Mel Johnson’s greatest hits: Why the scout’s return to QPR is significant

The reaction to QPR announcing Mel Johnson’s return during the summer was interesting. Rangers’ former chief scout is working for the club again and his input will be significant ahead of January’s transfer window.

His previous stint with Rangers included promotion from the third tier and consolidation in the Championship, and is seen as a major success. The reaction of many fans on social media to his return was therefore one of glee, leaving others – mostly younger fans – somewhat bemused.

Several of the signings Johnson played a role in went on to become established as firm favourites at Loftus Road during Ian Holloway’s first spell as manager, which bodes well for the future.

Here’s the story of how four of those players ended up at Rangers…

Lee Cook

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Johnson was chief scout at Watford, who signed Cook from non-League Aylesbury in 1999 despite late interest from QPR. Three years later, with the R’s struggling and Holloway keen to sign a winger, Johnson suggested he look at Cook, who was coming back from injury, in a friendly against Arsenal at the Gunners’ training ground.

Holloway liked Cook so much he wondered why Johnson had not done him a favour by recommending the player when Holloway was previously at Bristol Rovers. Cook was outstanding during a loan spell and was later signed on a permanent deal from Watford.

Lee Camp

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Two days before a crucial match away at Hartlepool, Chris Day and Nick Culkin were both injured and promotion-chasing Rangers were in a state of panic.

In a fraught meeting in Holloway’s office there was even talk of requesting that the match be postponed. Enquiries about several keepers had come to nothing and the situation was becoming increasingly desperate.

On a television screen in Holloway’s office, Johnson noticed a story on Ceefax – the go-to source of news before the internet – that keeper Lee Grant, then at Derby, had returned to full training following an injury.

Johnson liked Camp, who had previously been on loan at Burton, and sensed that Grant’s return might mean a loan deal would be possible, as Derby also had Andy Oakes as a back-up keeper.

A call was immediately made to George Burley, then Derby’s manager, and as a result Camp was picked up by the QPR squad en route to Hartlepool the following day. He played a key role in clinching promotion that season and, like Cook, was eventually signed on a permanent basis.

Danny Shittu

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With Holloway keen to sign striker Clive Mendonca on loan from Charlton, Johnson suggested they go to watch Charlton’s reserves in a match at Canvey Island and also take a look at a young defender called Danny Shittu, whom Johnson rated highly.

Holloway duly joined Johnson and Tim Breacker – then part of Rangers’ coaching team – at the game and was smitten.

Martin Rowlands

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Johnson had good contacts at Brentford and was aware that their financial problems at the time meant they would struggle to keep Rowlands, who was coming towards the end of his contract.

Having been lined up for a move to Loftus Road, the player suffered a broken leg and at one stage doubted QPR would sign him. The message to Holloway was clear: do the deal. Rowlands was signed while his leg was in plaster and went on establish himself as a key Rangers player.