The Dubliner behind Los Bloncos Dylan O’Connell
Little did Arthur Johnson know, that his destiny lay thousands of miles away from the industrial bubble of Dublin in the late nineteenth century. At a time when thousands of Irishmen and Irishwoman left behind the Victorian Age rust to follow the Atlantic in search of the American Dream, Johnson followed a different road.
Football first brought him to England, where he kicked a ball around for Corinthians FC. Shortly after that, he followed the waves to Spain where he began working as an engineer and he helped build the first-ever sewer system in Madrid. Not long after establishing and honing his skills in the underground, Real Madrid offered to sign him.
The then-named Madrid FC signed Johnson and he quickly became a household name all across the Spanish capital for his performances as a striker and goalkeeper. Aged 24, it was never questioned the longevity that he brought to the team which had an average age of 19. Instead, it was his coaching and tactical ability which became a repeated subject in coffee houses and pubs in the Spanish capital. Julián Palacios, a former president of the club and Johnson’s strike partner, said that he was “the only one who knew what he was doing” while a Spanish friend of Johnson claimed he “knew more about the game than anybody else”. It was said that Johnson took it upon himself to “teach the players the rudiments of the game”.
Johnson’s first claim to history came in the 1902 Copa de la Coronación. The tournament, which was to honour the coronation of Alfonso XIII of Spain, saw the then named Madrid FC play their very first competitive match. Their opponents were FC Barcelona and the two sides faced one another at the Hipódromo de la Castellana in the centre of the Spanish capital. In front of thousands of fans and under the heat of the Spanish summer, Johnson scored the first-ever competitive goal for Los Bloncos in a game that finished 3-1 to Barcelona.
As the year progressed, Johnson began to assert himself over the squad in his role as captain. This included writing out four principles of how the game should be played. In an article published in Heraldo del Sport, ‘The Instructions for the Good Development of Football’ Johnson’s vision of the game was unlined in detail. He suggested that a game should not start until each team had chosen their bosses so they could evenly distribute the players on the pitch, players should stick to their positions and not swap, players should bring the ball back into play quicker, and when they have the ball they should pass the ball quickly.
Johnson is also noted as being the first person to suggest that Madrid wear all white football shirts.
After returning to London for a brief period, Johnson traced back his steps back to Madrid in 1910 when he was appointed manager of the first team. He stayed there for ten years and through that period Madrid slowly established themselves as a force in Spanish football. In the days before the national league in Spain, Madrid conquered local competitions under Johnson. Their biggest success came in 1917 when Madrid beat Seville, Espanya de Barcelona, and Arenas Club de Getxo to lift the Copa del Rey.
Johnson left Madrid in 1920 and signed for Bilbao as a coach. He passed away in 1929 from pneumonia aged 56.
Thanks to Kristofer McCormack and These Football Times for quotes for this article.