Tommy Johnson: The Loyal Crusader

Tommy Johnson is in his ninth consecutive year with North Wales Crusaders and the club’s record points scorer is hoping to stick around for a lot longer yet.

One club men are becoming much less of an occurrence in Rugby League these days and when you think of the modern ones the names Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby and Jamie Jones Buchanan are probably the first to pop into you’re head.

But further down the league structure, there is Tommy Johnson, who joined North Wales Crusaders as a 20-year-old back in 2012 and he’s never looked back.

Now in his ninth season with the Wrexham club, Johnson has been through a lot with them, but his dedication has been rewarded with a couple of personal milestones he can be more than proud of.

When he ran out against London Skolars at the start of March he regained his place at the top of the club’s all-time appearance chart. It was his 169th game for the club. Having missed the entire 2019 season with a knee injury, Johnson’s now-retired teammate Jonny Walker temporarily took that record, before Johnson’s return to full fitness.

Johnson can also boast being the club’s record points scorer too, having scored 1,352 points through 56 tries and 87 goals.

“Those records are the sort of thing you don’t tend to keep track of yourself, but when you get told about them it’s always nice to hear,” 28-year-old Johnson told Rugby League World.

“It is something to be proud of but I just try to go out there and do what I can out on the field. We’ll see how long it lasts now but I just want to keep playing for as long as possible.

“I have been at the club since day one and I love it.

“A number of things have kept me here for so long. The fans are brilliant and have always followed us everywhere. We have had some tough times but they have always stuck with us.

“The coaching staff and players through the years have made me want to stay as well. There has always been a good team ethic and it’s a club you want to be part of and represent.

“You never know what’s around the corner, but it would be nice to carry on at the club and see my career out here. I don’t know how much longer I have left in my legs but hopefully, I have got a few more years yet.

“I just want to do my best for the team and if that means scoring a load of points then I will carry on doing it for as long as I can.

“I will do whatever I can to help push the club forward and make the play-offs. That is definitely our goal this year and we are more than capable of doing it.

“Helping get the club back to the Championship would be a great achievement. We have been there before and if I can help get us back there in the next couple of years it will feel like I have gone full circle with them.”

Despite his injury setback last year, Johnson has quickly found his feet again and is returning to the form that has made him a club favourite over the years.

Thankfully for Johnson, he didn’t have to face the additional worries many players might have to deal with when a long-term injury strikes.

“I have never been out for that long so it’s great to be back playing,” added Johnson.

“I really missed it and just wanted to be back with the lads. When you’re out, you miss everything about the game, especially the lads and the changing room banter.

“I had some torn cartilage that needed operating on, but there was just a lot of waiting around for a slot for that. I was at mercy of the NHS and waiting lists which is one drawback of playing at League 1.

“At a higher level, I’d have been covered privately, gone in, had it done and then back out and would probably have only missed half a year. But we understand that as players and we just have to get on with it.

“I could still move around ok, I just couldn’t run or twist on the knee, so it didn’t affect me too much.

“Luckily, as a quantity surveyor for a roofing company, I am based in an office, so the injury didn’t affect my work too much. It would have been a lot tougher if I was up on roofs doing the hard labour.

“Some lads work in labouring jobs so injuries can be tough for them when they have a hard days graft to do, but fortunately for me, I have got my feet under a desk.

“Thankfully as well I don’t rely on the game for extra income. It doesn’t help, but some lads might rely on that income and a long term injury like this could hit them hard.

“Not having these extra worries to think about was good for me and helped me get through it.

“Once I’d had the operation in July I got straight into my rehab and tried to get myself right. It wasn’t long before I was back running, but I had to build all the muscles up around it up to keep the knee stable.

“I didn’t quite make it back in time for the last few games of last season, so I made sure I was right for this season and got a good pre-season in me.

“It was probably a good thing that I didn’t get back last year because I might have rushed myself back before I was ready so it was probably the right thing to do to put last year to bed and start again with pre-season and get going again.

“The knee is feeling good and holding up pretty well so I am just looking forward to the rest of this season now.”

This feature was first published in Rugby League World, Issue 468, April 2020