I own up. I was NOT an innocent in it all

Gary Johnson, manager of Torquay United Pictture: Micah Crook/PPAUK

Gary Johnson, manager of Torquay United Pictture: Micah Crook/PPAUK - Credit: Micah Crook/PPAUK

In a managerial career of nearly 35 years, Torquay United's Gary Johnson has gained a wealth of experience, to say nothing of a record-equalling eight promotions. Johnson has now 'signed' for the new Torbay Weekly - 'My journey has been exciting, nearly always fun and I've been lucky to enjoy a fair bit of success,' he says. 'I've made lots of friends, not too many enemies and have plenty of great memories. I hope to share some of them with you in this regular fortnightly column. 'These are difficult and worrying times for everyone and I hope, above all, that you stay safe and come through this virus crisis in good health, so that we can get back to enjoying not just football, but all the sports we love as soon as possible.'

I am well aware that the name of John Beck will have plenty of Torquay United supporters grinding their teeth.

I understand that there's a 'bit of history' there? Something to do with games against Preston North End and Lincoln City? I'm sure you can fill in the gaps.

But the fact is that I took my first steps in Football League management as assistant to John during three amazing years at Cambridge United (1990-93).

The stories that surround John's managerial style, on the pitch and off it, have created some folklore of their own. And I must own up straight away and say that we were good mates and I was NOT an innocent in it all. I played my full part.

From the bottom half of the old Fourth Division when we took over, the U's won two successive promotions, were so close to reaching the newly-formed Premier League in the third season (Cambridge lost the play-off semi-final to Leicester City) and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup twice.

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We did it with relentless 'pressing' and a direct, one-touch style, which we knew a lot of people disliked. And we also got under the skins of opposing teams and managers with a few tricks off the pitch.

It was our first senior jobs, but John had done a lot of homework and he had a vision of how he wanted to play. It was based strongly on statistics and percentages of the best way to score goals and the best way not to concede them.

The funny thing was, John was a real skilful midfielder at QPR and Coventry City. But as a manager he was focused only on getting results.

He didn't mind what anybody thought about his methods. And if he did mind, he used to hide it very well.

We drilled the squad - every day and sometimes twice a day - so they all knew exactly when and where the ball was going and where they needed to be.

The team included Steve Claridge, Gareth Ainsworth and Liam Daish, who all went into management, Chris Leadbitter and Gary Clayton, who later played for Torquay, and, of course, Dion Dublin, to name just a few.

I can take a bit of credit for Dion. He was a young centre-half for Norwich when I first saw him, but I always thought he hadn't quite found his position there and we set about turning him into a centre-forward.

Considering that we sold him to Manchester United for £1million and he went on to play for Coventry, Aston Villa, Leicester and England, I reckon we got it about right.

The style of play was regimented, but it worked. We won football matches. Lots of them.

And then there was the 'other stuff'...

If John thought we could get under the opposition's skin or get any advantage going, he'd leave no stone unturned.

Our guy had won Groundsman Of The Year a couple of times, but we trained on the pitch nearly every day and then told him we didn't want him to touch it before a game. I'm afraid that was the end of his awards for a while.

People accused us of doing all sorts of things. Some weren't true, but quite a few were.

John reckoned that, if you put a load of sugar in tea, it gave you a quick energy boost and then a drop-off straight after, so in went the sugar to the opposition's tea.

The old Wimbledon team were heavily into loud, banging music, so we nipped into the away dressing-room at the Abbey Stadium to try and turn the electricity off.

Neither of us was electricians. John ended up being shot across the room after touching something he shouldn't have done - I think he blew a fuse!

We did gain a reputation and it often seemed to work.

Don Howe got himself wound up before a game against us, I think when he was at QPR.

We put a load of fruit, sweets and other food on their dressing-room table, really nice stuff, and then told an apprentice to look in and see the reaction.

Don walked in, took one look at this lovely spread and swept the whole lot into it into a bin! We knew we'd got to him.

When I'd played in Sweden, we often used to put our heads into buckets of cold water to liven ourselves up. Under John it was cold showers before games, and we'd even throw buckets of cold water over the lads.

Most of them could handle it, but not Steve Claridge. It was a right palaver to get him under - he was always convinced he was going to have a heart attack.

As for doing what you were told, John sent Steve on as a sub one day, and he told him he had to go down the outside of defenders - definitely not inside.

The opposition must have done their homework, because Steve's full-back was so tight to the touchline, the only place Steve could go was the running-track.

So he cut inside, had a run and hit the bar. But, knowing what John was likely to do, he carried on running off the pitch, behind the goal and back towards the dugout!

Of course, nothing lasts for ever. John left for Preston - where I think he had a few lively games against Torquay! - and I took over.

The club sold quite a few of the best players, which meant I had to push some of my old reserve and youth team players into the first team. We did OK for a while before I left (for Kettering).

Over the years you try and pick up the best bits and add them to your repertoire.

At Cheltenham years later, our pitch was a quagmire near the end of the season when we were trying to win the 'Conference', so I decided to change tactics. We 'went long' for the last few games and we got some results that we needed.

I haven't seen John for a while, which is a shame, but when I was at Yeovil and he was manager of Histon (2004), we played an FA Cup-tie there.

I saw him before the game and asked: 'Up to any of the old tricks today, John?'

'No,' he said, 'Not against you.' He knew I knew that game inside out. We won 3-1.

Take care everybody. Stay safe. And see you in two weeks' time.