Published 15/04/16, the Daily Mail. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3542494/Wes-Morgan-dreaming-Premier-League-title-growing-estate-known-drugs-crime-guns-ve-no-regrets-came-man-today.html)
The location for our meeting in Wes Morgan’s home town of Nottingham is symbolic. Perched on the north side of Trent Bridge is The Riverbank, an upmarket bar/restaurant which a young Morgan used to walk past on his way to training every day.
Behind us lies The Meadows, the tough inner-city estate where he was born and raised. Just across the water is the City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest, the club where Morgan first made his name as a footballer and where we played together more than a decade ago.
Now, in a matter of weeks, Morgan, the Leicester captain, could lift the Premier League trophy after one of the most remarkable seasons in living memory. Three wins from their last five games and history will be made…
GREGOR ROBERTSON: Wes, how does it feel to know you’re going to be in the Champions League next season?
WES MORGAN: It’s unbelievable. I’ve spent most of my career in the Championship. Last season was my first in the Premier League and we only just avoided relegation so, of course, none of this ever crossed my mind. To say I’ve played at the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu, hearing the Champions League music and everything that goes with it would be very special — one of the pinnacles of my career. But we’re (already) playing against some of the best teams and players in Europe now — Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal — and more than holding our own. So I don’t see why we shouldn’t compete against anyone else.
ROBERTSON: You’ve ticked off so many achievements this season. All that remains is the League title…
MORGAN: Yeah, that’s the final tick! At Sunderland last Sunday, we saw our fans in the stands with flags saying ‘champions’ on them. We can’t get carried away with that. There’s still work to be done.
But it’s a big, big possibility. I can’t deny that. It’s in our hands. We’ve got the chance to win the games to make it happen, to finish as champions. As a kid, it’s all I dreamed about: playing in the best league in the world, becoming a champion and lifting that trophy. So I can see the end, definitely, and I want to make the dream a reality.
I know there are going to be some twists and turns before the end of the season and I need it to be mathematically certain before I can give that final tick: champions.
ROBERTSON: You grew up in The Meadows. What was it like?
MORGAN: At that time, you don’t know about money or the luxuries in life. You’re very happy with what you’ve got, and I was definitely a happy kid with what I had. Me, my mum and sister lived in a three-bed ground-floor council flat. Dad wasn’t around too much.
I did all right at school. I got one B and 5 Cs in my GCSEs I think! My mum worked in a nursing home and worked very hard to provide what she could, which wasn’t much. Money was tight but I was a happy kid and she did all she could for us, which I will always appreciate.
If you’re from Nottingham, everyone has heard of The Meadows. It’s a tough area that’s known for drugs, crime, guns even. My friends got involved in some of that stuff, went to prison, but I always had a football. We played on people’s front gardens, car parks, public parks — anywhere, really. We played any chance we could.
The first proper team I played for were Meadow Colts. There were good players who came through there: Jermaine Pennant, Julian Bennett who would later play with me at Forest too. I played for Notts County for a few seasons and it got to the stage where they were deciding who would get a YTS contract at 16. They chose two players from our team and I wasn’t one. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go from there. The friends who have taken a different path, I still remain friends with. I’ll always be friends with them. Growing up in The Meadows made me the man I am today.
I’ve no regrets about where I come from — I’m proud of it. Thankfully, I stayed on the right path. My friends helped me. They never pressured me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with, and they saw I had a love for football, and maybe they saw the chance that was there for me before even I saw it.
Morgan revealed he grew up on an estate known for drugs, crime and guns in Nottingham
ROBERTSON: It’s fair to say you were quite a big lad back then…
MORGAN: Ha! Yeah, I’m naturally a big guy anyway, but I definitely wasn’t paying attention to what I ate. I remember getting a phone call from Notts County a couple of months after I’d been released asking me to come and do pre-season. I remember thinking: ‘I am in no shape to do pre-season!’ I’m no good at pre-season now! I didn’t really want to put myself through that, or for them to see how unfit I was. So I decided to go to college and play semi-pro for a club called Dunkirk in Nottingham instead.
ROBERTSON: You were doing Business Studies at college and it would be fair to say you’d almost given up on being a footballer. But 18 months later you got a trial with Forest and you went for it. What had changed?
MORGAN: I just saw it as a huge opportunity. The break I’d had from youth football was what I needed. I’d been playing for Dunkirk and the guys who ran my team were delighted for me. My boots were in bits — ripped and falling apart. From the kindness of their hearts they offered to buy me new boots to make a good impression.
When I told my mum, she found that a bit embarrassing, so she got hold of my dad to get me some new boots for the trial.
