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Interviews

The Long Read | Michael Morrison on Non-League to Championship journey

Defender describes route into football, business ventures and plenty more in extended interview

12 October 2019

In the midst of a swathe of new Royals over the summer, Michael Morrison’s arrival on a free transfer to don blue and white hoops seemingly went slightly under the radar while the summer rumbled on, and a busy end to the transfer window ensued.

His influence on and off the pitch cannot be underestimated, however. Morrison joining the Royals brought much-needed experience to Reading’s defensive ranks, as well as a wealth of quality and leadership skills to bring to the dressing room.

After having to initially bide his time for a starting slot for Reading, Morrison has been a consistent starter and performer on the pitch for the Royals, netting his first goal for the club away at Huddersfield Town in August.

There’s more to Morrison than just his footballing quality, however. His approachable, affable personality and easy-going nature off the pitch directly contrasts the focussed, fiercely competitive player you see on the turf on a matchday.

His life and career started having grown up in Bury St Edmunds, which is situated in a part of the country where Football League clubs are few and far between – so playing high-level football required plenty of travelling to be able to cut his teeth in the youth game.

After a tough training session at Hogwood, the centre-back sat down with The Royal to tell the story of his unorthodox route into football, his ventures off the pitch and plenty more, in his own words…

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We were only 6 or 7, but one of my friends ended up playing for Peterborough – which is still a good hour’s drive from Bury St Edmunds, probably a bit more. Back then, there wasn’t the same recruitment and his dad said I should go along, and I ended up training and signing with Peterborough as an Under-9. There happened to be a few of us from that town that always used to go up and share the driving, my Dad would take me up two or three times a week and there were three of us – so it was a big commitment for my family to take me to Peterborough.

But later on, that got shut – I was about 13, so nearby there was Norwich, Ipswich and Cambridge. Dan Ashworth, who was at West Brom and the FA, and is now at Brighton, was in charge and he headed up the new Cambridge academy stuff – so I ended up going to Cambridge with Dan, because he worked at Peterborough. I was really lucky to not only find a good club in Peterborough, but to work with some good people too.

Luke Hobbs was there at the time, he’s at Arsenal now, Aidy Boothroyd was involved with Peterborough at the time as well. So I was lucky, even though it was a small part of the world, I was lucky to work with some people who have gone on to have some really successful careers, and that’s helped shape my career.

Cambridge had just got relegated to the Conference, and from a personal point of view, it was probably the best thing that could have happened because a lot of players left - it was a blank canvas. The manager, Rob Newman came in and they could recruit everybody – they actually shut the Under-18s down and I got a pro contract, they kept me on and that got me into the first team – probably earlier than it would have been if they had stayed in the league.

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It was probably a blessing in disguise like that, then when you’re 17 and playing in the Conference, as a centre-half as well, then there are always people who are going to go down and watch. I was lucky enough to get picked up and sign for Leicester City.

I’d actually gone on trial at Newcastle the summer before, when Glenn Roeder was the manager – he’d just got the job there, Nigel Pearson was working for his backroom staff and Steve Walsh too, who both went on to Leicester. I remember staying for a week and Glenn said he wanted me to stay for a few more days.

I ended up there for nearly two weeks at Newcastle and he pulled me into the office, I thought I was going to sign. He said, ‘You’ve done really well, I like what you’ve done, but I just don’t think you’re as good as Rio Ferdinand was when he was 17.’ I look back at it now, and I don’t think there were too many people who were!

It was quite a funny conversation; I knew it was the Premier League, but Rio Ferdinand is a different level. It wasn’t what I was expecting him to say, he said ‘I can’t take you because you’re not quite what he was at that age,’ and I thought that if he was comparing everyone to him then you’re never going to sign anyone for Newcastle!

The following year, Nigel Pearson got the job at Leicester and that’s how I ended up there. They’d just been relegated into League One, so they were looking for a younger squad that was hungry to do well, and we had a really good team there. We had Andy King, who went on and won the Premier League with them, Tom Cleverley played in that team, Jack Hobbs who played in the Championship for a long time, Steve Howard, Matt Oakley – we had a really good side.

We flew through League One, won the league and we lost in the Play-Offs to Cardiff in the following year. I saw Nigel in the summer, I still speak to Andy King quite a lot, I went to his wedding last summer, often when you do well as a team, you have something in common and you end up keeping in touch. Liam Moore and Jeffrey Schlupp were just coming through at the time too, they were the next big thing there.

