A profile of the trailblazing Leeds United player of the 1960s
Albert Louis Johanneson was born in March 1940 in Johannesburg, South Africa and was one of the first high-profile black players, of any nationality, to play top-flight football in England.
A teacher recommended Johanneson to Leeds United after seeing him play for Germiston Coloured School and Germiston Colliers in his native South Africa. Signed on a three-month trial during 1961, Johanneson soon made his debut in the Leeds first team. He played one game with fellow South African, winger Gerry Francis, for the Elland Road side - Francis was the first black player to turn out for Leeds United.
Johanneson, a skilful and swift left winger, stayed with the Super Whites for nine years. He was in the side which won promotion from the Second Division in 1964 and, a year later, became the first black player to feature in an FA Cup final, although he ended up on the losing side, as Liverpool triumphed 2-1 and Albert played disappointingly below his best.
This was a trait of his game which was all too common; as with many players reliant on flair, he had a tendency to vanish from matches for long periods - this was especially true of football in those times, when very little protection from referees was forthcoming in the face of 'robust' play from the era's hard-tackling defenders.
He was an obvious target for racist abuse from opposition fans and players - but his lack of confidence was usually down to these over-robust challenges from the opposition rather than comments from the terraces.
A spate of injuries and the emergence of Eddie Gray over the following seasons left Johanneson on the sidelines, and he made only ten further starts for Leeds until 1970, when manager Don Revie released him. He made 197 appearances for United, scoring 67 goals, including two hat-tricks in European games.
Johanneson joined York City in 1970 and played there for two years before retiring. In those two seasons, Albert played 26 games - scoring three goals. Life after football did not treat him well, although Leeds United and his old team-mates stayed in touch and tried to help him as he sunk into alcoholism, which took his finances and ended his marriage.
Johanneson received treatment and assistance several times for his illness, but it eventually overpowered him and he died in 1995, a recluse in the flat in which he lived alone. Most of his team-mates attended his funeral.
There have been calls for some kind of commemoration of Albert in Leeds, be it a plaque or a statue. What do you think? Should the city of Leeds celebrate its first black footballing hero?...
I left Leeds in 1962, but it seems I watched Albert Johanneson many more times than could be accomplished in one year. In those days of 5-3-2 formation Albert was always flash on the wing. Because of the firsts he was involved with at Elland Rd, it seems only fitting that some recognition of his contribution to United be established.
As a white Leeds supporter I don't believe he should have a memorial for being a black player. Colour is irrelevant, he was a superb player, a legend and the start of a great run of black players at Leeds. In my opinion he is rated as one of the best alongside Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Alan Clarke, Gordon Strachan, Vinnie Jones, Gary MacAllister, Lucas Radebe and Jonathan Woodgate.....He may be gone, but will never be forgotten.
I think it would be brilliant to commemorate Albert Johnanneson. On his day he was one of the greatest left wingers to pull on the all-white strip. Life after football was not kind to Albert but those who saw him in his pomp will never forget him. Lets do it!
I for one still hold very vivid boyhood memories of being mesmerised by the outstanding flair and charisma that Albert brought to the game. He was a true inspiration and, surrounded by all the Leeds greats of the era, he still stood out as an exceptional talent. One fond recollection is of him effortlessly cutting through the defence whilst running down the left flank juggling the ball from head to knee to foot and back again. Breathtaking.
last updated: 18/06/2008 at 11:40
Local history for Leeds