The November 1972 sale of David Johnson to Ipswich Town surely ranks among the most catastrophic lapses of judgement an Everton manager has made. In exchange for £50,000 plus Johnson – a highly promising young striker who had already scored on his First Division, FA, European and League Cup debuts as well as a rare derby winner – Everton received Rod Belfitt, an honest trier frankly not up to the standards demanded by the School of Science. Johnson went on to collect England caps, and in 1976 joined Liverpool, where a succession of domestic and European honours followed.
One of the stream of local lads to make good and progress through the Everton youth ranks during Harry Catterick’s last years as Everton manager, Johnson made his debut in January 1971 against Burnley. He quickly affirmed himself as a favourite amongst Evertonians, scoring a dramatic scrambled equaliser in the European Cup quarter-final with Panathinaikos two months later. A raw striker with pace and a poacher’s instinct in front of goal, many of his early appearances came in the wide forward role previously occupied by Jimmy Husband, or on the left wing.
His talent was palpable, however, and in November 1971 he struck the only goal of the Goodison derby. Scarcely could Evertonians have imagined then that they would not beat Liverpool for a further seven years, or that just four more league wins would follow all season. Johnson ended the 1971/72 season top scorer with 11 league and cup goals.
CATTERICK was desperate to strike the winning formula at Goodison. But many of his managerial decisions – from the sale of Alan Ball to the blatant misuse of talented players, like Henry Newton – defied logic during these last years. Alas, the sale of Johnson was one such bad choice. In May 1975, Johnson made his England debut against Wales at Wembley.
His £200,000 move to Liverpool came in August the following year. Johnson won the First Division and European Cup three times while at Anfield. In April 1978, he became the first player to score the derby winner for both Everton and Liverpool, when he struck the only goal of the Goodison meeting between the two clubs.
Although he made a £100,000 Goodison return in August 1982, he was by then past his best, his presence in the Everton team mostly serving as a reminder of one of their most potent lost talents.