Adam Johnson pleading guilty to child sex offences was a “massive shock” for Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce. The footballer, 28, has been told he faces jail after being found guilty of sexual activity with a girl aged 15. He was playing for Sunderland until the start of his trial but was sacked after changing his pleas and admitting to two charges on the first day. “It was a massive shock,” said Allardyce. “Justice has been done, he’s let everybody down.” He added: “This is a big shock to everyone and also a reminder to everybody to make sure that you don’t put yourself in that position or situation.” Johnson had denied all four charges he faced up until the start of his trial.
After admitting to two charges – one of grooming and one of sexual activity – he was found guilty of sexual touching, but not guilty on a charge relating to another sexual act. “I was sat at home when it came on the news and I just was gobsmacked because as far as we were concerned, it was his intention to plead not guilty on all charges,” Allardyce added. “That is why we continued to let him train and play for us.” However, the trial at Bradford Crown Court heard evidence that the club’s chief executive, Margaret Byrne, met Johnson and his barrister in May 2015 when he accepted he had kissed the girl and exchanged messages with her. The jury was told that, before the case came to court, club bosses had seen all the 834 WhatsApp messages the pair sent to each other, along with transcripts of police interviews.
Sunderland yesterday denied they “knew all along that Mr Johnson was intending to change his plea just before trial to enable him to continue to play football for the club”. But, Clare Phillipson, director of charity Wearside Women in Need, said: “They have given a statement but I think there are questions that are just not answered in that statement, around what Johnson said in court, about what they knew and when.”