Brennan Johnson admits it was a ‘big decision’ to swap Nottingham Forest for Tottenham this summer, and got messages from David Beckham and Gareth Bale on the move
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At various stages of his young career, Brennan Johnson received text messages from David Beckham. He got one before the Championship play-off final for Nottingham Forest. He got another after they sealed promotion to the Premier League and another when he signed for Tottenham wishing him good luck.

It’s nice, he says. ‘I’m not claiming to be mates with him,’ insists the Spurs forward with a laugh. Johnson’s father, David, played with Beckham in the Manchester United academy and they remained close.

‘Of course, coming from a player like that it’s crazy,’ adds Johnson. ‘As anyone, it’s disbelief for me that he’d message me and wish me good luck. I don’t take it for granted. I appreciate him taking the time because I know he’s very busy.’

Seeing Beckham’s name flash up in his notifications raised a few eyebrows at Forest. Less so at Tottenham.

Gareth Bale got in touch, too, once Johnson had completed his £47.5million move in the summer to wish good luck to a fellow Welsh winger following in his footsteps.

Brennan Johnson admits it was a 'big decision' to leave Nottingham Forest for Tottenham

Brennan Johnson admits it was a ‘big decision’ to leave Nottingham Forest for Tottenham

He received messages from David Beckham after his father was a colleague at Man United

He received messages from David Beckham after his father was a colleague at Man United

Gareth Bale got in touch too to wish him well as he followed in his footsteps in North London

Gareth Bale got in touch too to wish him well as he followed in his footsteps in North London

‘Watching him and seeing how well he did here and how much he progressed as a player was definitely a factor to me wanting to come to this club,’ says Johnson. ‘Of course, it was a different time, different managers, but it’s just the club that they are, they’re really developing and they’re always forward-thinking.

‘Watching Bale growing up, he was one of my favourite players. Watching him play for this club did give me a drive to want to do it as well.’

For all the messages of goodwill from the star names and the famous faces, it’s the text he receives before every game from his mum Alison that means the most, the one that always contains a single emoji of a four-leaf clover.

He has one etched as a tattoo on his right arm – ‘that one’s for her’ – right next to one of the number 23, on which day in May he was born, and another of Bart Simpson’s head.

Johnson’s got a few, ones he shows off as he sits in a meeting room at Tottenham’s training ground, in his baggy jeans and t-shirt, for what is his first big newspaper interview since the summer move.

On his other arm, he draws his finger over bigger, more intricate designs. ‘This is the map of Jamaica and Wales, the two places I’m from’. Over the top of it, the Latin phrase ‘familia ante omnia’: family before everything.

The Johnson clan all have the same tattoo. His mum and dad, both his sisters. Underneath sit the Roman numerals of his grandparents’ birthdays.

That family bond was one of the reasons why the 22-year-old Johnson found it so hard to say goodbye to Forest.

‘It was a big decision to leave,’ admits Johnson. ‘Being at the club for that long and knowing so many people there and all my family was from there, it was a really hard decision to make but it was the right time and the right club. It was the right decision.’

He’s learned lots, too, from his father who played in the top flight with Ipswich in a career up and down the leagues with clubs including Bury and Forest.

His arm features a tattoo of two places he's from: Jamaica and Wales, who he represents

His arm features a tattoo of two places he’s from: Jamaica and Wales, who he represents

Johnson was part of the Forest side promoted in the 2022 Championship Play-Off final

Johnson was part of the Forest side promoted in the 2022 Championship Play-Off final

‘It’s the little things that he tells me,’ says Johnson. ‘It is never too much and never into too much detail or how I should play. He just keeps me grounded, working hard and that is the ultimate thing. For him, coming through and playing for lower-league teams and then playing for Forest as well, it is a similar journey.

‘I wasn’t born when he was playing in the lower leagues but was at Forest and he let me know how much it meant to play for a club like that. There are things I’ve taken with me and now at Spurs I know it is a big club and something that I shouldn’t take for granted. Coming from Nottingham and playing in that great team, taking the step here keeps me very grounded.’

Johnson completed his move on Deadline Day. Tottenham announced it at 11pm on the dot. Spurs fans worried it might not go through but Johnson admits it was less hectic than it might have seemed.

‘I got told that day it was it was going to happen. I got pulled in from training at Forest, saying that I had to be down here for a medical. I got my stuff and came down with my dad and did the medical. It took quite a while. I got signed up later in the evening, which wasn’t as stressful as it might seem. It seemed like it was last-minute but it wasn’t too bad.’

Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou had made Johnson one of his key summer targets alongside James Maddison, both players who had earned their colours in the lower leagues with Johnson enjoying a spell at Lincoln while he fought to break his way into the Forest first-team.

‘It teaches you a lot,’ says Johnson. ‘It opens your eyes playing in the lower leagues because when you’re growing up, you’re used to Academy football. As good as it is to develop you, technically and physically, I think mentally playing in lower leagues and dealing with strong tackles or bad dressing rooms or bad pitches, it helps you as an overall person as well as the player.’

He’s full of praise for both Postecoglou and Forest manager Steve Cooper. ‘They don’t think they’re anything they’re not,’ says Johnson. ‘They’re both really nice guys as well as really good managers.

‘Ange speaks really well. He didn’t want to overcomplicate it too much. He knew he’d watched me before and he just told me I’d fit well in his system. The team suits the way I play so it was the perfect match.’

Johnson suffered injury against Arsenal but returned with two substitute appearances against Fulham and Crystal Palace and is expected to start Tottenham’s huge Premier League clash against Chelsea.

Johnson is expected to start Tottenham’s huge Premier League clash against Chelsea

Johnson is expected to start Tottenham’s huge Premier League clash against Chelsea

Spurs teammate Heung-min Son has a trademark celebration, but Johnson may not follow

Spurs teammate Heung-min Son has a trademark celebration, but Johnson may not follow

‘It was extremely frustrating, especially after getting my teeth into things but it’s really nice to be back with the team and back playing. And the football we’ve been playing is really good as well – I’m loving it at the minute.’

The only question that remains is how he’ll celebrate if he bags his first Tottenham goal on Monday night. Whenever he scored for Forest, he’d fire an imaginary arrow out of his Robin Hood bow. Will he keep the tribute to his Nottingham roots or move to a more north-London based celebration?

‘I’m not too sure yet,’ says Johnson with a laugh. ‘The Forest one was one of my friends who told me to do it and it stuck. It meant a lot to the Forest fans and more to the city itself.

‘Madders and Sonny have trademark celebrations…I guess it’ll be whatever comes into my head.’



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