Adam Johnson: How Sunderland reacted behind the scenes over last 12 months '“ and questions it will pose

Exactly a year ago to the day, Gus Poyet was ashen-faced as he faced the press for the first time since Adam Johnson's arrest.

Thursday, 3rd March 2016, 11:40 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd March 2016, 11:46 am
Gus Poyet is sent off against Hull, the day after Adam Johnson's arrest

It was 36 hours after Johnson had been taken into custody and his home searched amidst under-age sex offence allegations, and Poyet was clearly still stunned by the news as he took a seat in front of the cameras at the KC Stadium after Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Hull City.

Then Sunderland manager Poyet described the previous day – ironically exactly a year before Johnson was found guilty of sexual activity with a child at Bradford Crown Court – as the toughest of his career.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Inevitably, Poyet – who had showed the strain by being sent off during the Hull game – was restricted by what he could say at that stage of legal proceedings, but his body language indicated disgust and shock that a Sunderland player could be associated with such charges.

It was apparent that these were not flimsy allegations.

Neither was it a case of Johnson meeting a girl posing as an 18-year-old in a nightclub.

The jungle drums from friends and acquaintances of Johnson in the east Durham community where he grew up and moved back to after his £10million switch from Manchester City in the summer of 2012, spoke of a man who was in deep, deep trouble.

For starters, there were a catalogue of predatory text and social media messages from a player to a schoolgirl supporter infatuated with Sunderland AFC.

At that stage, the club acted quickly by suspending Johnson and banning him from the training ground.

There is a strong argument to suggest that he should never have appeared in a red and white shirt again.

Considering the nature of the offences, the glare of the international media is heading Sunderland’s way in the coming days about whether or not Johnson should have been allowed to return to the fold at the end of his suspension.

Sunderland’s necessarily swift post-verdict statement will do little to stem that flow.

But when Johnson was vehemently pleading not guilty to all charges at that stage – with the promise of a long-wait until a trial materialised – the club took the view that he was innocent until proven otherwise and he should be allowed to continue his day job.

“The club was not in a position to make any judgement on the outcome of the case nor on Mr Johnson’s decision to defend all the allegations,” was the pertinent line in Sunderland’s statement.

Nevertheless, the questions will go on after the allegations from Johnson’s defence team in court about Sunderland’s awareness of the evidence.

The banners floating around in the away end at West Ham last weekend showed that concerns on the terraces run deep.

However, club officials were genuinely taken aback when Johnson pleaded guilty on the opening day of his Bradford Crown Court hearing.

And it equally came as a shock in the dressing room.

Johnson’s team-mates had continued to treat him like normal during the wait for the trial. There was minimal discussion of the court case or legal process between the players.

But all that changed when Johnson pleaded guilty to one charge of grooming and another of sexual activity with a girl aged under 16.

As the harrowing details of the case emerged over the following days, a ‘benefit of the doubt’ feeling which had existed among the majority of supporters turned to utter disgust.

Johnson had disgraced the club.

He had disgraced the fans.

And he had ruined both his own career and life by his deplorable actions.

Even if Johnson is handed a relatively brief stint behind bars, he will surely not play on these shores again.

As fellow sex offender Ched Evans has discovered, what club is going to employ Johnson now?

If he is at liberty in a couple of years, then his ability will make him an attractive option for some.

While Johnson perhaps didn’t hit the heights at Sunderland that was initially hoped for when he arrived from Man City, he was one of the Black Cats’ best performers during that time.

His four goals in the six successive victories over Newcastle were high points for a player brought up in a Sunderland-daft household.

But no British club will risk the outcry from employing Johnson again.

This is the sordid, unpalatable end to a career which had promised so much.