Often, I leave the ‘Looking Back At’ feature to Malcolm and his excellent recollections of the 1960s. I’ve never felt comfortable writing about players I’ve seen in my life as it didn’t feel like I was looking that far back.
However, it struck me today that there are lads out there, drinking age lads, who will never have seen players such as Simon Yeo play for Lincoln City with any clarity. With one tweet, I’ve realised I’m old, but also that I can now talk about some of my favourite players in a feature like this! So, why not start with a player I still believe is one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen play for the club. I’m talking, of course, about Paul Morgan.
The Belfast-born centre back is just 27 days older than me. It is weird when footballers are the same age as you; as a kid, you see them as demi-gods, older and fitter. As an ‘older’ adult you see footballers as exciting young things, full of life and energy (perhaps not Ian Hamilton…). For a very short while, they’re the same as you and I was blessed to find the class of 2002/03 the same sort of age as me. It didn’t mean I idolised them any less though.
Paul Morgan came through the youth ranks at Preston North End and despite his obvious potential, he made only one senior appearance during his four years there, in the League Cup. He returned to Ireland on loan with Sligo Rovers, lifting the League of Ireland Cup in 1998. Once his time at Deepdale edged to a finish, he joined City on a free transfer. It was 2001 and we were, for want of a better phrase, on our arses. We’d been relegated back into the basement division and were drifting aimlessly towards oblivion.
Once he found his way into the side, he developed into one of the most talented defenders in the lower leagues in my opinion. He read the game excellently, he was fearless and yet also composed. His timing of tackles was excellent and many times his foot prevented an almost certain goal. He wasn’t particularly tall for a centre half, not stood next to the likes of Ben Futcher, but he was the very best I’d seen in many, many years. As a Northern Ireland national, a call-up was sure to come his way and he did receive one, cruelly snatched away. Wikipedia claims the friendly he was due to play in was cancelled, I seemed to recall he picked up an injury just four months after his arrival at Sincil Bank. Either way, his chance to wear the green was taken away and bizarrely, it didn’t come around again.
Summer 2002 brought around administration and the fear over our future and Morgs was one of the players who remained with the club during the turbulence. Keith Alexander made him captain at the start of the 2002/03 campaign, a season fans expected little more than survival from. Instead, Paul Morgan led an unfancied side all the way to the play-off final, earning himself the nickname ‘Ireland’s Bobby Moore’ from City fans. He penned a new two-year contract at the end of March 2003, ahead of the penultimate league match against Bournemouth, much to the delight of fans who held him in such high esteem. There were few surprises when he was named Player of the Year for that historic season.
Paul Morgan was a fellow professional’s dream. As well as organise and encourage the defence he was a match for any centre forward when it came to pace, and often found a clever and fair tackle in situations where only a foul looked possible. He led fiercely and unflinchingly with a commitment to the cause that truly epitomised everything Keith was trying to achieve. He was the perfect example of the ethos shown by the club at the time, just as Smon Yeo, Richard Butcher, Peter Gain and a host of others were. Very rarely could one say the phrase ‘all for one, one for all’ applied to a football team, but in 2002/03 it applied to use with Captain Morgan at the forefront of that.
The following season he was named 2004 BBC East Midlands ‘Footballer of the Year’ ahead of the likes of Nottingham Forest’s Andy Reid and Leicester City’s Ian Walker, a real honour for a Lincoln City footballer. Once again we challenged at the right end of the table and once again Paul Morgan was at the heart of our success. Our hearts were broken away at Huddersfield in the play-offs, but truth be told a decent start might have seen us promoted automatically. A year later, with him still the club captain, we failed once again to break the play-off hoodoo with a defeat against Southend. The classic Keith side began to break up, but Paul Morgan was going nowhere. He signed another new deal, this time for three years in 2005, and it looked very much like our inspirational captain was around for the long haul. Against Macclesfield Town on New Year’s Day, meanwhile, he made his 200th Football League appearance for the Imps.
His 2005/06 season was blighted by injury and two red cards early in the season. He was dismissed against Chester as we drew 2-2, then again as we lost 2-1 at Torquay (along with Alan Marriott and Lee Beevers). He then suffered an injury in December which ruled him out until April, but he returned to be a key component of the side that were again defeated in the play-offs, this time against Grimsby Town.
He was one of the few players to play a key role in the scintillating 2006/07 early-season form as well as the play-off success four years previous. His second goal for the club came in a dramatic 2-1 win at Torquay, where he atoned for his sending off the year before with a 90-minute leveller, just seconds before Martin Gritton turned the game on its head. Sadly, shortly after our fifth play-off defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers, he informed Head Coach John Schofield that he wished to leave the Club, and he left by mutual consent in June 2007.
Twenty-four hours later he re-joined his former boss Keith Alexander at Bury before following him to Macclesfield on a season-long loan a year later. He ended his career playing for Gary Simpson at Macclesfield, as well as studying for a degree in physiotherapy at the University of Salford. He used that degree to good effect and is head of physiotherapy at Accrington Stanely, as well as taking the same position with the Montserrat national side.
Paul Morgan was one of only a couple of players to feature in each and every single one of our play-off appearances, and his departure did leave a hole in our defence that I don’t feel was filled properly until the 2016/17 season a decade later. His organisation and leadership qualities helped players like Jamie McCombe, Ben Futcher and Gareth McAuley to flourish and go on to have really good careers in the higher leagues. He made 238 appearances for City in all competitions, scoring just twice.
“YOU’LL NEVER BEAT PAUL MORGAN”