Finland, Sweden, Scotland, Portchester … and now Baffins Milton Rovers: Oscar Johnston’s footballing travels since being released by Pompey as a teenager

Oscar Johnston has travelled far and wide in pursuit of his big footballing break since being released by Pompey in the summer of 2019.

Monday, 28th June 2021, 11:34 am
Oscar Johnston in action for Portchester against Hamworthy United last December. Picture: Keith Woodland

But now it's a move a lot closer to home he hopes can provide him with a platform to push through the leagues.

Johnston was let go by Pompey - the club he joined aged eight - when his two-year scholarship deal ended.

The 20-year-old, who has signed for Wessex League Premier Division side Baffins Milton Rovers, was left devastated by the decision but has not let it dampen his motivation for the game.

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Oscar Johnston in action for Pompey in their FA Youth Cup tie against Liverpool in December 18, 2018. Picture: Colin Farmery

Johnston was handed a quick route back into professional football, linking up with his former Pompey academy coach Scott Green, who was in charge of Finnish second tier side Pallo-lirot, just weeks after departing PO4.

Admittedly, the Southsea lad took some time to get into his stride and was frustrated by a lack of game time during his near six-month stay in Scandinavia, but remains thankful for the experience.

However, keen to give things another crack in England, Johnston had a brief spell training with Gosport Borough before the pandemic ground football in the country to a halt.

Since then, the former Oaklands School pupil spent the curtailed 2020/21 campaign with AFC Portchester - making six appearances - while also trialling in Sweden with IFK Lulea and Scottish sides East Kilbride and lower league outfit Benburb last summer.

Unfortunately for him, nothing came about from those brief stints in the shop window, but Johnston remains intent on making an impression and reaching the level where he feels he belongs - with a little help from Baffins this season.

He said: 'I really need to be focused this season and give it everything. I’m getting to that age where if I don’t try to give it a really good go then I might be left wondering what might have been.

‘I need to give it a good go, I’ve been doing a lot of gym, fitness and stuff so I’ve been trying to get myself in the best shape possible to go and do well.

‘It’s been a while since I’ve been enjoying my football since leaving the teams I’ve been at, so I need to get going again.

‘Baffins, the gaffer down there, Shaun Wilkinson he really wants me to try to move on as quick as I can because he thinks I could move through the leagues quite quickly.

‘He’s got a lot of contacts, it’s another reason why I went there, because he’s an ex-player and he said he can help me move on.

‘It was all I really wanted to hear because I do want to still play as high as I can.'

Johnston admitted adapting to life in Finland so soon after his Pompey release two summers ago - while still a teenager - was a tough period for him.

But it doesn't compare to the early morning starts and days of hard graft as a labourer on the building sites he now works on with football now only part-time.

Johnston has had plenty of advice during his time away from the professional game, with dad John telling him not to give up on chasing his dream having dedicated so much time to the sport as a youngster.

His Scottish father was in fact on the books of Rangers when he was younger before being released - and Oscar still has the hunger to get back into the pro game.

He added: ‘It’s quite a hard situation because all I’ve ever really known is football, so it’s coming to terms with the fact you might have to start thinking about other stuff when you turn 20.

‘I still want to play as high as I can, I know I’m more than good enough to play higher leagues, I’ve still got some good contacts so they could end up coming back to help me.

‘I started that (working on building sites) only a few months after I’d come back from Sweden.

‘It’s been on and off for the past year or so, I’m lucky because my dad can get me in with the company and it’s quite flexible … but it’s not what I want to do.

‘My dad - he almost got a professional contract when he was in Scotland - told me I don’t want to be doing it for the rest of my life when I’m good enough to pursue football.

‘He’s helped me and kept me on my feet, telling me to keep going and not to waste all the time I’ve put into football.'

Johnston can take hope from the story of one of his former Pompey Academy colleagues, Ethan Robb. The midfielder was also released by the Blues and, after a short spell at Portchester and a stint at Bognor Regis, ended up being signed by Premier League newcomers Brentford.

Robb and Johnston both played for Pompey against Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup in December 2018. Among their team-mates that night were Brad Lethbridge and Harry Kavanagh, both now at Gosport Borough.