‘BJ’ joins elite club
Saturday, 3rd August, 2013
By By CED
This afternoon Brett Johnson will write his name into football folklore.
The classy North centreman will become just the second player to play 300 senior games for the Bulldogs.
His milestone will see him join Rod Crampton as the only two from North to register this number of games for the blue and white.
The exclusive group of nine players, with the addition of Johnson, includes Brett Morris, Phil Neal, Wayne Walker, Peter Johns, Allen Staker, Rod Crampton, Randy Stenhouse and John Campbell.
Having started his career in 1994, the man known as BJ has hardly changed his outlook on football and life.
As a modest and self effacing person, Johnson is a popular figure not just with his own supporters but also amongst the wider football community.
“He has been a tough opponent,” said South star, Phil Neal.
“We have played against each other for nearly 20 years, and while we both want to win we always find time to share a laugh and a joke on the field.”
Having started his career in 1992, and with 368 games under his belt, Neal is the only current member of the 300 club still playing.
“BJ has been a fantastic player for North and I remember my first grand final in 1994 playing against him.
“I wish him all the best.”
The decision some 19 years ago to elevate Johnson into senior football at the age of 16 was made by then North league coach Mark Corey.
“I was aware at the time that Brett was dominating Under 16 Football so I spoke with some people whose opinion I respect and they all said they believed he was capable of playing senior football.”
Now living in Adelaide, the memories of that year are still clear in Corey’s mind.
“I thought we needed an injection of pace and grunt and as a teenager BJ certainly had plenty of that.”
So halfway through the season Johnson made his debut.
“We started him on the bench and then brought him on to a forward flank,”Corey said.
“It was to prove a good call as some week’s later he played on a wing as we went on to beat South in the grand final.”
The journey from his early days as a precocious teenager to his current veteran status has been one littered with team and personal awards.
The honour rolls contains seven premierships, a Lionel Johnston Medal and three Mail Medals.
When you add Johnson’s five club best and fairest awards as well as the medal for his best on ground performance in the 2000 Grand Final win over West, you have a player who can quite easily be regarded as one of the most decorated the game has produced.
One thing that means as much to him as anything is joining Rod Crampton with 300 games.
“He looked after me when I was one of the juniors coming through so to have my photo on the wall next to him will be a big honour.”
A feeling shared by Crampton.
“I have been hanging on that wall for 10 years by myself so it will be good to have some company.
“In all seriousness though I recall BJ coming in as a quiet, shy 16-year-old and to see him grow into an inspirational figure both on and off the field has been something to watch.”
With 307 games to his name and many years retired, Crampton believes Johnson has plenty of seasons left in him and hopes if anyone can pass his record it’s his former team mate.
“If he is fit and enjoying the game then he has to keep playing he is still one of the best mid fielders in the competition and I want him to set a mark that could stand forever.”
As for the game itself even the usually unflappable BJ is starting to feel the sense of occasion.
“I am now starting to look forward to it, I think with the media attention and people talking about it I am more aware of everything around it.”
“To be honest I think it is more a sense of excitement than nerves I just can’t wait to get out on the ground.”
When it comes to listing his highlight the answer is not long in coming.
“Without doubt the premierships that is why you play footy and to think I had one after 7 or 8 games, some players have 100 matches up before they get the opportunity so I have been lucky.”
As with all sportsmen, Johnson has received plenty of support.
“I would not have played 50 games without my family being there for me.
“My wife Jess has been with me for 17 years she was originally a South girl but she is a Bulldog now, my son Jett is playing footy and he and little Emma will run out with me.
As for the future, the veteran will make a call at the end of the season.
“I don’t want to keep playing and keep young kids out of the team, I will weigh it up and see how I feel.”
If form and fitness are any guide the sight of number 22 running around is sure to be seen for a few years yet.
The North Club will hold a function at 7.30pm tonight to honour a man who over time has developed into one of their favourite sons.
It’s sure to be a night to remember.
* Brett Morris - 401
* Phil Neal - 368
* Wayne walker - 350
* Peter Johns - 319
* Allen Staker - 311
* Rod Crampton - 307
* Randy Stenhouse - 305
* John Campbell - 305