On this day 14th December 1973, Allan Johnston was born in Glasgow.
The flying winger was a significant member of a team who played some of the best attacking football a generation and more of Sunderland fans had seen in seasons as we took our seats in the newly built Stadium of Light.
Johnston spent time at Glasgow Rangers Juniors and Tynecastle Boys Club before signing apprenticeship forms at Hearts. He scored on his full debut in 1993. The following season he went on to make five full starts and twenty-three substitute appearances.
I was lucky enough to see him play a number of times for Hearts during this period and he looked like he had the goods to go right to the top of his trade.
Known as “Sticky” to his teammates, because of his stick-like physical appearance and the tendency for the ball to stick to his foot, the Gorgie faithful soon christened him “Magic”, a nick-name that stuck when he came to Roker.
With Scotland Under 21 honours coming his way, as well as the attention of the big two in Scotland, he enhanced his reputation with eighty-four appearances and twelve goals between 1993 and 1996 for the Maroons.
Much to the dismay of the Hearts fans, the board decided to cash in on their young asset and sold him at the start of 1996/97 season to French side Rennes.
“Magic” only stayed under a season with Rennes, but certainly developed his game. No longer the traditional right winger, he looked more than capable of coming down his opposite wing and cutting in, as well as playing a central role behind a striker.
Peter Reid had been tracking the flyer and bought him to Sunderland for £550,000 (much to my delight, as I bigged him up to anybody that would listen). His arrival coming to the end of season 1996/97 was just too late to prevent our slide out of the Premiership on the last day of the season, but he did claim the very last league goal scored at Roker Park before our move to the Stadium of Light for season 1997/98.
Season 97/98 culminated in defeat at Wembley in a playoff game many still say is the best seen at the national stadium. Despite this setback, few Sunderland fans would argue that we saw some great attacking football that season.
With Mickey Gray taking on the left back role from Martin Scott having previously been employed as the left wing, Reid decided he would employ Magic on the left in front of Gray, and a partnership was born. Attack down our left-hand side was guaranteed, defence appeared something of an inconvenience to these two as they looked to service our front two of Quinn and Phillips.
Johnston made 45 appearances in all that season, scoring 11 goals.
Rather than feel sorry for the Playoff defeat, Reid quickly got to work for season 98/99, adding Lee Clark and Paul Butler, to augment a squad that included Rae, Bridges, Melville, Williams and Craddock as well as Kevin Ball. Reid also bought Chris Makin and Nicky Summerbee to form a partnership down the right-hand side of our team, which was not as flashy as the left-hand side but just as effective in end product.
Johnston played a massive part in this season which saw us go up as champions, 18 points ahead of our nearest rivals Bradford City.
Our football that season was something to behold, and Magic was right at the heart of it.
His two full seasons with us had also seen him break into the Scotland team, becoming a favourite of manager Craig Brown and the Scotland crowd.
With the Premiership beckoning and a squad who looked like they would more than handle the step up, I was really looking forward to seeing Johnston perform at this level and was sure we had a player who would terrorise the best the premiership had to offer.
Fate leant its fickle hand though, and with Johnston stalling on a contract extension (possibly influenced by word of Rangers interest), he was banished to the reserves and never played another game for Sunderland.
Whilst his teammates proceeded to enthral and delight the Premiership, Johnston found himself out on loan, first to Birmingham and then to Bolton - not the first time a player would feel the full force of Reid’s ire.
Magic’s final game for us was the last game of our 98/99 campaign, a 2-1 victory against Birmingham City at a packed Stadium of Light.
After spending a season in the proverbial wilderness, Johnston left on a free transfer to his first love Rangers.
After getting off to a goalscoring start, things did not go so well and he was transferred to Middlesborough for £600,000 for the start of season 2001/02. His time at Boro was blighted with injury, and after a period out on loan at Sheffield Wednesday he transferred to Kilmarnock.
Kilmarnock were managed by his former Hearts coaching team Jim Jeffries and Billy Brown, and he stayed there for four seasons making 115 appearances and scoring 5 goals. He finished off his playing days with spells at St Mirren and Queen of the South where he became player/manager, and then manager. He also had spells as Kilmarnock and Dunfermline manager with some success, before his most recent appointment back at Queen of the South from 2019 to 2022.
For the recording Magic made a total of 101 appearances. He scored 20 goals and provided a multitude of assists in his time with us. The greatest regret for many fans will be we did not get to see him add to the four games (and one goal) he played in the Premiership for Sunderland.
Happy Birthday Magic, and thanks for the memories.