When Manchester City dropped to the third tier in 1998 a host of lower-league clubs rubbed their hands in anticipation at the prospect of roughing up the famous slickers. They were a big scalp, dazed and confused having strayed into the wrong part of town. Primed for shakedowns and weekly muggings they were viewed as a bunch of big-time charlies softened by the luxuries of lush green turf and officials that blew for every foul.
Acutely aware of this Joe Royle promptly went out and bought the biggest street-wise bad-ass around.
Over the previous decade Andy Morrison had carved out a decent career at Plymouth, Huddersfield and Blackpool establishing a hard-fought – and sometimes this was literal – reputation for being a fiercely committed, no-nonsense centre-back. He wasn’t just respected by the fans of these clubs; he was loved, for showing the heart and passion on the pitch that they themselves felt on the terraces.
But don’t think for one minute that he couldn’t play a bit too. This wasn’t a bruiser who lumped it at every opportunity. Andy had a touch of class about him that ensured attacks often began from the back and a positional sense superior to most.
By the end of City’s brief spell down into unchartered depths he had hauled and cajoled his side to Wembley and that famous play-off miracle over Gillingham. Looking at the big picture now without his inspirational leadership back then the club would probably have no billions in the bank, no Silva twinkling and scheming, and no title aspirations. We owe him more than can ever be repaid.
If you were to ask any blue to name their all-time XI Andy Morrison would be in every line-up, standing tall alongside the illustrious Bells and Lakes. And in every one he’d be skipper.
His recently published autobiography The Good, The Mad And The Ugly revealed the demons behind the demonic passion on the pitch. It is written as he played – with his heart on his sleeve – and we cannot recommend it more highly. In the book Andy is astonishingly candid about his prolonged battle with alcoholism and the violence that accompanied it; of celebrating being found not guilty of malicious wounding (after smashing a man’s jaw, breaking another’s nose and removing a third victim of his eyebrow) by ‘decking someone in a kebab shop’ that very evening; of waking in a police cell and gradually recalling throwing himself through a plate glass window to give a bouncer a good pasting; of the depression and desperation that ultimately led him to fall to his knees and implore an unknown power to take the pain away.
Andy went all the way to the brink and came all the way back.
I caught up with Andy prior to an Airbus UK cup game against Carmarthen Town. Now a highly-respected coach in the Welsh Premier League he was exactly as I’d hoped and expected; friendly, funny and courteous, but serious and pulling no punches once the questioning began. In short, the perfect interviewee.
The questions were set by City, Blackpool and Plymouth fans from this forum.
Just how hard would you like to punch Carlos Tevez?
If it was worth punching him and you got the right results then it might be tempting but I think he’s been poorly advised and listened to the wrong people and come up against a club that weren’t willing to buckle. They’re bucked a trend City and have been able to say ‘no, you’ll do things our way’. Which is great for football and great for fans, obviously not good for the player. But he appears to have seen the light now though probably for 90% of the fans it’s too late and he’s going to find it so difficult.
If he scored a hat-trick against United then it might just turn things around for him.
Should academies do more work with young players to make them mentally stronger and help them cope with the pressure and demands of the modern game?
I don’t see how a player can learn life skills without experiencing them. You hope they’re quick learners. You hope if they’re farmed out on loan they’ll get the chance to experience high-intensity games with expectations and that it might prepare them for things that will come along. It’s part of growing up, it’s part of life; you make mistakes and you make errors of judgement. But if you continue to make them you’ll be found out, you’ll be letting yourself and your team down. If you learn from them then it’s just part of life. To expect a 17/18/19 year old to have the wisdom of a seasoned professional…it’s not going to happen. You have to learn from it. I remember when Steven Gerrard as a youngster was questioned about the way he was living and asked later what he did (to address that) he said he basically just knuckled down and worked harder.
Do you remember Bristol Rovers away when a player went for a 50/50 header with you and got sparked clean out? There was only ever going to be one winner.
That could have been one of many to be honest (laughs). I don’t particularly remember that one but I know there’s been a good few. If you’ve been close up to me you’ll see that I have a fair sized head and it’s very hard so if you come into contact with it you’ll probably come worse off.
Was your volley away at Oldham the best goal you ever scored?
Yeah, without doubt. The context of the game – it was my first away game for City and it was the third goal. There was a headed one-two with the Goat and I volleyed it into the top corner. It was just euphoric, a fabulous day when I realised I was at a special place.
Was there another player from your career that you wouldn’t have messed with? Gary Brabin?
I know Brabs well actually. Blackpool bought Gary Brabin to replace me.
I play football to win games of football. I never go out to make a mark and say “I’m harder than him”.
I just play football no matter who I came up against. Nothing fazed me and I was never intimidated. I was however worried about playing against extreme pace. If it was a Friday afternoon training session and I knew I was up against Craig Bellamy on Saturday I’d be genuinely worried about it because he’s going to cause me problems. He’s going to take me out of the comfort zone and put me into areas I don’t want to go and maybe where I’m found out because I had no pace.
So I’d have sleepless nights over that but I’d never do so on a physical level because that just suited me down to the ground.
How did you manage to get to The Navy on the Barbican less than twenty minutes after Argyle matches ending?
I had a jet-pack that I could leave in the changing room and take off across the city centre and drop in. That’s was my local the Navy. I grew up in that pub. My dad and my brothers drank there and I’ve got a few tales to tell from that place.
Who do you stay in touch with from your playing days?
I still speak to Kev Horlock from Man City but it’s mainly lads I did my apprenticeship with. It’s lads you start off with that you keep in touch. You see the lads and very quickly you’re back into the banter but it is ships in the night because you come across so many players and there’s only two or three you keep in contact with.
How did you celebrate the Cup triumph and the 6-1?
Fantastic! The 6-1 really was putting a few demons to bed with a lot of reds I know – friends and foes. There’s been a lot of torment and taunting over the years about how well they’ve done – and rightly so.
It was an opportunity really to say not only are we on the way up but now we’ve arrived and we’re here now to challenge you and you better take notice of it. And that’s got to be followed on with the next step now which will be winning the league.
Then the foundations are there to go on for many years to come. We’ll write the history of football in this country over the next twenty years like United did from 92 onwards.
It’s so important we do it this year.
What advice would you give my 9 year old son (who is a good tackler and header of the ball) considering the way football is going regarding fouls being given for every touch of an opponent?
Keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Keep making the tackles and winning the headers and the authorities and the FA will eventually come around and realise that they can’t kill the game of football. And they’re going to have to start being more understanding about what football is about. Because the referees are only implementing the rules that have been put in place by those above them – the assessors – and the assessors are only listening to the grey beards and pipe smokers who have never played football. And that’s your problem. They don’t understand what the actual essence of football is.
Would you rather fight a bear sized rabbit or a rabbit sized bear?
I’d fight neither of them because I’m a God-fearing Christian loving man now.
Can you play centre mid next weekend?
Yeah if I’m needed and they’ll pay my expenses for the day I’ll come along.
To wrap things up I pass on the heartfelt thanks from various posters for all that he did at City.
That means a lot. It shows you’re appreciated and when you look back on your career you can have a quiet moment and smile to yourself and know that you’ve achieved something. I’m in the hall of fame at Blackpool and I’m well thought of at Huddersfield and I’m one of the originals from Plymouth. I’m very proud of that. I never let those clubs down.