We pay tribute to Ian Johnston
Friday 1 February 2013 12:01 PM
Ian Johnston, the Parramatta Eels’ first Australian Test player, has died at the age of 85 after a long battle with cancer.
Johnston, who gave over four decades service to the Eels as a player, coach and official, died at Wyong near his Central Coast home.
Inducted in the Parramatta Eels Hall of Fame in 2009, Johnston and fellow stalwart Ron Hilditch are the only men to have served the Eels in the positions of first grade player (both were internationals), first grade coach and director.
Johnston, a deceptive centre with a big side-step, was selected to tour New Zealand with the Australian side in 1949 – the club’s third season - and played his one Test against the Kiwis, kicking three goals in Australia’s 26-21 loss in Wellington.
He was originally a fullback and was picked in front of the great Clive Churchill in 1946 in a representative Newcastle team but had to pull out because of injury. He later switched to five-eighth or centre and, after catching a train to Sydney for a pre-season trial, joined the Eels in 1948.
Johnston played six seasons (90 first grade games) at Parramatta from 1948-54 (he played for Young in western NSW in 1953) before having another season in the bush then joining Western Suburbs in 1956 where he made the 1956-57 Kangaroos squad.
‘Johnno’, as he was affectionately known to all, returned to the Eels as a lower grade coach and regularly took the reserve grade team to the semi-finals from 1961-67 before taking on first grade role for the 1968-69 seasons.
He later served for many years on the club’s advisory committee and as reserve grade manager before, from 1986 to 1996, serving on the board of directors.
Fellow Eels Hall of Fame Peter Wynn, who wore the blue and gold from 1979 to 1990, remembers Johnston affectionately. “Johnno had a lot of respect among the players as the club’s first international and the way he conducted himself he never lost that respect,” said Wynn.
“He liked to remain low key but was always there for encouragement or advice and had a close interest and association with the junior rep teams too, and the lower grades. If you were an Eels player, he treated you all the same. He was Parramatta through and through, as is all his family.”
Denis Fitzgerald, who joined the club as a player in 1969 when Johnston was top grade coach before being CEO during much of Johnston’s era as an honorary official, paid tribute to a devoted club man.
“Johnno was a terrific player who has the special honour of paving the way for a host of legendary internationals to play for Australia from Parramatta,” said Fitzgerald.
“He was also a dedicated and devoted club man who gave a lot of time to the Eels in an honorary capacity and had his whole family involved too.”
Eels CEO Ken Edwards today paid tribute to Johnston and said the condolences of all those involved with the club to the Johnston family
“There can only be one first and Ian Johnston will always retain the honour of being the first player to be chosen to represent Australia from this club, creating the pathway for the many players who have followed in his footsteps in our 66-year history,” Edwards said.
“But far more than that he gave many, many years back to the club as a coach and official and rightly holds a place in our Hall of Fame. The Parramatta Eels will always be indebted to his contribution.”