Lennoxtown, Dunbartonshire born started his football career with Stalybridge Rovers in 1898 before joining First Division Bury in May 1901, shortly followed by his former Stalybridge team-mate, centre-half Frank Thorpe, making his Football League debut against Nottingham Forest that September. He remained with Bury for six seasons making 197 appearances, scoring twice. He also appeared in all of Bury’s matches in their FA Cup run of 1903, reaching the Final where they defeated Derby County in one of the most one-sided finals ever played. Bury’s 6-0 victory still stands as the record Final win. Bury also equalled another record, winning the Cup without conceding a goal in any round.
In May 1907 he moved, along with Bert Hodgkinson, to the south coast to join Southern League Southampton, where he was once again re-united with Frank Thorpe, who had joined The Saints from Plymouth Argyle a few weeks earlier. In his first season at The Dell he made 33 Southern League appearances and helped them to reach the FA Cup semi final where they went out to Wolverhampton Wanderers, beating First Division Everton en route. He remained with Southampton for four seasons during which the team struggled in a vain attempt to regain their former success. Johnston was a “distinct individual; through all the heat and bustle of the game he was never seen without a blade of grass or some convenient substitute protruding from his mouth.” He had a strange gait but was a natural leader and tended to coach the forwards while the game was in progress.
In 1911 he moved back to Stalybridge after scoring twice for The Saints in 110 appearances, this time to join Stalybridge Celtic as player-manager, taking with him Southampton’s top-scorer in 1910-11, Martin Dunne. He guided Stalybridge to success in the Lancashire Combination and into the Southern League in 1914 but his role finished with the suspension of peacetime football due to the advent of the First World War in 1915.
NB this photograph was taken before a match at Nottingham Forest on 16th September 1905. Forest won the game 3-2.