Johnson attended Westcliff Primary school and Dawlish comprehensive in Devon, and played for the local Dawlish youth side. He was spotted by Crewe Alexandra manager Dario Gradi on a pre-season tour of Devon. He moved to Cheshire, attended Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School and began his career as a trainee with Crewe Alexandra, turning professional in 1996. A hard-working midfielder, Johnson’s potential led Premier League team Derby County to offer £2.5 million for his signature in 1999. The transfer went through, but Johnson’s loyalty to Crewe meant he insisted on staying to help their relegation fight, delaying his move to Derby by two months. In the end, Crewe avoided relegation by a single point.
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