George Johnson

The Managers: George Johnson, 1898-1912

Across the Club's 134-year history, Leicester Fosse and Leicester City have appointed a total of 47 permanent managers, a role which is almost unrecognisable today from its original remit.
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As part of a new series on LCFC.com, Club Historian John Hutchinson continues to highlight the careers and achievements of key figures in the Club’s history...

George Johnson was the longest serving manager in the Club’s history, holding the post from September 1898 until January 1912. He took over in controversial circumstances.

His predecessor William Clark had been suspended for financial irregularities. George’s first two seasons saw the Fosse finish a creditable third and fifth in Division 2.

Four years later, the Club was rock bottom of the two-division Football League and yet, four years after that, it was promoted to the top flight for the first time in its history.

Instant relegation followed. There then began a slow but inexorable decline, culminating in the Club having to seek re-election to the Football League in April 1915, three years after Johnson’s departure.

This decline was caused by the directors’ decision to recruit only non-league players in order to save money in view of the Club’s ever-worsening financial position.

From the Club offices, successively located at St. Martin’s, the Silver Arcade, and then Stanley Chambers in Gallowtree Gate, Johnson was involved in issues as varied as player transfers, Filbert Street upgrades and a Football League enquiry into a 12-0 defeat by Nottingham Forest.

This saw the Club cleared on the grounds that the players were suffering a collective hangover the day after celebrating an ex-team mate’s wedding.

The manager’s main function in those days was secretarial. The responsibility for team matters lay elsewhere. Scottish international Jimmy Blessington, who played over 100 games for the Fosse, was appointed team manager in 1907.

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Jimmy Blessington
Jimmy Blessington

Blessington was, years later, well known as a publican in Leicester.

In April 1909, he was succeeded as player-manager by another Scottish international, the ex-Newcastle United star Andy Aitken. Under his guidance, the Fosse had two creditable seasons in Division 2 before he moved to Dundee.

In addition, the Club always employed a trainer. The best known was Harley Thompson, appointed in 1905 and re-engaged in 1909 at a weekly wage of £1 and 15 shillings (£1.75p).

His descendant Dr Kate Thompson is a season ticket holder. From 1910, Thompson was assisted by ex-player Billy Leech who became head trainer in January 1912.

The same month, Johnson resigned after 14 years devoted service. This enabled him to concentrate on his role as partner in the printing business Gamble and Johnson.

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George Johnson's watch
George Johnson's watch

This watch is an early example of the production of football memorabilia.

The directors minutes from August 1909 record that this firm won the contract for printing the Fosse match programmes. Croydon Common’s Jack Bartlett replaced him, chosen from a list of 102 applicants.

In a postscript to this story, an 18 carat gold watch presented to Johnson on the occasion of Leicester Fosse’s promotion to Division 1 in 1909 was brought to the attention of the Club by a descendant of a landlord of the Fountain in Humberstone Gate.

It had come into her possession because many years ago, it had been handed to the landlord by George to settle his bar bill!

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