Tyne & Wear

Adam Johnson: Sunderland footballer's fall from grace

Adam Johnson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Adam Johnson celebrates scoring the third goal of the game during the Euro 2012 qualifying match between England and Bulgaria in 2010

Footballer Adam Johnson won the Premier League and FA Cup with Manchester City, as well as 12 caps for England. But now his career lies in ruins after he was convicted of one count of sexual activity with a child and admitted another.

A year ago, Johnson, who was cleared of a further count of sexual activity with a child, appeared to have it all. He was playing for Sunderland - the club he had supported as a boy - and his partner, Stacey Flounders, had given birth to their first child in January.

That same month though, he met up with an adoring schoolgirl fan and embarked on a path of behaviour which led to his arrest in March 2015.

"He had the world at his feet only to contemptuously spurn the gifts afforded him in such a cavalier and luridly sordid manner," Nick Barnes, BBC Newcastle's Sunderland commentator, said.

Despite initially being suspended by Sunderland, he was soon reinstated and his performances helped the Black Cats avoid relegation to the Championship.

His partner also pledged to stand by him. She posted loving pictures of Johnson and their daughter on social media and was pictured holding his hand when he arrived for his magistrates' court appearances.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Duchess of Cambridge speaks to Adam Johnson and Frank Lampard during the official launch of the National Football Centre at St George's Park in Burton-upon-Trent

But a year later, his world came crashing down. As his trial at Bradford Crown Court was due to start, he admitted one count of grooming and one of sexual activity with a child, but denied two further charges.

Almost immediately he was sacked by Sunderland, and his contract with sportswear firm Adidas was cancelled.

His relationship with Ms Flounders also broke down. Johnson's "arrogance and stupidity" was laid bare before a jury and he admitted he had been unfaithful to her.

Following his arrest, Johnson said in court he told Sunderland bosses he had messaged the girl and kissed her, but he continued to earn £60,000 a week playing for the club until his last-minute guilty plea - an admission which saw him accused of waiting until the court case began so he could maximise his career and earnings.


Analysis

Phil McNulty, BBC Sport's chief football writer

Adam Johnson was a highly gifted but inconsistent player who failed to fulfil the potential that saw him win a Premier League title medal with Manchester City in 2011-12 and persuaded Sunderland to pay £10m to sign him later that year.

Blessed with pace and unpredictability, as well as the knack for a spectacular goal, he also should have done more on the international stage with England, for whom he won 12 caps but - as with his clubs - Johnson could never produce his natural gifts on a regular basis.

It would seem he is now lost to the game at the highest level forever without ever becoming the high-quality player many thought he had the capability to become.


However, if Johnson was open with his club as he claimed to be in court, it raises the question of whether someone who had admitted such an offence should have been allowed on the pitch, or if Sunderland had taken the decision not to drop one of its star players for commercial reasons.

Adam Johnson's career timeline

  • 1995 Begins youth career with Newcastle United

  • 2004 Part of the Middlesbrough FA Youth Cup-winning side

  • 2005 Makes his senior debut, aged 17, in a UEFA Cup match

  • 2010 Joins Manchester City in a £7m deal; First England appearance

  • 2011 Part of Manchester City's FA Cup-winning side

  • 2012 Manchester City win the Premier League; Adam Johnson joins Sunderland for a £10m transfer fee

Getty Images

Nick Barnes said Johnson was "too valuable a playing asset" and could have played a "significant role in helping the club steer themselves away from relegation" this season.

"My personal view is that he should have been suspended on full pay, as I believe the club owed Johnson and the rest of the playing and backroom staff a duty of care; firstly in not exposing Johnson to taunts and chants from opposing fans labelling him a paedophile, and secondly in not placing his colleagues and staff in a position of having to be embarrassed by his situation, which in retrospect they could argue was unacceptable bearing in mind his guilty plea.

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Media captionAdam Johnson played at the top level of football

"The club also left itself open to accusations of being blind to the seriousness of the charges brought against him.

"I don't accept the argument that suspending him is an indication of guilt. By definition electing to go to trial means there is a doubt over the outcome so therefore the club should have taken the stance 'if in doubt leave him out'."

Sunderland AFC said it had been informed Johnson was intending to deny all charges and was not informed at any point that he was going to change his plea.

It said in a statement: "Had the club known that Mr. Johnson intended to plead guilty to any of these charges, then his employment would have been terminated immediately.

"Indeed, upon learning of the guilty plea on 11 February 2016, the club acted quickly and decisively in terminating Adam Johnson's contract without notice."

Adam Johnson's football career

£10m

Sunderland AFC transfer fee

£60,000

His weekly wages

  • 375 career appearances

  • 58 goals scored

  • 12 England caps

  • 5 clubs played for, 2 on loan

Getty Images

Like many professional footballers, Johnson was born into a working class background. But did his rise to prominence, being cheered on by thousands of fans week in, week out, go to his head?

Sports psychologist Carole Seheult said that it was not uncommon for this to happen.

"Just because they are talented footballers doesn't mean they are any more mature in terms of life or social skills," she said.

"They are not necessarily able to make good decisions about who they should befriend or conduct their lives and relationships.

"I don't think the rarefied atmosphere of the changing rooms, with a lot of young men indulging in daring talk and bigging things up, is good for them either.

"They have got money and want to have fun and live life in the fast lane, but don't necessarily see the dangers of it."


In court: Peter Harris, BBC Look North

Is Adam Johnson arrogant, stupid or immature? All three were suggested in court and when he took to the witness box he owned up to each one.

Yet Johnson's demeanour was not of the swaggering, millionaire footballer.

His voice was soft and low and at one point he appeared close to tears as he spoke of letting down his partner, Stacey Flounders.

He said he was "embarrassed", and he had not been a good partner to her and their newborn baby.

When it was her turn to give evidence and she was asked if she saw any future for their relationship, he sat head bowed as she replied: "Not at the minute, no."


In court it emerged Johnson sent texts to his partner while he was with the victim, and on another occasion responded to Ms Flounders' messages about their baby, while sending lewd texts to the girl, detailing their last encounter as "class".

Mr Barnes added: "Johnson's actions were at the extreme end and one should in no way judge footballers by his standards, but the lifestyle he led and the rarefied company he kept undoubtedly shaped the man he became.

"A man who scored a desperately tragic own goal."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption During many of his court appearances, Adam Johnson was accompanied by Stacey Flounders

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