Bradley Johnson took on an important role during his third-year at Rovers, one that stretches beyond only making 18 appearances.

As club captain Elliott Bennet, Lewis Holtby, Corry Evans and Stewart Downing all moved on last summer, Johnson had triggered an option in his deal that extended his stay into a third season.

A summer signing from Derby County in 2019, Johnson had made 67 appearances across his first two seasons, scoring six goals, and been a regular in the side.

Though as the club went in a different direction this season, handing more opportunities to young players that saw John Buckley emerge as a mainstay in central midfield, Johnson took on the role of experienced figure around the dressing room.

He said that had been outlined to him during his discussions with Tony Mowbray last summer, while starting the season on the sidelines injured didn’t help his cause of becoming a more regular fixture in the team.

Starting the season as Rovers’ only player over 30, and with experience of playing at the top end of the division, Mowbray felt Johnson’s role would go beyond what he could offer on the pitch, a responsibility the midfielder said he enjoyed.

And while frustrated that he couldn’t make more of an impact in the team, with eight starts and 10 substitute appearances, Johnson knew what he had signed up for.

He explained: “My third year, I knew I wasn’t going to be a major part of the team.

“The gaffer sat me down and was honest with me, he said ‘this is the direction the club want to go with some younger players but we’re going to need your experience and head in the changing room’.

“I’ve got my head around that, I obviously wanted to play more but when you get to my age you have to know your role and I’m more of a bounce-ball for the lads.

“I’ve been there, there’s a lot of young lads playing in the league and doing well.

“The manager was honest with me. You can see a lot of young lads had a chance, we have a young squad, and he wanted me to be around it and be the experienced figure in the dressing room. I did that.

“I would have liked to have to play more, but when you get older you know your role.

“Every club I’ve been at I’ve played week in, week out, it’s been frustrating this year because there are times when we went through a bad spell I could have helped on the pitch, but off the pitch I was always there helping the lads.

“My role changed in the last year, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

The 35-year-old described an ‘emotional’ final day at Brockhall as he said his goodbyes after three years, with his contract coming to an end.

He says he has made friends for life at the club, one that has had a profound impact on him over the last three years.

“I’ve spent three years here but the amount of hours you spend in the training ground with people, it’s a little family here,” he added.

“I’ve made friends here that I will keep for life and keep in contact with most people at the club.

“For me, it’s well documented I don’t live in Blackburn and I travel in, and I think I spend more time here with the lads than I do my family.

“The squad throughout my three years has been a tight-knit squad, we do things off the pitch.

“It’s going to be strange not doing that, but I’ve made a lot of friends that I will keep in contact with for life.”

Johnson has taken Buckley under his wing, and also become very closely with Ben Brereton, staying at the striker’s house ahead of home matches.

He is as pleased as anyone to see Brereton thrive, finishing the season with 22 goals for Rovers, while also making an impact on the international stage with Chile.

“When I first signed here he was a young kid, found it hard to get into the team, wasn’t playing much, but he went away and worked in the summer and everyone has seen the change,” he added.

“It’s down to him, he worked on his game and he’s been terrific for us.”

When signing on a free transfer in 2019, Johnson was part of a new era for Rovers, one looking to push towards a return to the Premier League after stabilising following promotion from League One.

And while that didn’t materialise during his three years, he believes he leaves Rovers in a good place to kick on.

“We didn’t do it in the first year, the second year we had a good chance, I don’t want to make excuses but maybe we missed the fans because we had a good squad,” Johnson said.

“This year, to be where we were and then to fall off is disappointing and frustrating with the way it’s going to end.

“But the club is going in the right direction, there’s a great bunch of young lads, and I can walk away seeing the transition of the young lads coming through and it’s great to see the direction the club is going in.

“They always give young lads a chance and they have a bright future because there are some talented players at this club.”

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