Mens Team

Andy Morrison: Managing through...

Andy Morrison: Managing through...
Former City skipper Andy Morrison has earned the reputation as one of the best managers outside the Football League.

Morrison's arrival in 1998 coincided with an upturn in fortunes for City who eventually won promotion from the third tier after beating Gillingham in the 1999 play-off final.

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A bargain £80,000 signing, City boss at the time claimed Morrison had dragged the Club “kicking and screaming” to promotion and his place in Club folklore was further cemented by a second successive promotion the season after, though a knee injury hampered his campaign and eventually ended his playing career.

After becoming assistant boss at Worcester City and then Northwich Victoria, he moved to Welsh Premier League side Airbus UK and in 2015, became manager at Connah’s Quay Nomads in the same division.

He guided Nomads to their highest ever finish in his first season and the club has qualified for the Europa League for the past four seasons as well as claiming a Welsh Cup success.

In Europe, Morrison has guided his side to victories over Stabaek, HJ Helsinki and earlier this season, Nomads beat Kilmarnock 2-0 away to progress to the Second Qualifying Round where they pushed Partizan Belgrade all the way in North Wales, losing 1-0 before exiting the competition in the second leg.

An incredible achievement.

Andy has provided us with a Q&A on how he his managing the club, players and his own time during the Convid-19 pandemic and provides a fascinating picture of how managers and players around the world are currently operating…

Andy, as a manager, how are you coping with the current situation and remotely keeping things running?

“A lot of it is just dealing with things on a day-to-day basis. The hardest thing for me – as a professional who has been in the game most of my life – is the uncertainty. If we’d been given a time frame that was clear and definite, I could get my head around that and plan and have a strategy in place for when it looks like it might begin again, but the way things are, it is so, so difficult. It is the uncertainty that causes the real problems for clubs.”

How are you keeping your squad fit?

“Of course, we have a structure in place and the players have their own training programmes that have been put together by the sports science department of our club, which is very detailed and in depth.

"Each player records their half-hour, intense programme at home on a daily basis and then sends it to me and the sports science team and we monitor that every day. They have a GPS for when they go on the four weekly runs we set them and all that data is recorded so we can track that, too.

“Everybody is accountable and there has to be an element of trust involved but with the resources we have, we are as professional as we can be, and everyone has bought into it with the knowledge that we don’t know where we are heading. We set them a two-week programme that we will review during that time and then see where we are as we progress.

"We are all having to step away from football for what is a significant period – I think the most I’ve had off in the last eight years is three weeks during the summer because we’re always back early preparing for European qualifying games, so this is the longest period away from the game I can remember.

How is it affecting your routine?

“Anyone connected with the game - be it managers, coaches, players, supports staff or whatever - will tell you that your life goes in a cycle in the football world that begins in pre-season and ends with the last game before it all begins again. I’ve been in that cycle since I was 16.

"For anyone who has had that all their life, it is so difficult because it’s a completely new experience for us all. It’s strange being at home and feeling you’re not doing very much at such an important part of the season, but football has to take a backward step because people are losing their lives.

"But football doesn’t become any less important for millions of people around the world. Something has come along and gravitated itself to the top of each and everyone’s lives, but underneath that, there is still football and no matter what walk of life you are from or work in, that hasn’t lost its importance.

"We still have to be mindful and prepare for when we start again – and it will come – and make sure everyone is ready for it, and that’s all you can do. It’s a new experience for everyone and I would imagine football will be gradually filtered back in rather than everyone just being given a start date. I’ve no idea where we are going, and for me, that is the hardest part. It’s the not knowing and having no definite structure to work towards.”

Are you worried that the momentum your team had will have gone and it will almost be a case of starting from scratch?

“I think so. But I have a resolute bunch of players and they will be measured on their own honesty when we return and what lengths they were willing to go to. Hopefully, everyone will be honest.

"All the players’ weights were taken and bodyfat measured before we started this period and they were all given strict targets of where they needed to be at. I’m hoping when we come back, we will have a clear three weeks before our first game and then we can say, ‘OK, in 21 days we are starting again and build towards that’.

"Maybe we will be able to get a friendly or two in to sharpen ourselves up but, of course, all momentum will have been lost in the sense that this will have been longer than the summer break. But that will be across the board and the same for everyone and it will filter down and it will be the teams that have done the most work and been the most resilient who will be able to kick on for the last month or six weeks of the season.”

Are you finding you are having to be more than just a manager to some of the lads? A father figure even if needed?

“Of course. I text every player each morning and speak with them all on a regular basis and have five or ten minutes with them and give them the opportunity to let me know any concerns they might have and it goes without saying there are anxieties to deal with.

"My job is to reassure everyone that everything will be carrying on as usual. If there are specific worries, I’ll try and help them as best I can within my limited knowledge of whatever the issue might be.

"We keep in contact every three to four days and we have the new fitness programmes coming in and they have been working hard. The times we are getting for their 5k and 10k runs have been phenomenal and they’ve been hitting the same times they were hitting in pre-season.

"There’s no hiding place - and if anyone has not worked as hard as somebody else, they will go down in the pecking order when we start back.”

How are your players coping financially? Do any of the players have additional jobs that have been affected?

“We have 14 players who are full-time and six or seven who are part-time and of course it is a concern, but this is an unprecedented situation we are in and everybody has to be extra flexible and understanding and be willing to go to any length to make everything work.

"We are all sat back and just waiting to see where we are going, but as a sportsman, we have to ask ourselves what we are in control of and what can we do and that is to make sure your fitness levels are as close to when we finished as possible – without the intensity of matches - and making sure your weight is as it should be.

"We have to say, ‘what are we accountable for?’ and make sure we control that as best we can, because there are so many other things that are out of our control at the moment. If we can be just 10% or 15% off where we were when we start up again, the teams we play might be 25% or 30% off and that will give us that little edge. It’s about looking after yourself.”

How are you coping with the lockdown?

“We are very early in the process, maybe just nine days or so in. Ask me in 16 or 17 days! At this stage, we are all keeping busy, the gardening is getting done and my wife turned up with three or four pots of paint the other day and I was like, ‘Who are they for?’

"I think there is an enthusiasm to use this time wisely at the moment, but if we get to the end of this three weeks and we are asked for a further extension, I think we need to be mindful of our mental health, and I don’t say that lightly.

"Having our freedom to do what we want taken away from us is a completely new experience for all of us and it is going to very difficult for some people – but we are a resolute lot and I’m certain we will find a way to come through this together and in years to come, look back in 2020 and understand what an incredibly difficult period this was.”

As a former City captain, what would your role be now if you were still playing?

“From my time, there was no social media where we could have FaceTime, House Party or whatever and connect in that way. My honest thoughts are that right now, it’s about looking after loved ones and those closest to you above all else, but always be there if someone needs to reach out.

"Everyone will deal with it differently and some players will want regular contact with their team-mates, but for me, I think look after those around you and make sure you are doing everything correctly. Start at home first.”

Do you have a message for football fans in general?

“It’s going to be a long road, but we will all come through this eventually and in time, we will look back on this period and hopefully all be stronger for it.

"For now, we just need to batten down the hatches, do what we are instructed to do and wait for football to return because I think we all realise, more than ever, what a huge part football plays in society. Apart from work and family, football is probably the most structured part of so many of our lives.

"We will come through this and we will be all better for it and when we come out the other side, I think life in general will be different, we will all be more together, be stronger and grow as individuals because of this experience.”

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