On Andy Morrison, bee-ing 35 and diarrhea

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

On the 29th of October 1998, one man arrived at Manchester City F.C. He would go on to make a difference in ways unmatched by many since.

To set the scene, City were struggling, properly striving to continue running day to day. They had fell two flights of football, following Francis Lee stepping aside as Chairman for David Bernstein. Francis Lee had inherited a club in a dire state from Peter Swales. Franny “One Pen”, the former City forward presided over the club for a year and a half. Bernstein arrived with a vision of stabilising the sleeping giant of City. But, it wasn’t going to start smoothly. After seven seasons in the top flight, City petered out of the elite league, holding on for a 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Maine Road. On that day, it was firmly believed a draw was enough. City woefully dropped down to Division One. Coventry City and Southampton’s greater goal difference condemned City. The following season City finished midtable and then the major cracks began to show. Alan Ball, Steve Coppell (for 33 days), and Frank Clark  (with two other caretaker managers) featured as managers in a rollercoaster season. As City failed to bid for promotion, a second season in Division One loomed.

CITY DOWN

Frank Clark’s battle wasn’t helped, in inheriting 40 senior players on good contracts, he could not reduce the squad. He was often looked at a bad manager. Most of it wasn’t his fault. He hit the nail on the head, when speaking to the Sunday Times in August 1997, “Because we’ve got to fill the reserves with senior pros needing match practice or players we’re trying to sell, the youngsters’ development is held up.” The Sunday Times 6/1 favourites to win the Divison One title stumbled. A 63-year association with shirt-makers Umbro and a new crest didn’t help the feeling that City’s heartbeat was on life support. Even laser blue replaced sky blue. City loaned out numerous senior players and released many. Big Joe Royle came home to City as manager in spring. His signings Richard Jobson, Jamie Pollock, a little known Bermudan called Shaun Goater and Ian Bishop didn’t have enough to City from the drop to Division Two.

So, by October 1998, City had recorded just 5 wins from 15 games. Hardly promotion form. Their debut season in the third tier of football had began woefully. Players left in an exodus and Big Joe Royle signed Big Andy Morrison. And he was big. He didn’t have a slim typical football figure about him. He’d have been more at home on a rugby field, perhaps. But, one thing he did have was a pair of eyes that could be read. He did not want to lose a thing. Not a tackle. Not a game. His beady intense stare shone with heart and strength. A debut goal, after arriving on loan from Huddersfield Town, was only the start of something special.

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Andy Morrison was a tackler, from the off, he loved to smash an opponent by putting his foot through the ball – and sometimes player. City paid just £80,000 for the centre half. Within a handful if games he had made the Captain’s armband his own. Three goals in just four games helped showcase his leadership and bravery. His tooth and claw attitude made him a cult player very quickly. With losses at York City (watched by a record crowd of almost every Mancunian on Earth), Lincoln City, Barnsley, and Stockport County in recent years, every game could have ended in defeat. Home games were just as dogged-ugly and a dismal mood seemed to swamp City like the insurers of Georgi Kinkladze’s Ferrari.

17 wins from 31 games, with just 4 defeats helped City to reach the play-off finals, by finishing third. City then drew at Wigan’s Springfield Road before Goater’s goal at Maine Road sealed a trip to Wembley. Having led City out against Gillingham in the Play Off Final, he was forced off with injury after 61 minutes. Local lad Michael Brown (still playing at Port Vale) also made way for Tony Vaughn and veteran Ian Bishop. The scores locked at 0-0 until 81 minutes passed, then Carl Asaba stabbed a knife into every City fans’ heart. All belief seemed to evaporate in that moment. Tony Pulis’s side went one better, six minutes later, with Bobby Taylor scoring the second goal. Surely it was over. How could City compete without their Captain? “Party time in Kent tonight” suddenly became in doubt as Dickov flicked the ball to Goater. Goater skipped through the centre of the Gillingham defence, but was upended and as he picked himself up tentatively, Super Kevin Horlock had rifled the ball into the net. His super left foot, stranding man of the match Vince Bartram. A few half-hopeful balls from Bishop, hooked into the defence; a misguided cross from Terry Cooke high over the crossbar; Gillingham playing the ball into touch at every opportunity – and the five added minutes of stoppage time seemed to be dwindliung away. City looked condemned to another year in Division Two. On 93:48 City’s Cooke, slid over the right-hand byline, chasing a seemingkly lost cause. Weaver played the ball back from his goalline, having seen the ball bobble all the way back to almost the corner flag. The throw-in fed back to Wiekens who lofted the ball upfield reaching a midfielder’s head for a flick on to a yellow and blue-striped hero. The Sky Sports commentators, “its not over until the final whistle…” as Goater received the ball, threading it beautifully out to Paul Dickov, who entered the box. His shot hit the net and the laser blue end of Wembley erupted. 94:09 showing on the clock. City went on to win on penalties with heroes from goal to the bench, to behind the scenes. All of this was possible because of a man at the back, who gave hope and was part of something special: City’s first true team in my lifetime. A City team with heart and belief. My first glimpse of that never say never attitude, that would come again in 2011/12. As Weaver runs around crazily, he runs into Andy Morrison had Morrison’s face is ecstatic. He deserved to lift that trophy – and become embedded deep in City folklore thereafter.

