Simon Morgan

Former Player Remembers: Simon Morgan

Former England Under-21 defender Simon Morgan played a total of over 600 games for Leicester City and Fulham between 1985 and 2001. Last month Simon talked to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his seven years at Filbert Street playing for Gordon Milne, Bryan Hamilton and David Pleat.
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He also discussed his 11 years at Fulham, which saw the London club sink to near the bottom of the fourth tier of the Football League before it recovered to eventually win a place in the Premier League. Simon currently works as the Premier League’s Head of Football Relations.

Birmingham-born Simon began by explaining how he came to Filbert Street in 1983 as a 16-year-old apprentice.

“As a youngster I trawled round Birmingham City, Aston Villa and West Brom but I wasn’t taken on by any of these. Leicester City’s youth coach  Dave Richardson had close roots in the Birmingham area and he signed me up at Filbert Street on a two year YTS (Youth Training Scheme) apprenticeship. If Maggie Thatcher hadn’t started the YTS scheme at this time I don’t think I would have been taken on so I’m indebted to her!

“The two years YTS apprenticeship was brilliant. I learned so much. We laughed a lot as well because when there were people like goalkeeper Mark Wallington around the first team dressing room it always meant there was lots of laughter around.

“Dave Richardson was a big influence. We had a fantastic youth team. We trained hard but off the pitch we used to sweep the terraces.  I even spent a week landscaping (manager) Gordon Milne's garden! 

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Simon Morgan

Morgan, a former England Under-21 international, spent seven years at Leicester City.

“They were great times.  I loved it and just progressed all the way through. When I’d just turned 19, there were a lot of injuries in and around the first team, particularly with defenders so I got my chance to have my debut in a Sunday lunchtime game away at Coventry in the old First Division. This was in October 1985.

“We lost 3-0!” Simon laughed. “I enjoyed it. I just went with the flow and felt good. Cyrille Regis played up front for Coventry. We were going through a time where we were scoring plenty of goals but we were letting plenty in as well, so we were always entertaining to watch.”

Referring to the fact that after his debut, he kept his place in the team for the next four seasons Simon continued, “I had a great first season which culminated in us staying up on the last day. Gordon Milne, his coach Gerry Summers and Dave Richardson were all brilliant for me. I liked the way they went about things.  The training was great. It really prepared you to be as physically fit as possible on the Saturday. It was really sad for me when at the end of that season (1985/86) they decided to let Gordon become Director of Football, with Bryan Hamilton taking over the team. This meant that Gordon wasn’t involved in the football side. As a man with all of his experience, he should have been. Bryan brought in his own coaching team.

“Things didn’t go well for us that season and we got relegated. We changed the formation and the team on a weekly basis.  I played right-back, left-back and sweeper. We never got a consistent team selection. We started the season quite well but then we had injuries.

“I remember getting relegated at Oxford,” Simon continued. “It was the last game of the season. We were all in the dressing room after the game, lying about and feeling devastated.  ‘Smudger’ (Alan Smith) who had signed for Arsenal earlier in the year but who had been loaned back to Leicester until the end of the season, was going down to Arsenal's Player of the Year dinner that evening.  After his shower, wearing his tuxedo and his dickie bow, he said 'Alright, good luck lads,’ and then left.  We’d lost Gary Lineker two seasons earlier and now Alan Smith. They were just very difficult to replace. Early the next season we also lost (Scotland international) Ian Wilson. He was great around the dressing room as well. Losing characters like that definitely impacted on the dressing room.”

Football administration appealed to me more than coaching and management. I did a business degree whilst I was at Fulham, and after I finished playing I went back to Fulham as Head of Community which was a great experience learning how football works.

Simon Morgan

Despite relegation, Simon’s only missed one game that season and he was also selected for the England Under-21 side.

