The Leeds Legends

LEEDS UNITED MONTHLY, November 1995, Volume 2 Issue 3.

Albert Johanneson

Dave callaghan reflects on th erratic career and troubled life of Leeds' South African winger of the 1960s, who died last month.

Albert Johanneson was something of a football enigma. He first joined Leeds United from South Africa in 1961 but soon found himself competing with the talented Scot Eddie Gray - and out-and-out winger of rare quality. With such talented opposition, Albert's appearances in the Leeds first team were strictly limited.However, when news of his death reached Elland Road at the end of last month, many spoke with fondness of only the second black footballer - Gerry Francis was the first - to pull on the famous white shirt.

The story of Albert Johanneson is tinged with sadness. As a player he showed occasional flashes of brilliance and as a natural, pacy winger he soon became a favourite with many fans. He played at Leeds for nine years, making 197 appearances and scoring 67 goals, including two hat-tricks in European games.

In 1970 he made the short journey from Leeds to York City but only played a handful of games before retiring.

Upon leaving the game, the good life soon disappeared for Albert. He lived in squalor with his brother Trevor and struggled against alcholism. Towards the end of his life Johanneson had little to remember of the glory days of his soccer career. His marriage had broken up, he had little or no money and at the age of 53 he was found dead in a flat in a tower block in Leeds.

But older Leeds fans will remember the flying winger in happier times. Those who played with him still talk about the days when Albert was on song.

Peter Lorimer, who made over 650 appearances for United, was one who admired the silky skills of the South African. "Albert could be the scourge of defences but he never quite fulfilled his potential. He could still be a joy to watch and to play with. As a person he'll be sadly missed."

Others talk of Johanneson's difficulty in making it to the big time. There are stories that say he was happiest when playing with Leeds in the Second Division and that he sometimes struggled to express himself at a higher level.

Norman Hunter joined Leeds a year after the South African and was a pillar of the defence for many years afterwards. He recalls tales of Albert and believes he was unlucky to be around when Leeds had so many top-notch players. "On his day he could skin any full-back, but he lacked the consistency and it was unfortunate that Albert was around at the same time as Eddie Gray. He was one of Don Revie's most promising signings but when Eddie got a grip of his place on the wing, something had to give and Albert found himself in the reserves."

Those who saw Albert Johanneson in later years were shocked at his decline. There is a story that George Best met up with him in Leeds in a chance encounter and even though the Irishman was no stanger to the demon drink, he was still shocked to see the effect it had taken on the first non-white footballer to make an impact on the game in England in the 1960s.

Best remembered albert as a nice man with a lot of skill and others in the game have emphasised that with a little extra confidence he could have become a great player rather than a good one.

The Albert Johanneson story is one of a fallen sporting hero whose plight shocked many at Leeds United and around the football world. But many supporters will remember those games when he sparkled, and Norman Hunter is quick to dismiss the theory that he was unable to cope with stick from the opposing defenders. "He was braver than many people gave him credit for and had the scars on his legs to prove it."

A number of club officials and ex-players attended Albert's funeral at Lawnswood Cemetary in Leeds and probably reflected how the sporting limelight can some years afterwards leave our heros struggling alone with alienation.