Mens Team

How one conversation changed Andy Morrison’s life

BATTLE: Andy Morrison has tackled issues away from football.
Joe Royle, you would suspect, will always be grateful he could call upon the services of Andy Morrison during our unforgettable 1998-1999 season.

The former Manchester City boss once described the man mountain of a centre-half and his inspirational captain as ‘the catalyst’ for Manchester City’s rise from the third tier of English football.

But that debt of gratitude is reciprocated by Morrison, who remains eternally grateful to Royle for being the catalyst for him to change his life.

That fateful day at the old Wembley Stadium was the pinnacle of the defender’s career, but five months earlier he had been at his lowest ebb in his battle with alcoholism.

One conversation with Royle set the wheels in motion for Morrison to address that and seek the help he needed, and it is a pertinent story on a weekend in which mental health will be at the forefront of English football.

All FA Cup ties will kick-off one minute late as part of the Heads Up campaign, which is encouraging fans to take that minute to think about their mental health.

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City’s game against Port Vale, will get under way at 17:31 (UK) and our former captain’s story is a timely reminder of how important talking can be as a first step towards managing mental health issues.

“I’d reached a point where I was suspended and the pressures of life and football where too much for me and I needed an escape," says Morrison as he recalls the conversation with Royle in January 1999.

“I found one for the best part of three days away and I took to the drink.

“I came back and I expected to get the usual telling off, the fine and the instructions about what my priorities were and how I should conduct myself, but Joe dealt with it in a different way.

“He took a very human element into it. It was important for him to get that across to me and of course, it touched everything I needed to know at that time.

“It made me feel more than just a footballer. It made me feel like a human being. I went away that day and had a look at myself and realised it was something I had put off for a long time.

“Whether the pupil is ready and the teacher appears or it’s the other way round, I’m not sure, but that occasion gave me something to reflect on and to go away and make a change in my life.

“I did and I never look too lightly on that conversation that me and Joe had because how long would have it have gone on after that if I hadn’t had such a close connection with him at that time?

“I’ve always been indebted for Joe for that. It’s been 22 years since I had a drink of alcohol so he must have said something right.

“He took the conversation away from football and turned it back on me and that was a really pivotal moment in the change of direction I took.

“It made me think I deserved better, I deserved not to be in these chronic moments of anxiety I felt and these moments where I felt I need to escape from everything.

“It was a key moment in my life.”

There were further battles ahead, however.

A succession of injuries ended Morrison’s career in 2002 at the age of just 31 and with that came depression.

After 16 years as a professional footballer he was not prepared for what came next, without the weekly regime of training and matches.

It was a dark time, but one Morrison feels he had to go through and, crucially, he again sought help.

“When I look back, I don’t believe I had a great deal of choice,” he explains. “I think I had to go into that and come out the other side.

“Doing something from the age of 15 and having it taken away from you at 31 and not really being qualified to do anything else, for me it would be impossible for me not to feel abandoned and completely lost in where I am going in my life.

“I think that’s something that can happen across the board. Players finish their careers feeling very positive, thinking they’re going to become a coach and do this or that.

“Very quickly I slipped into a dark place where I thought there was nothing else apart from football. I had to come through that.

“It took a fair while and it took a lot of therapy for me to come through that and out the other side.”

Now manager of Connahs Quay Nomads in the Welsh Premier League, Morrison acknowledges mental health issues can be a continual battle.

Through the PFA he speaks to a sports psychologist on a regular basis, discussing life on and off the football pitch, which he finds eases the burden.

The 49-year-old freely admits, however, that he would have found it impossible to ask for such help during his playing career.

He has made peace with that, but wishes he had felt differently at the time and now, understandably, advocates people speaking up when they feel they are struggling or when aspects of life get on top of them.

It’s why he is delighted the Heads Up campaign is featuring so prominently in this weekend’s FA Cup ties.

“I think it’s fantastic that it’s being brought to the attention of the public,” he added.

“It was a bit of a taboo in my day, you wouldn’t talk about those sort of things, but now it’s being brought to the forefront it gives everybody an opportunity to realise the importance of it.

“You need to acknowledge it and realise you’re not different to anybody else. You can put a brave face on, but there are times we are going to struggle.

“At that point it’s important you address it and ask for help or advice on how other people have dealt with those situations in their life.

“Life is tough, things come along that none of us expect and cause us real problems.

“To realise you are not unique and that other people have gone through that and come out the other side, to talk to another person to lighten the load, is so important.”

All Emirates FA Cup third round ties will be delayed by one minute to encourage fans to ‘Take A Minute’ to think about looking after their mental health, as part of the Heads Up campaign.

It's hoped that the initiative will raise awareness of the importance of looking after our mental health, with 60 seconds representing just the first step in the journey to improved wellbeing. During the minute delay, fans will be encouraged to consider the positive impact 60 seconds can have on their own wellbeing or in supporting a friend or family member.

Heads Up is partnering with Public Health England’s ‘Every Mind Matters’ across the Emirates FA Cup third round to draw attention to the simple steps we can all take to look after our mental health and wellbeing.

Spearheaded by HRH The Duke of Cambridge, the Heads Up campaign harnesses the influence and popularity of football to encourage more people – particularly men – to feel comfortable talking about, and taking action to improve, their mental health and to recognise that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness.

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