 “I played in Sweden then we had a home game against Yugoslavia,” Simon remembered. “I was selected on the basis of our good start to the season but then my form, and the team’s form, dipped. I just got two caps and that was it but it was a great experience. Dave Sexton was the under-21 manager. The team included Tony Adams and Stuart Pearce who were big characters who went on to have fantastic England careers. It was great to be in and around them for a couple of games.”

Back in the second tier, Leicester City had a poor start to the 1987/88 season, losing five of their first six games sinking to 22nd in the table. Bryan Hamilton was sacked in December and was replaced by David Pleat. Results improved, as Simon recalled.

“We had a really good second half of the season as soon as David came in. I think he realised what had gone the year before. He made a couple of good signings and he kept a settled team. Actually, apart from my first season, that second half of the season is probably about the most settled time I had in the team. I played at left-back. We had a really good end to the season and everyone was expecting us to go on the next season and get promoted but it never happened.”

The following season (1988/89) was indeed a disappointment. Instead of promotion the team finished a very disappointing 15th, despite the side containing some very good players such as Ali Mauchlen, Gary McAllister, Steve Walsh, Mike Newell, Gary Mills and Paul Ramsey.

Thinking back, Simon reflected: “I didn’t really enjoy that season. David (Pleat) loved his flair players.  He liked to attack and I don't think he was particularly interested in a struggling old ‘Brummy’ at the back. Having finished the previous season so well, he then signed Tony Spearing, a left-back. He started the season so I was out the team”.

In fact Simon did make 30 starts in the league during that season but as he explained, “I was basically a utility replacement player which was a bit disappointing for me obviously.  The team weren't picking up results. To be honest with you I don't think we had the spirit in the dressing room where we could really dig out results and get ourselves into a position where we could get into a promotion push. It was a frustrating time for everyone.”

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Simon Morgan

The Birmingham-born defender went on to play for Fulham and Brighton & Hove Albion following his spell with the Foxes.

The following season (1989/90) Simon was badly hit by injuries.

“I fractured my cheekbone during the pre-season,” Simon recalled. “This meant that I was out for six weeks. When I came back, I was training one day and my knee just ballooned up. I hadn’t done anything in particular but I had to have an operation and was out for quite a long time.”

In fact Simon’s knee injury which occurred in December 1989 kept him out for the rest of the season. While he was injured, a move to Fulham became a possibility, as he explained.

“In the February (1990), a couple of months after my knee injury, I was talking to Fulham about a move. They were quite keen to sign me but because of my injury, I didn’t feel it was the right time. However, when I came back and got fit in time for the following season, I did leave Leicester in October and went down to Fulham. There were a couple of other clubs sniffing around but they didn’t come up with the asking price so we decided to take the plunge and move to Fulham and I’vem   been in London ever since.”

Simon had played 182 games for Leicester City and over the next eleven seasons he made a further 420 appearances for Fulham.

It was a roller coaster of ride for Simon at Craven Cottage, He joined the club when they were in the third tier and during his time at Fulham, the club was relegated to the fourth tier, before three promotions in subsequent years culminated in the Cottagers gaining a place in the Premier League in 2001. 

Explaining why he dropped a division to join Fulham, Simon continued, “Leicester had been brilliant for me. I really enjoyed it there, but then things soured a little bit after Gordon Milne left and I lost form. It was time to move on. When I joined Fulham, things weren’t good there, and they got worse because we were relegated to the bottom division in 1994”.

When Micky Adams came in as manager in March 1996 Fulham were bottom-but-one in the whole football league. “Micky dragged us up by the bootlaces,” Simon recalled. “The following season (1996/97) I was captain and we were promoted in second place behind Wigan. That was probably the most enjoyable season I had in football. We finished equal on points and we would have won the title but our chairman Jimmy Hill had got the rules changed so that it wasn’t goal average which counted, but goal difference. This meant that we missed out on lifting the trophy. We’d have won the title if our Chairman hadn’t had the rules changed! It was still a fantastic season though. We had a great set of lads.  It wasn’t the most talented team that Fulham have ever had, but probably one of the most committed. It was just great fun!

