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Playing less than 40 league games is usually nowhere near enough for a player go down as a club great but such was Andy Morrison’s impact during his time at Manchester City, the tough, uncompromising centre-back's place in the pantheon of Blues greats is assured.
He joined in October 1998 with City at a low ebb. Having been relegated to what was then known as Division Two (the third tier of English football), City found themselves in uncharted territory. They were expected to waltz back up to Division One unchallenged, with the third tier made up of some of English football’s most obscure provincial sides.
But the first three months of the season had hardly gone to plan. Joe Royle’s side were directionless. The atmosphere at home games had become poisonous. The Club was struggling for focus and identity, and those smaller, unfashionable teams City were expected to roll over were raising their game against them. It was a struggle few had expected.
Morrison’s arrival changed everything and what followed was one of the greatest 18-month period’s in the Club’s history.
He joined from Huddersfield Town, City’s opponents in the FA Cup fifth round this weekend. After a row with Terriers manager Peter Jackson, Morrison was allowed to join City on a one-month loan. It was the start of a beautiful partnership.
“Peter Jackson had made a decision he wanted to go another way,” Morrison says. “I don’t think he handled it very well at the time and I still feel that way now. He could have done it a lot better than he did.
“A situation arose where there was no going back. Once I went on loan to Manchester City there was no way I was going back to Huddersfield because of the way it had finished. It was probably the right time to move for me anyway.
“I’d heard a few weeks before I arrived that City had been in touch and asked about me. Les Chapman, who had been at Huddersfield, had said with the way the league was and what City were coming up against, I was the kind of character they needed. Joe was aware of me anyway and then I got a whisper he might want me on loan.
“I went in and told the manager I wanted to go and within three or four days I was driving across to Manchester City and started a loan period.
“It was surreal, really, because we’d had a press conference on the Friday and Michael Branch signed on loan from Everton at the same time and no one took any notice of the fact that I was there! I was just stood over in the corner and then at the end they said we’ve also brought Andy Morrison in!"
His Maine Road career for off to a flyer. City had won once in eight games prior to his arrival – but a 2-1 win at home to Colchester on his debut stopped the rot. Morrison scored and gave a typically warrior-like display, earning him the man-of-the-match award. As the full-time whistle blew and relief wafted around the stands, the fans knew they had exactly the kind of player the Club had needed for so long.
“I think there were 27,000 there and I realised as soon as I walked onto the pitch that this was a big club and I had a fantastic opportunity,” he says. “I scored – I’d also scored on my debut at Blackpool and Huddersfield – so it was a fantastic start and it laid the foundations for a very good period.
“From then on, other than a couple of little blips, we went on a run and we were very good for the remainder of that season. That took us into the Playoffs and the rest is history.”
City went to Oldham next and won 3-0, with Morrison scoring the best goal of his Blues career, a powerful from 25 yards that flew into the top corner. But another blip soon followed. They took three points from their next five league games, culminating in a 2-1 defeat away at York City that left them 12th. For many City supporters, that day – December 19, 1998 - represents the nadir of their time following the Club.
But things altered dramatically. With Morrison signed permanently, a Boxing Day win away at Wrexham sparked a sea change. City lost just two more matches all season, lifting themselves into a Playoff position in May. Morrison’s presence had a very obvious effect.
“I think back to many comments at the time about my impact and on reflection I was part of a jigsaw that was missing,” he says. “There were so many good things already in place. There was a very good manager, an exceptional coach, a mixture of young and experienced players – and maybe I just brought something a little bit different and everything came together from then.
“As well as being someone who could play football, my main attribute has always been that I’m a fierce competitor and I have to win at everything I do, and maybe that rubbed off on the rest of the lads.”
Morrison was named captain early in the new year and an encounter with a group of City supporters outside Maine Road gave him an insight into the minds of those who has long suffered on the Maine Road terraces. They wanted more from the players after three seasons of freefall and in Morrison they saw someone who could help turn things around. It was a seismic moment for the defender.
“I was made captain around January of that season,” he says. “Joe brought me in and asked if I would take the captaincy and I said I’d have to speak to Jamie Pollock first to see if he was okay with it.
“Then we played on the Saturday at home – it might have been against Gillingham, I can’t honestly say – and I got out at the car park and about seven or eight lads came across, probably die-hard City fans who’d been through the mill for a period, and one of them said: ‘You’ve just been captain, haven’t ya?’
“And I said ‘yeah, I have.’
