Johnston made his first-team debut against Preston North End on 20th November, 1937. The following season he had established himself as the club's centre-half.
Johnston won his first international cap for England against Holland on 27th November, 1946. England won the game 8-2. The England team that day included Raich Carter, Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion, Laurie Scott and Frank Swift. He retained his place for the game against Scotland (1-1).
In the 1947-48 season Blackpool beat Chester (4-0), Colchester United (5-0), Fulham (2-0), Tottenham Hotspur (3-1) to reach the final of the FA Cup. However, Blackpool lost the game 4-2 to Manchester United.
In the 1950-51 season Blackpool finished in 3rd place in the First Division of the Football League. Blackpool beat Stockport County (2-1), Mansfield Town (2-0), Fulham (1-0) and Birmingham City (2-1) to reach the final of the FA Cup at Wembley. Newcastle United won the game 2-0. Johnston played well that season and the Football Writers' Association (FWA) awarded him the Footballer of the Year Award.
In the 1952-53 season beat Huddersfield Town (1-0), Southampton (2-1), Arsenal (2-1) and Tottenham Hotspur (2-1) to reach the FA Cup final for the third time in five years. Cyril Robinson claimed that Joe Smith "was never very tactical, he was very blunt with his instructions". According to Stanley Matthews he said: "Go out and enjoy yourselves. Be the players I know you are and we'll be all right."
Cyril Robinson was later interviewed about the match: "We kicked off and within a couple of minutes we had a goal scored against us. That's about the worst thing that could happen. Gradually we got some passes together, got Stan Matthews on the ball and Mortensen got the equaliser, but they went back ahead straight away."
Stanley Matthews wrote in his autobiography that: "At half-time we sipped our tea and listened to Joe. He wasn't panicking. He didn't rant and rave and he didn't berate anyone. He simply told us to keep playing our normal game." Harry Johnson, the captain, told the defence to "be more compact and tighter as a unit." He also added: "Eddie (Shinwell), Tommy (Garrett), Cyril (Robinson) and me, we will deal with the rough and tumble and win the ball. You lot who can play, do your bit."
Despite the team-talk Bolton Wanderers took a 3-1 lead early in the second-half. Robinson commented: "It looked hopeless then, I was thinking to myself at least I've been to Wembley." Then Stan Mortensen scored from a Stanley Matthews cross. According to Matthews: "although under pressure from two Bolton defenders who contrived to whack him from either side as he slid in, his determination was total and he managed to toe poke the ball off the inside of the post and into the net."
In the 88th minute a Bolton defender conceded a free kick some 20 yards from goal. Stan Mortensen took the kick and according to Robinson: "I've never seen one taken as well. It flew, you couldn't see the ball on the way to the net." Matthews added that "such was the power and accuracy behind Morty's effort, Hanson in the Bolton goal hardly moved a muscle."
The score was now 3-3 and the game was expected to go into extra-time. In his autobiography, Stanley Matthews described what happened next: "A minute of injury time remained... Ernie Taylor, who had not stopped running throughout the match, picked up a long throw from George Farm, rounded Langton and, as he had done like clockwork through the second half, found me wide on the right. I took off for what I knew would be one final run to the byline. Three Bolton players closed in, I jinked past Ralph Banks and out of the corner of my eye noticed Barrass coming in quick for the kill. They had forced me to the line and it was pure instinct that I pulled the ball back to where experience told me Morty would be. In making the cross I slipped on the greasy turf and, as I fell, my heart and hopes fell also. I looked across and saw that Morty, far from being where I expected him to be, had peeled away to the far post. We could read each other like books. For five years we'd had this understanding. He knew exactly where I d put the ball. Now, in this game of all games, he wasn't there. This was our last chance, what on earth was he doing? Racing up from deep into the space was Bill Perry."
Stanley Matthews added that Perry "coolly and calmly stroked the ball wide of Hanson and Johnny Ball on the goalline and into the corner of the net." Bill Perry admitted: "I had to hook it a bit. Morty said he left it to me, but that's not true, it was out of his reach." Blackpool had beaten Bolton Wanderers 4-3. Johnson, now aged 34, had won his first cup-winners medal.
Johnston won his last international cap for England against Hungary on 25th November, 1953. England lost the game 6-3. The England team that day included Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Billy Wright.
Johnston played his last game for Blackpool against Newcastle United on 25th April, 1955. He had scored 11 goals in 398 appearances. Later that year he was appointed as manager of Reading in the Third Division. In his first season the club finished in 17th place. He followed this with 13th (1956-57), 5th (1957-58), 6th (1958-59), 11th (1959-60), 18th (1960-61) and 7th (1961-62). Johnston later worked as chief scout for Blackpool.
Harry Johnston died in Manchester on 12th October 1973.
Take the case of that grand half-back Harry Johnston, Blackpool's captain. Playing behind myself and Stanley Matthews, he may appear to have just one task : to push the ball forward and then to lean back and watch us score-or, more frequently, miss.
But football, especially in the League, isn't as easy as that. Defences organise themselves to meet a set move, and there must be variety in attacking methods if the opposition is to be broken down.
