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Sam Johnston

Name: Samuel Johnston
Born: 18 September 1866, Belfast
Died: 25 April 1910, Belfast
Position: Centre-Forward

Representative Honours: Ireland: 5 Full Caps/2 Goals (1882-1886).
Club Honours: (with Distillery) Irish Cup Winner 1883/84, 1884/85, 1885/86; Charity Cup Runner-Up 1883/84.

Club Career:
FA Cup
* 32/21
# 89/15
* all competitive games (pre-League), # friendly games.

A blacksmith by trade, Sam Johnston’s well-built appearance meant that when he took to the field for his international debut at the age of 15 years and 154 days his age wasn’t even commented on – seemingly nobody realised he was so young. It has only been confirmed in recent years that he was younger than Norman Whiteside (the long-thought youngest (Northern) Ireland international), by a margin of almost two years! To add to his list of achievements at such a tender age, Johnston scored in his second Irish appearance, Ireland’s first international goal. That was the equaliser against Wales, though subsequently it turned out to be little more than a consolation in a 7-1 defeat.

A regular goalscorer for Distillery over seven seasons, Johnston won three Irish Cups, scoring in the 1884 5-0 defeat of Wellington Park and twice in the 3-0 win against Limavady in 1885. He made a total of 121 appearances and scored 36 goals including in friendlies for Distillery. He scored one hat-trick, in the 4-0 defeat of Wellington Park in an Irish Cup match on the 24th February 1883.

Season 1888/89 started as usual with friendly matches and the first competitive match was on the 6th October 1888. Johnston played his last match for Distillery in a friendly on the 29th September 1888. There was no warning of his leaving the club and as Sam Johnston commenced playing centre-forward for Linfield the following week (the 6th October 1888) one could have assumed he had moved clubs. However this was not so. It wasn’t until he was reported performing as linesman at a Distillery match on 5th January 1889 while Sam Johnston of Linfield was scoring 4 goals against Oldpark at Solitude in a Charity Cup match that this was conclusively proved to be two separate persons. Apart from acting as linesman in a Distillery match a few years later Johnston would appear to have broken all ties with football.

Ireland Cap Details:
18-02-1882 England. H L 0-13 FR * (15 years, 154 days)
25-02-1882 Wales... A L 1- 7 FR 1 Goal
23-02-1884 England. H L 1- 8 BC
13-03-1886 England. H L 1- 6 BC
20-03-1886 Scotland H L 2- 7 BC 1 Goal

Summary: 5/2. Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 5.

* Many sources list D. McCaw (Malone FC) in the starting line-up for this match rather than Johnston. Based on more recent research by George Glass it appears McCaw played only in a "trial" match prior to Johnston being selected for Ireland's first "full" international.

By George Glass.


Unknown said…
Hi, is the research confirming Johnston's age recorded anywhere?
And likewise the research confirming that Johnston played against England in 1882 rather than McCaw?
jcd said…

An etching of the first Ireland team shows Johnston rather than McCaw (shown here, and similarly elsewhere in other formats)
Unknown said…
Many thanks.

And what about Johnston's age? He doesn't look particularly young in the etching!