FOR three blissful years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was the Liverpool Echo’s home and away reporter for Tranmere Rovers.
It was a memorable time as Rovers regularly visited Wembley and won promotions, helped by a colourful and quoteable manager who was as endearing as he was engaging.
Johnny King’s press conferences were legendary, with no metaphor too outlandish.
Seasons were always referred to as nautical voyages.
Defender Dave Higgins was likened to a sheepdog coralling its flock, strike partners of the totemic centre-forward Jim Steel were described as children playing round the Maypole – while on one surreal afternoon John Aldridge was sent out to play carrying an injury, compared to the corpse of El Cid being fitted with his armour and set atop his horse Babieca!
And they were only the published interviews.
Pat Nevin pleaded that the metaphor of him being the juiciest, ripest mushroom picked in a mushroom picking expedition be never made public. So I won’t.
King made for great copy.
But the colourful quotes weren’t needed to deflect from a moribund football team.
Johnny King’s Tranmere line-ups were even more entertaining than his press conferences.
Some of the thrilling matches he presided over will stay with me forever … a 6-6 draw with Newcastle, a 5-2 demolition of West Ham, 4-3 wins over Wolves, Derby County and Halifax – and my personal favourite, a comprehensive and deserved 3-1 defeat of a small London club called Chelsea.
King was a fervent advocate of three central defenders flanked by wing-backs who flew forward, a formation complemented by out-and-out wingers like Johnny Morrissey and Pat Nevin, classy playmakers like Jim Harvey, Liam O’Brien and the enormously under-rated Dave Martindale and goal poachers like Aldridge and Ian Muir.
King was innovative and old fashioned all at the same time – a throwback who was genuinely unique.
Which is why the decision by a group of Tranmere fans this week to erect a statue to the King of Tranmere is so heartening.
Exceptional people have usually passed on when people decide to pay tribute to them.
Johnny King, of course, is 74 years young.
And it would be wonderful to see him at the unveiling of his very own statue.
* RELIVE Johnny King’s greatest Tranmere moments in pictures and video including the Mercantile Credit tournament, Leyland Daf win, play-off glory and much more below