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History in the making

15 April 2013

Father and son go head to head

Lee Johnson is unfazed about trying to get the better of father Gary as the pair are involved in a managerial battle tomorrow when Latics play hosts to Yeovil Town.

It will be a fascinating duel involving the pair who are at opposite ends of the footballing spectrum.

Lee is only half a dozen games into his managerial career while Gary has already totalled over 1,000 matches.

"I am proud of him as a dad but, at the same time, there will be no love lost come 7.45pm tomorrow because it is such an important game for both clubs," he said.

Latics need three points in their continuing battle to hold on to their npower League One status while Yeovil, already guaranteed a play-off spot, still have a chance of automatic promotion.

Remarkably, it is only the second time such a managerial duel has taken place in English football as the Johnson’s follow on from Bill Dodgin and Bill Dodgin jnr.

That was way back in 1969/70 when Bill managed Bristol Rovers while his son Bill jnr was in charge of Fulham as they opposed each other five times.

And if there in rivalry on the touchline, just think of the emotions Lee's mother Karon, who is Gary's wife, will be experiencing as she is sat in the Main Stand at Boundary Park.

"I haven't a clue who she will be supporting. I thought it would be me, but I would say that, wouldn't I?," he joked.

It will be unusual to be opponents because previously Lee has played for teams managed by his father at Yeovil and Bristol City, the two clubs where he spent a large part of his career.

Lee explained: "There is no doubt it is tough playing for a team managed by your father.

"You have to have a strong personality to deal with it, both as the manager and the player. And I certainly wouldn't do it if I had a son.

"Together we were a good team and successful. It is only when it starts becoming unsuccessful or less successful does it become a problem.

"The records speak for themselves and maybe he helped me, but maybe I helped him. That is the million dollar question and history, but now we find ourselves competing against each other as managers."

And there is great admiration from Lee as to the way his father has transformed the fortunes of Yeovil in his second spell as manager.

Yeovil have gone from battling relegation to a team with eyes of promotion to the npower Championship for the first time in the club's history.

Lee said: "I know he is my dad, but he has done a fantastic job on one of the lowest budgets in the division and I wouldn't be surprised to see him nominated for one of the manager-of-the-year awards.

"It shows what you can achieve if you have energy and commitment and a team which is willing to run and work hard for each other.

"They have some really good players and he has them punching well above their weight and they are  a model to follow for certain clubs because they have done very well."

Lee’s first recollections are of his father being player-manager of non-league Newmarket Town at the end of his playing career.

He said: "My dad was not a bad player, but was lightweight for the English league as he only weighed nine-and-a-half stones.

"You could certainly tell he had a good football brain which he has continued into management."

Lee added that he has known from his teens that he has wanted to become a manager.

He said: "When my dad managed Cambridge United and I would be seven, eight, nine, ten years of age I would hide in the skip in the dressing room so I could listen to the team talks.

"Luckily they never caught me, but I was exposed to football management from a very young age. And even from that age, I always believed it was in my destiny to become a manager."

And he believes he could not have had a better person to learn from.

Lee continued: "I have been working towards it for a long time and been lucky to have a good mentor.

"Dad has been a manager for about 800 games in professional football and over 1,000 when you also take into account his time in non-league which for a manager is a very successful career. If I get half that number of games, I will have done well.

"The great thing about our family is that football is in the blood."

It is quite a footballing family as Lee’s cousin Jack is in the Academy at Reading, uncles Peter and Steve are the chief scouts at Yeovil and AFC Wimbledon respectively while John Griffin, his dad's uncle, is chief scout at Wycombe Wanderers.

This is an extra from an interview which will appear in full in the matchday programme for tomorrow's game.

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