• Quote: ‘It was very difficult. I struggled with loneliness. I tried to learn the language but could only speak basic Spanish. After training I’d go to my flat and be there until we trained again at night’

Former Real Murcia striker Danny Johnson bagged a hat-trick in Walsall’s 4-0 win against Hartlepool in the opening game of the Division 2 2022-23 season.

Johnson was at Real Murcia Club de Fútbol “B”, also known as Real Murcia Imperial, during 2011-12.

Johnson, 29, said of his time at Real Murcia: “I literally to this day still can’t believe that happened to be honest.

“My agent at the time had a company that was partnered with a European company. I got a call saying we’ve got you a club in Spain if you want to go on trial for a week.

“I was at 18 at the time and thought I’ll go and have a free holiday. I went out there and scored five in two games and got offered a contract.

“I couldn’t say no at the time, at 18 how many times do you get the opportunity to experience that? But it was very difficult for me and I struggled to be honest.

“It was the loneliness. I was there by myself, I tried to learn the language but could only speak basic Spanish. We’d train from 8am until 10am, then I’d go back to my flat and be there for the rest of the day until we trained again on a night.”

Johnson scored on his debut for the youth team, and on his debut for the B team and also in a behind closed doors friendly when he partnered Kike.

Kike, 32, who joined CA Osasuna in 2021 on a three-year contract with a €15m buyout clause, also began his career at Real Murcia, competing in five Segunda División seasons.

Kike joined Middlesbrough in 2014 for €3.5m,  returning to Spain with Eibar in 2016.

“I stuck it out for a while, but finances at the club and homesickness forced me back home.

“I came back and got a few trials, Rochdale and York. They were in League Two and nothing really materialised,” said Johnson.

Solskjaer influence

Working in a flooring factory at the time, Johnson said: “Cardiff watched me. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the manager at the time and I thought my luck is in here.

“He was one of the main reasons why I chose Cardiff. My first memory of watching a football game is the ’99 Champions League final when he scored. And here I was sitting in an office with him and he was saying he wanted me to be his project. It was music to my ears.

“I learned a lot at Cardiff. I remember I was working at a factory on the Tuesday and on the Wednesday I was training with Wilfried Zaha, who was there on loan at the time. I was stood there pinching myself.”

Former Manchester United player and later manager Solskjaer’s stint at Cardiff didn’t last and after Russell Slade was appointed and Johnson went out on loan to Tranmere and Stevenage.

Journeyman Johnson is at his 13th club at Walsall, having departed Real Murcia B in a move to Harrogate Town a decade ago.

Since he has had spells at Billingham Synthonia, Guisborough Town, where he netted 51 goals in 48 appearances, moving to Cardiff City in 2014.

Tranmere, Stevenage, Gateshead (44 goals in 110 games), moving to Scotland where he played for Motherwell (2018-19) and Dundee (2019-20).

Johnson moved to Leyton Orient in the 2020-21 season netting 19 goals in 48 games.

Having joined Mansfield in 2021, Johnson was loaned to Walsall.

In 2015, Johnson was called up to an England C training camp at Warwick University but was forced to withdraw, due to injury.

In March 2016, Johnson was placed on the standby list for England C’s International Challenge Trophy match against Ukraine.

In July, Johnson signed for Walsall on a six-month loan, scoring a hat trick on his debut in Walsall’s 4-0 win against Hartlepool on the first day of the 2022-23 season on July 30.

At Real Murcia, Johnson was a teenager who got on a flight only able to speak three words in Spanish – ola, adios and gracias.

The Spanish players at the club – Kike was one of them at the time – called him Rooney because he was a small white English bloke.

Kike joined CA Osasuna with €15m buyout clause.

Not working out for Johnson in Spain, he played in the Northern League and worked in a factory: “I just knew if I kept doing well someone would take a chance on me.

“In the Northern League I played against kick-boxers threatening me. You’ve got to learn how to deal with that. You’ve got to learn very quickly when you can do stuff on the ball and when you can’t. It helps when you’re a young lad trying to get a break.”

Johnson, released by Hartlepool United, said: “I was at Middlesbrough Under-12s and got released after a year.

“I went to Hartlepool Centre of Excellence and got my 16-18 scholarship. I was one of the top scorers in the country at youth team level but didn’t get a pro deal. I was devastated, that hit me hard.

“I believe if I was given a contract I’d have done very well for myself, but it turns out maybe it was for the best.”

Caption: Danny Johnson: Homesick while in Spain.

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