“He said ‘Well make sure you sort out it out and do a proper job.’
“I smiled and told them ‘I’ll do what I can’ and walked off.
“I just think it was reflective of how it was at the time. It was their football club and I was fortunate enough to be given the captaincy, which is a great honour. And I was representing their club – and they made it perfectly clear what they wanted.
“It inspired me more, if anything, to not let them down because I could see what it meant to them. The club had fallen away from past glories at that time and it was just a group of lads who cared who wanted to make sure I knew what it meant and did my job properly.”
The season culminated in a famous Playoff final against Gillingham in May, one of the Club’s greatest occasions. City found themselves 2-0 down with 90 minutes on the clock and staring down the barrel of another season in the third tier.
But Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov rescued the game and City won on penalties, returning them to Division One in the most spectacular circumstances imaginable - a day forever etched on the minds of those who had followed the Club through the most barren period of its existence.
“It was a very special day and only Man City could have done it that way,” Morrison says. “It couldn’t have been scripted. I remember Willie Donachie saying when the Playoff draw came that he felt these things are already written in the stars and that we’d just make sure we do things right and see where it gets us. It was surreal.
“To be 2-0 down and everyone to have written us off. For the last few years we’d been the great underachievers and flattered to deceive and so many things had gone wrong. It felt like it was going to be that way again.
“But the character that came through that day was special and it carried on after that. It was a special day for the fans and when I go now to the stadium and see the calibre of players on the pitch, no one will ever be able to say the fans don’t deserve the magic moments they have now because they were there when we were…not the best!
“At 2-0, I thought it was over. I went off after about 70 minutes with the game at 0-0. I had a knee operation that summer, so I came off after 70 and I’m at the back of the bench at 2-0 with the steps behind me and I’m thinking I’m not going to get an opportunity to go up them steps.
"We were dead and buried. And I remember Willie Donachie on the side of the pitch just kept pushing people on and Kev Horlock scores his goal. Kev always tells me to remind people he scored at Wembley as well – and he also scored his penalty so I’ll just get that in there!
"Then obviously the Paul Dickov goal. I just think sometimes there are certain players who score goals at certain times. If anyone was going to do it, it was Dicky with his heart and his desire. And I’m sure Dicky will dine out and have a few drinks because of that goal for many years to come.”
The momentum gained by Morrison’s arrival carried through into the following season and City, against all the odds, secured a second-successive promotion, this time automatically having finished second. City were back in the Premier League, pride restored.
Royle, the man at the helm, took plenty of plaudits, and rightly so, but Morrison remembers vividly the role first-team coach Willie Donachie played.
“Joe did a great job in difficult circumstances," Morrison says. "He took the club back to the Premier League – an absolutely incredible achievement. He’s rightly held in high regard at the Club.
"But for all the qualities Joe had, which were exceptional, we also had a very forward-thinking coach in Willie Donachie who, for me, was way, way ahead of his time in terms of his thinking. Some of the things he incorporated into our training and the way he spoke with us; I think even to this day is ahead of where most coaches are right now.
"He was exceptional. It was a great period and people forget sometimes that group of lads won back-to-back promotions and got the club back rightly where they should be.”
Perhaps the finest description of Morrison’s impact came from Royle, who famously said the Scot had “dragged City kicking and screaming” back into the big time. Given the state of the team prior to his arrival – drifting and shorn of confidence - it was an apt portrayal of his effect.
“It was a lovely comment and I feel humble,” he said. “I am so proud that Joe said that.
"But it was a lot to do with the other players as well. I was the captain of the Club but it was a great group – Paul Dickov, Shaun Goater, Nicky Weaver, Gerard Wiekens, Kevin Horlock - these are outstanding characters, proper men, proper winners.
"And that comment was lovely that it was said about me – but it was reflective of the whole group. We had an exceptional bunch and team spirit and whenever I think back to that period, all I can see is lads smiling and laughing and ripping each other to bits. We had a great togetherness."
How, then, does Morrison see this weekend’s FA Cup tie between two in-form sides?
“Both teams are in decent form. David Wagner at Huddersfield has done an incredible job. They’ve come from nowhere, turning them from perhaps a middle third Championship team into a top third.
"They’re playing some good stuff and they’re rightly getting plaudits. Of course we respect them, but if we play to our full capability with the players we’ve got…Huddersfield can’t beat Manchester City.
"We’ve seen some incredible results in the FA Cup and I’m sure they think they’ve got a chance – but it would take a lot of things to go their way to beat City.”
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