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Chris Powell then took me to Charlton; he had a massive effect on my career when I was young. I played alongside him at Leicester and that’s how I ended up at Charlton, we did well under him there and he’s doing stuff with the FA now. I’ve been lucky to work with some really, really good guys in my career.

Sheffield Wednesday is the only tarnish on my record when it comes to staying at clubs for a while. I’d signed in the January under Alan Irvine, who lasted two weeks and he got the sack. Gary Megson came in and straight away, I wasn’t for him. I started training with the kids in March, and by April he told me to not bother coming in for training.

I was living in Leicester at the time, but I then moved back home with my Mum and Dad. I moved out when I was 20, I’d been there for two or three years and I just went back home and had an extended summer, I suppose. Chris Powell had just got the job at Charlton, I’d spoken to him and he said if he could sign me, he would and that got sorted out fairly quickly, so I got lucky in that sense.

It was a surreal thing. If I was older, I’d have found that difficult to deal with, but because I was younger, you haven’t got that same responsibility at home and you think that somebody else will pick me up and I’ll be fine. I used the time to get away from football, things hadn’t gone very well and got my head away from it. In the end, it did work out well. I signed for Charlton in the summer, we did well and progressed.

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We signed some really good players that summer at Charlton. Carl Jenkinson had left for Arsenal and the money got pumped back into the first team, so we signed Dale Stephens, Ben Hamer, Simon Church, Yann Kermorgant – Yann was such a good player with the ball in the air, volleys, the stuff he could do was brilliant.

I actually played with Yann at Leicester, but he had a tough time settling there. When he turned up again at Charlton, he was a completely different person. He did so well there and went onto have a brilliant career in England.

When it comes to longevity at a club, you try and commit yourself emotionally, try to do everything you can for the football club and try to buy into what they’re doing. It’s easier if you stay somewhere longer, you get used to what’s happening. But at Birmingham and Charlton, there were new managers, new owners, as with every club, so I like to think that longevity is a sign of playing well and being a good part of the squad.

I like playing every week, that challenge motivates me. I think as you get older, the better and harder you train, the easier it is on matchday. When you’re younger, you can take it for granted a little bit but when you get older, you realise everything you do in the week makes the weekend easier. So I try to get my head down in training, show to the manager that I’m ready and show the qualities I can bring to the team.

Off the pitch, I’m doing my coaching badges, I’m hoping to pick it up and do some coaching here with the U15s or U16s at some point. I own a couple of barber shops too with a friend, back over in Cambridge, part of a franchise – Darren Ambrose has two in Ipswich too. Other than that, I spend time with my family. I’ve got three kids, we’ve just had a new-born who’s four months old now. When I get home, I’ve got a six-year-old and a two-year-old too, so that keeps me busy! It was hard this summer, not having a club for a little while and a new family, so the girls definitely keep me busy.

Football is massive and really important in my life, if you have a bad weekend or a bad time it does affect you – it’s quite hard for it not to. But especially with my girls, they like going to football but they like everything else also, it’s a nice switch-off when I get home. I was on the bench a couple of years ago at Birmingham, Steve Cotterill was the manager and I’d fallen out of favour, but my oldest said ‘It’s alright Daddy, because you really like watching football!’ – I said it doesn’t quite work like that!

I love my football, but at the same time it’s brilliant to have my barber shops too. It’s with my best friend so it’s really good to speak to him most days about what’s going on. I’m quite a keen cook too – I offer to cook quite a lot.

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I want to stay in football, I’ve been involved in it for a long time and I feel like I’ve got a good skill set to go and help other people, so coaching is something I want to do. I think you tend to just find your role, and it happens with your personality, who you know and what happens.

All you can do is do the best you can when you’re asked to. I’m enjoying playing in the middle of a three, I last played in a three on the right and that was a long time ago, so it’s changed for me as well.

There have been a lot of changes, even coming down from Birmingham. I feel like I can answer a few questions too, for people who think I’m just a ‘head it, kick it’ centre-half, hopefully after another six months or a year you can surprise a few people. It’s a good opportunity for me to show another side of my game.

We’ve got some really skilful players, talented individuals and it’s about trying to come together as a team. That does take time, but we haven’t got that luxury in football, so the quicker we get together and get some results, then the better. We did start a little run, but it’s about getting momentum. Back-to-back wins are so important in this league, it really takes you up there.

Ultimately, the individuals we’ve got can win games – whether we’re winning or not. If we keep it defensively solid, we’ve got so many match winners that other Championship teams would take as their first-choice players, and some of them are sitting on the bench for us. There’s real competition for places, the team has got to come together and be bigger than just good individuals, it’s about being a good team, that’s what gets you out of this league.


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