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Mental Health Awareness Week: Ex-Sunderland manager Lee Johnson’s secrets on how he’s preparing for next role | Football News


For Mental Health Awareness Week Lee Johnson speaks to Sky Sports News about the challenges he’s faced since leaving Sunderland in January.

During his time at Sunderland, Johnson won the Papa John’s trophy and reached highs of third place in the Football League One.

He told Sky Sports News: “I think everybody goes through various stages of mental health. But I have such a desire and enjoyment in my coaching, such a love of the game, that it’s worse not being involved.

“I’m used to managing like legions of 50 to 60 people and now I can’t even manage the remote control in the household.

“I feel very privileged to have had the honour of coaching what I see as an iconic club in the country, a fantastic football club with great people and a fan base that is phenomenal. They’re churning out 30 – 40,000 in League One on a regular basis.”

Johnson celebrates with the Papa John's Trophy after the 2021 final
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Sunderland manager Lee Johnson celebrates with the Papa John’s Trophy after the 2021 final at Wembley Stadium, London.

As a player, Johnson featured for several clubs in the Football League. Since retiring in 2013, the former midfielder has followed in the footsteps of his father and has chosen management.

In nine years Johnson has managed Oldham, Barnsley, Bristol City and Sunderland. For the first time in 24 years, the former player turned manager, has had time to take a break away from the game.

“I think the key trait for managers – which is the hardest thing in the world to do, is find that space to grow, to reflect, to look from 10,000 feet on what you’ve been doing well, but also have that life balance.

“You don’t actually realise the pace you’re moving at until you step back and step away from it,” he told Sky Sports News.

Although officially involved in the game for 24 years, some would say it’s been longer, as professional football runs in the Johnson family. His father Gary Johnson also played and managed within the Football League.

The pair share similar career paths. Both are retired midfielders turned managers who both played and coached multiple teams in the Football League.

Johnson on the touchline with his dad, Gary Johnson, manager of Yeovil Town (right)
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Oldham Athletics manager Lee Johnson on the touchline with his Dad Gary Johnson manager of Yeovil Town (right) during the npower Football League One match at Boundary Park, Oldham.

Lee Johnson played for his father during spells of his career at Yeovil Town and Bristol City – teams he eventually went on to become manager of.

He reflected on the toll it took on his family growing up with a father as the head coach. The wavering job security is not a feature he forgets. Instead, he uses it to gain experience.

He said: “Early on in our lives and certainly in my younger years, sometimes it was like, if Dad [Gary] gets the sack today, are we going to eat?

“During his days at Cambridge United, before that, even at Newmarket Town. I think you learn to build out that resilience almost second hand. Now you’re at the coalface effectively as a manager myself.”

Johnson shakes hands with his dad, Gary Johnson, manager of Yeovil Town (left)
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Oldham Athletic manager Lee Johnson shakes hands with his Dad Gary Johnson manager of Yeovil Town before the npower Football League One match at Boundary Park, Oldham.

Family is always on the former Sunderland manager’s mind. Constantly reflecting on his personal experiences growing up in a football home, Lee Johnson emphasises to Sky Sports News the importance his work-life balance plays on his mental health.

As a manager in between jobs, Johnson understands the value of this time away from the game. He is using it to strengthen relationships with close family and not miss out on important landmarks in their lives.

“I think the first thing is actually investing a little bit of emotional capital back in the family. You know, it’s so consuming the manager’s job. My daughter is approaching 14-years-old.

“Effectively for 15 months, you know, 7:00 to 11:00 at night and pushing it hard. So the first thing is getting that balance to make sure that the family has adequate time.”

What does the future hold? It’s clear Johnson wants to return to management. But that will come following a period of adjustment and a better work-life balance.

The official theme for Mental Health Awareness week is loneliness and runs from May 9-15. You can get more information and the help available on the website.

If you are affected by issues related to mental wellbeing or want to talk, please contact the Samaritans on the free helpline 116 123, or visit the website.