So yon will see Harry Johnston mix his methods. There will be a period when he will feed Matthews or myself and pull the defence into a state of watchfulness all on one flank. Then he will judiciously fling in a high ball up the middle for the centre-forward to try his heading skill against the rival centre-half. Or he will notice that the left-half has come into the middle of the field to fill an open space that looked like developing in our defence, so Harry will push across a short square pass to him, completely altering the point of play. A very good move, that square pass, and not used enough.
Blackpool had some very talented players indeed. That said, Joe Smith's dependency on the natural talent of his players to pull Blackpool through didn't always pay off. There were occasions when just a little pre-planning could have paid significant dividends, instances when a little organisation within the side may have made the difference between us being nearlies and landing the silverware I felt our overall talent deserved. Joe's implicit belief in the ability of his players to cope with any situation and win the day was his undoing at times. You don't have to tell good players what to do, but sometimes those talents need channelling. More often than not, Joe's team-talk was brief. What to do in the game was left entirely with the players.
"Get two goals up before half-time, lads," Joe would say, "so I can enjoy my cigar in the second half." Many was the time when Joe had left the dressing room, skipper Harry Johnston would get up to say the opposition had such and such a player in their ranks and point out his weaknesses and indicate to whoever in the Blackpool team was marking him to play him in a certain way. Harry's favourite expression once Joe Smith had left us to our own devices was to say,"`We haven't a bloody due what we're doing, have we?" Harry was right but such was the talent within the ranks we won games on sheer natural ability, with Harry taking on the manager's role on the pitch, issuing instructions as the game progressed.
If that sounds a little harsh on Joe Smith I don't intend it to. For all the emphasis was placed on the players to work things out as we went along in games, he was a marvellous manager, one for whom I had nothing but the highest respect.
Joe Smith, the manager, was never very tactical, he was very blunt with his instructions - "Go out there and get them beat," that kind of thing. You can't tell good players like Matthews and Mortensen what to do.
We lined up to go on to the field, very quiet. Then as soon as we walk on to the pitch, the roar, it sent shivers down your spine. We line up and are introduced to Prince Philip. We're thinking, let's just get on with the game.
We kicked off and within a couple of minutes we had a goal scored against us. That's about the worst thing that could happen. Gradually we got some passes together, got Stan Matthews on the ball and Mortensen got the equaliser, but they went back ahead straight away. Then just after half-time they scored again, 3-1.
A minute of injury time remained. What happened then no scriptwriter could have penned because no editor would have accepted a story so far-fetched and outlandish. Ernie Taylor, who had not stopped running throughout the match, picked up a long throw from George Farm, rounded Langton and, as he had done like clockwork through the second half, found me wide on the right. I took off for what I knew would be one final run to the byline. Three Bolton players closed in, I jinked past Ralph Banks and out of the corner of my eye noticed Barrass coming in quick for the kill. They had forced me to the line and it was pure instinct that I pulled the ball back to where experience told me Morty would be. In making the cross I slipped on the greasy turf and, as I fell, my heart and hopes fell also. I looked across and saw that Morty, far from being where I expected him to be, had peeled away to the far post. We could read each other like books. For five years we'd had this understanding. He knew exactly where I d put the ball. Now, in this game of all games, he wasn't there. This was our last chance, what on earth was he doing? Racing up from deep into the space was Bill Perry. "Head over it Bill, don't blast it. Don't blast it!" I said to myself.
I was doing Bill an injustice. The "Original Champagne Perry" was as ice cool as the finest vintage in the coldest of buckets. He coolly and calmly stroked the ball wide of Hanson and Johnny Ball on the goalline and into the corner of the net. From 1-3 down it was now 4-3! Those in the seats took to their feet, those on the terraces and already standing, leapt into the air as Wembley erupted.
Perhaps it was down to the fact I swallowed hard to get some saliva into my dry mouth, or that the sudden eruption of sound was momentarily too much for my eardrums; maybe it was a combination of the two. For a brief moment, although conscious of the pandemonium that had broken out about me, I didn't hear a thing. I watched the ball hit the back of the net, looked back at Bill as he raised his arms and was for a split second rendered totally deaf. I looked at my team-mates jumping for joy and the only noise was a low, droning buzz in my ears. It was as if I was dreaming it. Swallowing hard again, my ears suddenly popped and were immediately assailed by the loudest and most resounding roar I'd ever experienced in a football stadium. It burst from the terraces and roared down and across the pitch like some terrifying banshee.
Having regained my feet, I watched as every player bar George Farm made a beeline for me. Morty's arms were outstretched his face beaming as he sprinted towards me; Bill Perry had an ecstatic smile on his face, his head going from side to side as if in disbelief; Ernie Taylor skipped and jumped as he ran in my direction, punching the air with a fist and yelling `It's there! It's there!' Harry Johnston, who always left his part top set of dentures in a handkerchief in his suit pocket, unashamedly bared his gums to the world. I felt Ewan Fenton's wet and clammy arms across my face as his hands ruffled my hair. It was all I could do to keep my feet as my team-mates mobbed me.