STEVE Johnson, or as he is more commonly known Stevie J, was one of the AFL’s most electric players. Every time he stepped foot on the field, the livewire forward constantly left fans speechless.
Enjoying a career that spanned 15 seasons, 293 games and 516 goals and two clubs, there wasn’t much that Johnson didn’t achieve on the pitch.
While registering 253 games with the Geelong Cats and 40 with the GWS Giants, Johnson leaves behind a lasting legacy on the game.
His achievements list three premierships (2007, 2009, 2011), a Norm Smith medal (2011), three All Australian selections (2007, 2008, 2010) and a total of 111 Brownlow Medal votes.
It is the type of career every young kid dreams of when they’re kicking the footy around the backyard, but it almost never came to be.
In his new book Stevie J The Cat with the Giant Story, Johnson discusses all of the highs and incredible lows he endured during his time.
DRINKING ALMOST RUINED IT ALL
Most AFL players enjoy a drink during the off-season, when they can unwind from the rigours of the season and not worry about a gruelling training session the next day.
Some however enjoy the feel of an ice cold beer more than others.
Stevie J comfortably fit into the latter category during the early stages of his career and on a couple of occasions, it almost cost him everything.
It was at a Cats Christmas party in 2003, after Johnson’s second season, he made a drunken decision that ended up leaving him facing multiple surgeries.
Sick of waiting for a taxi and with the lockout laws in full effect, Johnson led two of his mates on a painful journey.
“We walked around the back of the pub and climbed onto the bins and then onto the roof of the toilet block.
“It didn’t look too far from the roof to the ground.
“I somehow landed on my feet without falling over but as I hit the ground I felt an extraordinary amount of force go through my legs and feet.
“My ankles resembled a pair of beach balls, the pain was so great, I knew I’d broken both of my ankles.”
Johnson would endure countless surgeries to try and have his ankles repaired along with having scar tissue removed. Luckily, he recovered and went on to have a storeyed career.
A TWIST OF FATE SAVED HIS LIFE
Having made his debut in 2002 behind a total of 12 games, Johnson set off to enjoy his first AFL footy trip.
Along with a large group of Cats teammates, the destination was Bali and the famous party district of Kuta.
The group began drinking heavily and the men found themselves in the two hot spots in Kuta, Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club, at the end of each day. On the last night however, things didn’t go to plan.
“It was just before 11pm when I grabbed my wallet from a table besides the pool,” he wrote.
“As the last few members of our group climbed out of the pool, I decided to quickly run to my room and grab a fresh shirt.
“I reached for the light switch and the light flickered on.
“Suddenly, I was blasted from my state of semi-drunkennes by a deafening noise. All the lights went out.”
The date was October 12, 2002 and the noise was the sound of two bombs. One detonated inside Paddy’s Bar with the other on the street in between both Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club.
“We were so lucky, every other night we were in the Sari Club or Paddy’s Bar at the time the bomb went off.
“It was a twist of fate that saved us.”
NO PLACE LEFT AT THE CATTERY
Entering into the 2015 season and with no contract on the table for the next year, Johnson was keen to show that despite being 31, he still had plenty of life left in him.
After two successful seasons in which he polled an impressive 44 Brownlow votes, his best finish came in 2013 when he finished fifth on 25.
Johnson spent the majority of the 2015 season playing in his usual half forward role and ended up kicking the most goals (30) he had since the 2011 season (37).
Unfortunately the Cats finished tenth on the ladder and missed out on a place in the finals, the first time they’d not played in September since 2006.
With that, Johnson saw the writing on the wall and knew the club would move towards a younger team.
“I told Scotty and Hock that I’d be a good clubman and work with the young blokes as part of heading towards my goal of coaching.
“I walked out thinking I had a chance to survive.
Then the moment came and hit Johnson when he knew his time at the cattery was all but over.
“I looked towards Scotty but he turned away, my stomach turned.
“I reckon I've just been given the a***.”
The 2015 season would ultimately end up being the last time Johnson would don the blue and white hoops of the Cats but wasn’t the end of his AFL career.
INJURIES WEREN’T STOPPING HIM
Grand Finals are what every single player in the AFL strives to take part in. Getting there is one story, but being healthy is another.
Injuries plagued Johnson throughout his career and none hit harder than the one prior to the 2011 Grand Final when the Cats were set to face off against the Collingwood Magpies.
It was during the preliminary final that a seemingly innocuous tackle from West Coast Eagles midfielder Andrew Embley almost derailed the chance for a third premiership medal.
“I could see that my kneecap was off to the side of my leg, the pain was excruciating. I had never felt anything like it.”
As any player will tell you though, you’ll do anything in your powers to prove that you’re right to go for a big game, even if that means lying to the coach.
“The final decision on whether I played would be made the day of the game, Scotty looked me in the eye and said ‘you’ve got to be 100 per cent honest with me’.
“Scotty knocked on my door, I quickly ripped off the big icepack and hit it under the bed before letting him in.
“I’m right to go.”
Of course the decision to ultimately play, after a few injections, paid dividends as Johnson ended the game with 14 disposals and slotted a casual four goals to help the Cats claim their third premiership cup.