AFTER initially arriving on loan at Bradford (Park Avenue) in November 2016, seven and a half years later and cult hero Oli Johnson has parted ways with the club, having had some of “the best days of his playing career”.

The 36-year-old has seen a lot during his time at Horsfall including managers coming and going, several relegations and promotions and he even made the step into coaching in the latter stages of his Avenue tenure amidst a lot of change at the club.

However, Johnson, formerly of Norwich City, has shown an unwavering amount of loyalty to the Bradford outfit and remained an ever-present at the club even when times have been tough.

After coming to a mutual agreement with new manager Danny Whitaker on Wednesday, both parties decided that it would be best for the striker to move on.

Explaining his departure to the Telegraph and Argus, Johnson highlighted a recurring injury problem as one of the main reasons for him leaving Avenue.

He said: “It’s been a long time coming really, particularly because of all the uncertainty around the management, the different changes and upheaval at the club.

“Ultimately, I’ve not been able to play over the past 18 months without pain in my groin. Last season I was coming on for the last five or ten minutes of matches because it was needed, but truthfully, I was nowhere near fit enough to play.

“I’ve had chronic groin issues for the last ten years, but I’ve always been able to manage it. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it might be my age or the fact that I’ve continued to play through pain, it’s got worse.

“I would be in pain constantly at training sessions, and that’s what lead me to make use of my coaching license in and around the first team. I’d hoped that it might act as a bit of a distraction, but the pain was still there.

“Ultimately, we came to the mutual decision that there would be no timeframe on when I could return to help the team and new manager. He’ll (Danny Whitaker) want players who are fit and available to him, and because he doesn’t particularly know me as a player or person, he won’t know what I can bring to the team if I were to get fit. I totally understand his point-of-view, so we had a chat and decided to go our separate ways. I think it was the right time for that to happen.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Oli Johnson (front) had to manage groin pains for years at AvenueOli Johnson (front) had to manage groin pains for years at Avenue (Image: John Rhodes)

Despite the past two seasons being extremely challenging for Johnson, both on a personal level and wider level at Bradford (Park Avenue), he admitted that it’s been a very memorable experience at the club over the past seven and a half years.

Reflecting on his time at the Horsfall Stadium, Johnson said: “I’d like to remember the good times because the last 18 months have been up there with one of my worst experiences in football in terms of not being played, my injury, the relegation and then Mark (Bower) and Bosh (Danny Boshell) leaving the club. A lot of good people left.

“But that’s football and that’s life; all good things come to an end and people move on and go separate ways. The relegation was tough to deal with and then seeing the team struggle this season has been equally tough.”

Johnson added: “That aside, there have been some unbelievable times as well. From joining the club to avoiding relegation in the first season, which was a great escape, were amazing memories.

“The following two playoff campaigns were truly special, and it was a really enjoyable time, not only on the pitch but off it too with my life in general. The club was extremely successful during that period and it’s a shame that we couldn’t really kick on, but there were changes that had to be made at the time for one reason or another.

“Even going into Covid, we had a bit of a reprieve with the relegation, which was a bit unfortunate in that sense, but then we came back and had another couple of strong years. We got some great wins at some very big sides, beating Hereford for example and then going to York and winning 3-0. They were some great memories, and they were only two years ago. It’s predominantly been good times and I don’t want the last 18 months to tarnish those memories whatsoever.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Johnson (furthest right) gave coaching a try most recently alongside his good friend Luca HavernJohnson (furthest right) gave coaching a try most recently alongside his good friend Luca Havern (Image: Martin Taylor)

Johnson went on to pick one standout highlight during his time at Avenue, and he told the T&A: “I’d certainly have to say it was the four days at the end of the 17-18 season when we went to Kidderminster and knew that we had to win, and results had to go our way to ensure we got into the playoffs. We won the game 2-1 in the last minute. The following Wednesday we went back to Kidderminster for the playoffs and won 2-0 to book our place in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, we lost that against Brackley Town, but that week was one of the best I’ve ever had in football.

“The achievement of going to a full-time team twice in the space of four days and winning on both occasions was a remarkable thing to do. It made the bond between the group so strong, and memories like that are hard to come by in football.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Avenue (green) in action against Kidderminster that seasonAvenue (green) in action against Kidderminster that season (Image: John Rhodes)

Johnson, who scored 42 goals for Avenue during his time at the club, also played for Stockport County, Norwich City, Yeovil Town, Oxford United, York City and Guiseley throughout his career. However, he admitted that playing at Horsfall brought the most joy to him.

He said: “It’s probably up there as the best period of my career (at Avenue). It wasn’t the pinnacle of my career in terms of my personal accolades, but in terms of being happy on and off the pitch, then it was right near the very top.

“Before joining from Avenue from Guiseley, prior to that period, I’d just come back from a serious injury that had kept me out of the game for 18 months, so I genuinely thought my footballing career was done. So, for both clubs to give me another opportunity was unthinkable, and I can’t thank them enough. Particularly those first two years at Avenue, I think that’s the happiest I’ve been on a football pitch.”

Part two of the exclusive interview with Johnson will be online next week.