"It wasn't really what I should be getting," he says. "I was just one of the boys."
But now the 18-year-old sports student is turning his life around with the help of South Nottinghamshire College's links with a South African soccer team.
This month he flies out to spend a year in Johannesburg, where he will study, play football with the youth team of premier league side BK Callies and give coaching to children in poor townships.
South Nottinghamshire College runs a Football Performance Programme which offers students the chance to continue with full-time education while receiving professional football coaching.
Over the past two years the college has built links with the South African team through its director of football, Joe Sargison.
He set up Balls to Poverty, a campaign which donates footballs and kit to townships and has brought two visits to South Africa for staff and students.
The college has now developed an exchange programme. Danny Johnson is the first student to take part and a South African student is expected to make a reciprocal visit next year.
Danny, who is taking a level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualification in football coaching, has his sights set on working in the game. "Opportunities like this don't come around very often - it's going to be brilliant," he said.
"Working in the townships is one of the reasons I wanted to go, because when I went out there with Balls to Poverty, it was unreal. You realise how much you have got over here."
His tutor Joe Sargison said he hopes the exchange will open the doors for more students to go out there and study in the run up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
"I'm really proud of Danny. This was a kid who was in trouble a hell of a lot in school and who didn't achieve.
"It's a great step for him to move out of his local community and into the unknown.
"One of my fears was that if he was to stay in Nottingham he would possibly drop back into knocking around with the wrong crowd.
"So it's a real statement on his behalf that he's decided to take this challenge. I really think this is going to be the making of him."