A week-long trial turned into two weeks, then a month, but when they asked me to stay until the end of the season, they sat me down and said: ‘Wes, first thing’s first, you need to get in shape.’ I weighed 16-and-a-half stone and got told to lose two stone — so I was doing extra running every day and I went on a diet. The onus was put on me though. I remember doing laps of the City Ground on my own every day and, when the youth team played games, I just ran! It was tough. I learned from that. When I signed for Leicester, they thought I could still trim down a bit but again the onus was on me. I do my own work in the gym and keep at a weight that’s right for me. I’ll always be a big guy though.
ROBERTSON: You made more than 400 appearances for Forest. There were some dark days in League One. Do those times make you appreciate where you are now even more?
MORGAN: In a way they do, yeah. I can see how far I’ve come. It’s how you come through those tough times that define you as a player. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to play in the Premier League.
Approaching my 30s, being at Forest and coming close but never making it, you do wonder if you’re ever going to get the opportunity. One of the main reasons I left for Leicester was for a fresh start and to try to make it there with a new team.
I spent a long time at Forest, I was having trouble coming to an agreement over my contract, and Forest were going through financial difficulties. The money Forest received (£1million) at that time helped them, and it gave me the opportunity to try to make it to the Premier League with Leicester.
ROBERTSON: It’s been a hell of a journey since you joined Leicester. Has it been difficult to take it in?
MORGAN: It’s surreal now. You’re in the moment and you’re just kind of going along with it. When it’s all over, maybe it’ll dawn on me. There are no butterflies though, That’s just the way our team are. It’s more like, ‘Let’s do this’.
This season has been pandemonium. I’m involved in a soccer school in Nottingham and I nipped off for a sandwich the other day. Kids and families were jumping out of their cars saying: ‘Wes! Can we get a picture?’ The staff serving behind the counter were the same.
It’s never been like that before. But it’s nice, I don’t mind taking the time to do that for people — it’s just all pretty new for me.
ROBERTSON: You made your debut for Jamaica in 2013 and had great experiences at the Copa America and Gold Cup last summer, coming up against Messi and Cavani. With the form you’re in, though, is there any part of you that wonders whether you might have been called up for England this season?
MORGAN: I qualified for Jamaica through my grandparents. Mum and dad were born in England. At that time I was still playing in the Championship and approaching 30. The opportunity came about to play international football and representing Jamaica has been amazing. It would have been nice to play for England, but at that stage of my career it seemed a long way away. There might have been a chance. It’s flattering, but I don’t have any regrets.
ROBERTSON: What is Claudio Ranieri like to play for?
MORGAN: He likes the banter! He’s a very approachable guy. I speak to him a lot, being captain, and he likes a laugh. But when it’s time to get serious, he’ll get serious. And he doesn’t mind cracking the whip when necessary.
On the training field he focuses a lot on our shape. He’s very good at working on tactics and the specifics of how we’re going to approach each game and different opposition. He has us very organised. We all know our roles.
We felt we had been defending well in the first part of the season, but we couldn’t keep a clean sheet. The manager got us pizzas when we finally got one. But now we’re winning games 1-0 and keeping those clean sheets, which is fantastic.
I think it’s because of the way teams approach us now — with a bit more caution. They know our threats and sit back a bit more, play us at our own game. We just need to find a way to win, and keeping clean sheets is helping us do that.
Clean sheets are my pride and joy, but it’s a whole team effort. The amount of work that players like Marc Albrighton and N’Golo Kante put in is ridiculous. It’s like having extra players on the pitch. In Kante’s first training session, everyone stood back and went: ‘Who is this guy, where’s he come from?’ It’s still the same after every session.
ROBERTSON: A lot has been said about the spirit and togetherness. Has that been one of the biggest reasons for Leicester’s success?
MORGAN: Definitely. It’s a unique set of boys. We all properly get on — on and off the pitch — and no one is above themselves. We love each other. It’s like a family and it shows. We’re prepared to put our bodies on the line for each other because we know the other person will do it for us. We’re a tight bunch.
The core of us have been together a long time and the people who’ve joined have adopted the culture. It’s refreshing to be part of a team with so much character, who rely on one another. It’s a special trait and one that’s got us where we are.
ROBERTSON: Finally, are you getting the sense that most of the country — outside north London — seems to be rooting for Leicester now?
MORGAN: It’s hard not to feel it. It’s the fact that we shouldn’t be there. It’s an underdog story. It’s fantastic that I’ve been part of something that’s inspired people all over the country, the world even, to believe in the underdog. There are five games to go and it’s in our hands. We can almost feel the metal on the cup.
To be in this position is unbelievable. It’s everything I’ve dreamed about. To be at a club like Leicester and saying, ‘We could be champions’, is incredible. We’re not there yet, but we’re very close.