Droylsden, Manchester born left half Harry Johnston started his football career with his local club Droylsden in 1934 from where Blackpool signed him in October 1936, Johnston making his Football League debut in a 2-0 defeat to Preston North End at Deepdale on 20th November 1937. Despite the result, Johnston was named Man of the Match. For the final game of the season, at home to West Bromwich Albion, he was moved to the forward line. He responded by scoring Blackpool’s third goal in their 3-1 victory. By the following season, he was a regular in The Seasiders’ team, having made 61 appearances by the time peacetime football was abandoned due to the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939.
After the War, during which he served in the Armed Forces in the Middle East, Johnston became the foundation on which the Blackpool team was built. As captain, he led them to FA Cup Final appearances in 1948 and 1951, when they lost to Manchester United and Newcastle United respectively, and most famously of all the “Matthews Cup Final” in 1953, when he became the first and, thus far, only Blackpool captain to lift the trophy. In 1951, Johnston was voted Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year after a season in which they not only got to the Cup Final but also finished third in the League Championship, the club’s highest ever League finish.
For a man of his stature, his international career was very short, with only ten appearances for England in a seven year span between 1946 and 1953, his appearances being limited due to the consistent performances of Billy Wright. Johnston made his England debut in an 8-2 friendly victory over the Netherlands at Leeds Road, Huddersfield on 27th November 1946. His tenth and final international appearance occurred on 25th November 1953, in the famous 6-3 defeat by Hungary at Wembley. He was also a reserve or an unused substitute in four other internationals over the same period.
He played his last game for Blackpool on 25th April 1955, at Newcastle United. He made 428 appearances and scored 14 goals for The Seasiders during his 19 year playing career. At that point he had made more appearances for Blackpool than any other player; a record later broken by Jimmy Armfield.
In November 1955 Johnston became manager of Reading, with whom he spent seven seasons leaving in January 1963. He returned to Bloomfield Road in 1967 as assistant manager to Stan Mortensen, and when Mortensen was sacked late in the 1968-69 campaign, he took over as caretaker manager from April to the season end. In February 1970, he became the club’s assistant secretary.
When he died in his hometown of Manchester in 1973 at the age of only 54, “the whole town of Blackpool mourned, for Harry Johnston was one of the greatest players ever to wear the tangerine shirt.” Johnston was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Bloomfield Road, when it was officially opened by former Blackpool player Jimmy Armfield in April 2006. Organised by the Blackpool Supporters Association, Blackpool fans around the world voted on their all-time heroes. Five players from each decade are inducted; Johnston is included in the 1950’s section.