Actually, apart from my first season, that second half of the season is probably about the most settled time I had in the team. I played at left-back. We had a really good end to the season and everyone was expecting us to go on the next season and get promoted but it never happened.

Simon Morgan

“I also had great fun writing a book about the season,” Simon laughed. “It sold at absolutely no good booksellers and there’s probably a warehouse in Surrey full of these books whilst others are probably holding up a few tables across Fulham. Having said that, I know that it’s held in very fond affection by the Fulham fans who were present that season!”

That summer, Mohamed Al-Fayed bought the Club and soon replaced Micky Adams, despite his achievements. Recalling this, Simon said: “That wasn’t right. It’s still not right to this day, but it was Mohamed Al-Fayed’s club. He said we were going to be the Manchester United of the south and that we would be in the Premier League within five years. He wanted to do this his way. He replaced Micky with Ray Wilkins (as head coach) and Kevin Keegan (as chief operating officer).”

Simon captained the team to the Play-off semi-finals that season (1997/98), by which time Ray Wilkins had left the club with Kevin Keegan taking over as manager.

Thinking back to Keegan’s first full season as manager (1998/99), Simon recalled, “Yes, he got us promoted to the second tier as champions. Kevin was all about attack. We played a three man defence with me, Chris Coleman and Kit Symons. We basically got promoted on the back of a solid defence which isn’t what you normally hear about Kevin Keegan’s teams, but then he went off to manage England so that was a bit strange.

“The following season (1999/00) started with [Keegan’s assistant] Paul Bracewell in charge, and later that season, Jean Tigana (a famous France international player) came in. He had new dietary and training techniques. He just transformed the club and the next year we won the second tier title and were promoted to the Premier League.  If you look at that team which was promoted from what is now the Championship, we had Steve Finnan, Chris Coleman, Louis Saha, Luis Boa Morte, John Collins and Lee Clark. It was probably the best team that’s ever been in the Championship. They played some unbelievable football and got promoted brilliantly.”

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Simon Morgan

Not long after Simon signed for Micky Adams at Brighton & Hove Albion, Adams became Leicester City’s manager.

Unfortunately, injury caused Simon to miss most of that season, as  he explained. “I got a cruciate injury just before the season started and I missed the whole season. I got fit for the last month and Jean was kind enough to let me come on as a substitute in the last home game of the season against Wolves.  We were 2-0 up with about 10 minutes to go. He’d thanked me beforehand for everything I’d done for the club. He’d also told me that they were going to let me go in the summer, but he said he wanted to give me one last run out in the first team.  When I went onto the pitch he just said, ‘Go on and enjoy yourself’. It was a great gesture by Jean and the club.”

That year was also Simon’s testimonial year. “My testimonial year was the culmination of a wonderful five years at the club. There had been a complete transformation from my first five years there which weren’t too successful. I couldn’t play in my testimonial match against Spurs because I was injured. There was also a special testimonial fanzine produced called ‘There’s only one Simon Morgan’ which poked a lot of fun at me. It was a good laugh.”

The next season (2000/01) Simon signed for Micky Adams at Brighton and Hove Albion in the third tier, but in October Adams became Leicester City’s manager, replacing Peter Taylor who took over at Brighton. “My knees just about held out for me to play the whole season,” Simon said, “and we won the title thanks to Bobby Zamora’s goals. It was a fantastic way to end my career.” 

Simon had made preparations for his retirement as a player.

“Football administration appealed to me more than coaching and management. I did a business degree whilst I was at Fulham, and after I finished playing I went back to Fulham as Head of Community which was a great experience learning how football works. I was there a few years and then picked up the same role at the Premier League about 11 years ago. About four years ago, I became Head of Football Relations at the Premier League. I act as the link between the Premier League and all of the on-field football matters with the managers, the players and the referees.”

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