Interview with Chris Johnson

Date: 21 December 2015

Unfortunately due to the weather conditions we have had to cancel the Boxing Day Match that was due to take place this afternoon.

On Boxing Day at 1pm a Chris Johnson XV will line up against a Hoppers XV. Chris has been awarded this years testimonial game after 14 years of service to the Mini/Junior section which also saw him become the most successful coach in the sections history, winning an incredible 10 Lancashire Cups.

Ahead of the match we caught up with Chris to ask him a few questions about his 14 years coaching the Mini/Juniors at Preston Grasshoppers.

How did you get into coaching at Preston Grasshoppers?

I brought my eldest son to Grasshoppers when he was an under 5. Tony Callaghan was coaching the age group. On arrival the second week Tony asked if I’d assist as he knew me. The next week Tony didn’t turn up and so it began!

What was the most enjoyable part of coaching?

That’s got to be seeing the guys playing now. I enjoyed playing sport, until my knee wouldn’t let me anymore, Rugby, Football, Squash. I then refereed. So I hoped to introduce my sons Alex and Nick to sport with a hope they would enjoy themselves the same as I do. Seeing them and the other guys playing now for whatever team or club makes the effort worthwhile.

Which aspects did you find the hardest?
Parents! Through the years we have always been fortunate to have a squad of players numbering in the high twenties. At any one time the number of players on the pitch is obviously restricted, trying to balance everyones expectations took some doing. I think (hope) we achieved it. We didn’t look to run the same team every week, yes we targeted games to win, but accepted that we may lose just as many as we looked to develop all the players and I believe it to be a strategy that worked, though that’s for others to make comment on.

What are your plans in rugby now that you have retired from coaching?
I’m not sure, I need to look to earn some money as my commitment to coaching has tied me to the club/area. I enjoy watching. Will have to see if that is enough!

What is are your favourite memories of your time spent coaching?
So many, some good some not so. Tours to Ireland, Holland, Warwickshire and Hull! Seeing the guys develop, driving up and down the motorway with Bill, Mark and Joe. Nick scoring his ten minute hat trick of tries playing against a strong Wigan side. Alex scoring against Vale. Andy Hughes running into the posts. Marcus Molinga’s interaction with the Caldy 7 and James Worlock’s with Danny from Broughton Park. Our relationship with the West Park coaches who had a great team and watching Bill’s relationship with coaches from other clubs dissolve. Some great matches and some nervous encounters. Ben Rhodes-Powers’ last play try vs Aldwinians and the players reaction to West Park’s Ethan Allen who missed a kick that could have cost us a final, just true sportsmanship. Lee Carmichael’s grandparents reaction when we returned from Cork, Grant Cassy’s reaction to how the team and club related to each other after moving his son Alex from Fylde, even after Adam Drew flushed his tie. Tristen mine sweeping, rainy days, strange refereeing decisions and deluded coaches from other clubs.

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with so many great individuals and I’ve made some good friends.

What are your hopes for rugby at the Hoppers?
That’s easy, to turn up and watch the first team playing League Rugby, at the highest level possible. Defeating Fylde, with a high proportion of our home grown Mini/Juniors playing.

Who was the most improved player you coached?
That’s difficult as most of the guys started so young and improved naturally. Chris Dixon who plays for the Colts had never played before joining at U15, he’s a great lad, his height may hold him back but he is brave, listened and always looks to improve.

Do you have a stand out memory from your time coaching at Hoppers?
Again there are so many. Being fortunate to win a Lancashire cup each season for the last eight years has got to be up there. Watching Matt Beaty play for England U16 and Andy Hughes tackling Paul O’Connell playing for Sale Shark. But to pick one it has to be the Cup win against Fylde in 2014. Fylde toured the County inviting players from Vale, Liverpool Collegiate, Wigan and others to build a team with one aim, win the cup on their own ground. Tries from Owen Pye, Jacob Browne and James Wood, alongside a great all round team performance from Hoppers, saw them fall at the last hurdle. Great day.

We hope to see as many people as possible down at Lightfoot Green on Boxing Day. Admission is £5 (including players) and all money raised will go to Guide Dogs for the Blind as chosen by Chris

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