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My Dad mentions Mike Doyle and Gerry Gow as hard men in the game, that played at City. Since Andy Morrison, I’d only add Richard Dunne, Nigel De Jong and Pablo Zabaleta in there. Now, Andy is Manager at Welsh Premier League club Connah’s Quay – and remains close to City’s heart in his role as official Fan Ambassador of Manchester City. More importantly, every player that has followed can see his images, his videos and his passion. Whilst not always the cleanest player, he was certainly one of the most spirited, at a time when it would have been easy to collect wages and look for a bigger club. Bumping into BlueMoonRisingTV, Andy Morrison said, “play me with John Stones” and has always continued a down to earth relationship with City. I bumped into Andy after City’s win over QPR in May 2012, and he was happy to allow me a photo with him.

Morrison’s junior years at Southampton (alongside Le Tissier and Shearer) couldn’t deliver. He moved on to Plymouth, with six good years before leaving Peter Shilton’s team to Blackburn Rovers for a record fee. Colin Hendry (then Captain of Scotland), Henning Berg, David May, Patrick Berger, Ian Pearce, Kevin Moran etc stood in his way. His potential never had a chance. A move to Huddersfield followed and his off the field character shut a door. City called. The rest is as they say history. Back to back promotions at City allowed City to return to the Premier League. Nervous players suddenly found their calm nerve under the captaincy of Morrison. Maine Road’s gloom lifted-off and the excitement factor returned.

Between fights with Paulo Wanchope and licking Stan Collymore, several “clearing of the air” incidents added to Andy Morrison’s fearsome character. Professionally, Andy placed himself “in the top 1%” for training and professionalism. His off the field antics, ups, downs and lows are captured throughout his autobiography, The Good, the Mad and the Ugly – The Andy Morrison Story. Rather than slip off the rails and do bad, Morrison enlightens all on demons that many have lurking at the end of the bed. The warnings came time and time again. It made his character who he is, no doubt, and nobody with a sensible mind can argue, that fighters fight more with their minds, than their bodies. His battles with depression, finding new directions, money management and mental health can lead, as he did on the field. Hundreds of footballers have had chances, and many make it work – but few as well as the household names like Messi and Ronaldo, and ever fewer ride the storm to sail onwards like our Andy.

Speaking to CityTV’s Chappy, in November 2014, “It was just a very surreal feeling in the changing room afterwards and I was one of the last people to leave. I just felt, I just felt a fulfilment. You know that sacrifices made – that there was a reward for it.” To new fans joining City’s growing football family, I implore you to look at the story of City, in every corner, era and decade. Embrace our future – together with our history. Grasp the community and the folk who featured. It isn’t just cups and titles. City are much more than that.

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Oh, and yesterday, I turned 35 years of age. I didn’t party as such. I awoke. Having slept in late. The middle of the night diarrhea hadn’t gave me any motive to move much. The movements had been pretty-damn uncomfortable. Not only that, but the school’s apartment stank of shit from the off. A leaking waterpipe had meant not even a shower was possible. Thankfully I had somewhere to go and escape to, after waking up. After losing my voice on Tuesday, struggling through MC duties at school’s Dance Extravaganza and avoiding doing the YMCA the following night, I again took up MC duties on Thursday night. Almost every day I had a combination of a bad belly and headaches coupled with other niggling annoyances. Last Sunday night’s game of football may have been a win, for my new team Cool Breeze (Dongguan) F.C. but I came off the field needing rest. The trip to Hong Kong last week had hammered my immune system.

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So, without breakfast in my belly (and the maximum allowance of anti-diarrhea tablets), a light snack and a wasted afternoon of napping, I headed to Dongcheng. There I met Ched, Mrs Ched, and Jodie. A quick stop at The Treehouse, around 6pm, for the Artisan’s market and an equally brief stop at Irene’s Bar’s extremely cool Halloween grotto followed. From there 10pm had arrived on the watch. Dark o’clock meant City were on the tele-box, so on arriving to Murray’s Irish Pub, that meant flicking the switch to on. Two hot-whiskey lemon drinks with cloves were needed. They sat well. They calmed an aching rumbling stomach. Two bowls of excellent chilli con carne at Irene’s Bar had been needed. The combination, pooled-together, simultaneously, at the same time, to settle my stomach. Following the footy, I watched the Mighty Orphans and the house band before eventually scattering for a reasonably-early night at 3am. Not bad for just two alcoholic beverages all night. Oh, and I dressed as a bee, but everyone Asian thought it was Pikachu from Pokémon. I do like the idea of someone drunk mistaking me for a short, chubby rodent on their night out. For photos, I refused to smile, unless the request had the word please. Hardly the scariest outfit of the night but I shocked a few people. This is perhaps the closest I have come to wearing a onesie. I am not having a midlife crisis.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

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