Ben Johnson interview: I was gutted not to play in West Ham’s Conference League Final win

Ben Johnson interview: I was gutted not to play in West Ham’s Conference League Final win

As he held aloft the Europa Conference League trophy in Prague, Ben Johnson danced and cheered and revelled in the glory with his West Ham teammates — but the taste was somewhat bittersweet.

The 23-year-old right-back was seven when he joined West Ham. The club’s first silverware since 1980 and first European title for 58 years was as much a victory for him as for anyone associated with the club.

Yet Johnson’s 17 Premier League appearances this season were three fewer than last term and he lost his place in the Conference League team despite playing a key role during the group stage and early knockout rounds. His minutes were reduced this season in every competition except the FA Cup.

“I was gutted not to play in the semi-finals or final,” Johnson tells Standard Sport. “But I contributed in the early stages in some crucial games which got us there. I really did feel part of the team.

Prize: Ben Johnson and the Europa Conference League trophy (Getty Images)
Prize: Ben Johnson and the Europa Conference League trophy (Getty Images)

“I still can’t believe the parade. The support from the fans was unbelievable and just didn’t seem real. To be a part of that history, all my hard work since the age of seven has paid off.

“We had a private party with our families. The beers are always flowing, you can’t blame anyone. I don’t drink — I’m a Christian, it’s in my DNA not to — but I got a properly bad headache from constant partying.

“A trophy is only a dream for our fans, the odds are so stacked against us. To be in the same breath as legends that have gone before is a feeling that will last forever.”

West Ham manager David Moyes can now stake his claim to be another of those club “legends”, and Johnson is thrilled the Scot is staying put for, at least, another season - though hopes for more minutes.

He added: “He will go down as one of West Ham’s best managers. I would have loved him to play me more, if I’m being honest. I feel I’ve impressed him enough to warrant more opportunities, but that’s football, and we’ll see what the plan is for me. When another final comes, hopefully I’ll be playing in it.”

Johnson is currently in Georgia with the England Under-21s, whose Euros opener is against the Czech Republic on Thursday. Another chance of silverware.

“The aim is hopefully to go on and win the tournament”, he says. “It’s great to experience a major tournament for your country, albeit not the seniors, but only being one team away from that is great.

“Seeing the seniors in the same corridors [at St George’s Park], it’s something you want to emulate. Gareth Southgate said congratulations on winning the Conference League. Hopefully one day I can integrate myself into the seniors.” It certainly bodes well that ex-England defenders Ledley King and Paul Parker are his second cousins.

“No, I wouldn’t”, he says when asked if he feels a West Ham regular. “I’m always disappointed when I don’t play and feel I should. I wouldn’t say I’m entitled. I know what I can deliver, and if I wasn’t at the level, I wouldn’t expect to play.

“This season my application has been second to none and I’ve not got to show fans what I can do, so it’s been disappointing. I’ve not had many starts. You have doubts and lose confidence, but I will be able to achieve my dreams if I get the opportunity to find a rhythm.”