then it’s a similar situation for the tradespeople. Are they going to get paid or messed about? 

‘A family friend from Preston did the work and asked me to trial this app. The app basically sits between the customer and the tradespeople. You put in an agreed schedule of works and payment dates. The money goes into an escrow from the largest provider in Europe. 

‘When both sides are happy then payment is made. It protects all parties. It’s like an insurance policy.’ An insurance policy backed by the man who will be just that for England over the coming weeks.

Johnstone also defended relegated West Brom’s way of playing under Sam Allardyce (left)

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