Hibs new boy Darnell Johnson reveals his link to Emile Heskey

Hibernian new boy Darnell Johnson has not had to look too far for inspiration.
Hibernian's Darnell Johnson. Picture: SNSHibernian's Darnell Johnson. Picture: SNS
Hibernian's Darnell Johnson. Picture: SNS

On loan from Leicester City, a club which breathed life into the idea of a footballing fairytale when the 5,000-1 shots stunned the world by winning the English Premier League in 2016, the 20-year-old centre back, who can also play right-back, says that feat reminded everyone at the Foxes and beyond that anything is achievable.

“The atmosphere among the players, the staff and town was truly incredible. Everyone was working hard every day and, even at training, it still didn’t seem possible but we just kept looking to the next game and before you know it, we had a title chance.

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“It makes you believe anything is possible if you work hard and put the time in. If all the players rally around and are dedicated then you will achieve something. That is inspiring.”

It was Thomas Edison who claimed that inspiration accounted for only one per cent of genius, the rest, he insisted, was down to perspiration and Johnson agrees 
that both play a vital role in any success.

But while the January arrival can attribute much of his fledgling success to hard graft and a conscientious drive, he is honest enough to admit that there have also been 
several light bulb moments along the way.

Growing up with a football-daft dad was enough to power his aspirations and watching his godfather, Emile Heskey, play in packed stadia really shone a light on his dreams.

Aged ten, Johnson, followed in the pair’s footsteps, joining the Leicester youth ranks, where the striking duo had formed a bond that remained strong despite one failing to reach the top of the sport and the other going on to win trophies at domestic and Uefa level and play in European Championships and World Cups.

And while his dad is his No 1
role model, Johnson admits that Heskey has always been a hugely supportive and stimulating figure in his life.

“Seeing my dad and his friend, that inspires me. My dad is my hero, and me and my dad always work towards improving my game and trying to achieve things and that’s my inspiration to be honest.

“But I did go to a few of Emile’s games when I was younger. I was very young so can’t really remember details of which ones. He was a goalscorer and I remember his hold-up play and the way he brought other players into the game. So it is stuff like that I remember.

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“When you go to watch football first hand, that is when you start to get that belief and the feeling that you want to be a footballer. That was one of the main things, just watching and thinking ‘one day I want to do that’. I would think ‘I can’t wait until it’s my day and I get the chance to do that’.”

Having played for England at every age group, from Under-16 to Under-20, Johnson was a member of the Under-19 European Championship winning team in 2017 but now 
he wants to follow in his 
godfather’s footsteps and break into the full England side, which is why he jumped at a move to Hibs and the chance of regular Premiership action, joining fellow new signings Marc McNulty and Gael Bigirimana and trying to bolster a squad desperate to pick up league points, starting with today’s match against Aberdeen.

“Emile is very inspiring, to be able to call on someone who has played for Liverpool, Birmingham, Leicester, Aston Villa and England. He’s always just a phone call away. He told me this would be a good move and told me to go out there and show what I’m made of.

“I see the things he did and say ‘why can’t I do that?’ He has played in the Premier League, at a World Cup and faced big stars – that’s my goal, to get first-team football then play at a World Cup.”

In his mind, that will happen sooner rather than later. “Certainly. We are talking a couple of years. I see myself playing for the England first team and running out to represent our country. It is just step by step,but I’m getting there.I just have to work hard and be patient and things will come to you.

“The next few months are very important. I just want to settle in and get to know the lads and get to know how we play and the team’s philosophy. I will try to build on that with every game.”