This article was published in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match-Day Programme on Saturday 23rd December, 2017, against Brechin City.
Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish my article on my website.
Dunfermline captain Callum Morris was once dubbed the “next big thing” while he was with Newcastle United. With that in mind, the 27-year-old defender’s journey to Fife in 2012 was not as straight forward as some may think.
The Geordie was more into rugby as a youngster.
“There was a lad at the rugby club I was at, that also played for a local football team. He said one day to me that I should come along – my dad said I might as well go along as I have nothing better to do with my weekend! That was it really, the more I played the more football became my main priority. I wasn’t massively into football at this age: I was probably 10 or 11 then. I ended up signing for that team, they were my local boys club called Heaton Hawks. I really enjoyed rugby: I was quite good at it, in fact, but, as I said, football then took over.”
Callum was to begin supporting Newcastle United as he reached his teenage years.
“I love football now – I think when you play it, you get a better understanding of the game, so, when you do watch a match you can be more critical as you spot things. This can help a player’s own personal game, if you can pick up wee traits from players that you have watched specifically. Back then, I couldn’t tell you the whole Newcastle squad; I knew of a few players but I wasn’t a fanatic, that was more my mates.
When I was 12 or 13, though, I used to go to all the Champions League home games with my mate. He actually went over to the San Siro for the 2-2 game versus Inter Milan with his dad, but I wasn’t allowed to go – my dad never let me go, I will never forgive him for that! It was great; I saw some great teams: Barcelona, Juventus, Inter, Dynamo Kyiv…it was amazing seeing so many top players playing at St James’ Park. Even the year we got to the Europa League Semi-Final, but got beat off Marseille, was a great experience as they had guys like [Didier] Drogba and he was immense that night. The older I got, the more interested I became in Newcastle United.”
When Morris was 15, he signed for the Toon Army’s Academy.
“I was still at school, so, as soon as I turned 16 I signed for them on a scholarship deal and that was when I first joined them as a full-time professional. I used to play centre-midfield a bit when I was younger but I quickly became a centre-back; I used to look at guys like Rio Ferdinand, [Nemanja] Vidic and John Terry. [Paolo] Maldini was another one, I used to watch him every Sunday on Channel 5 – that was my homework! We never had Sky Sports, so, I didn’t get to see the Premier League matches live so I always looked forward to watching the Serie A highlights, as well as tuning in to Match of the Day on a Saturday night too, obviously!”
“I do remember a time when I was on my scholarship, that someone from the FA came to question all the players about how they were getting on with their studies and things like that. One of the questions was “which player from the first-team do you look up to in your position?” but he told me “I won’t ask you that question as there are no good centre-backs here at Newcastle!” – that was at a time when they had guys like [Jean-Alain] Boumsong, [Titus] Bramble and guys like that! He just told me to pick someone else from another team!”
“It was quite good the way they did it; I came in to train with them while I was still at school once or twice a week, so the transition was smooth and easy. They gradually break you in when you are in your last year at school and the facilities are great; you have the best of the best. However, the issue is you become accustomed to everything and it just becomes the norm. When you go in the food is made for you; you will have PCs available, Sauna’s and Gym’s on hand if needed, your kit is ready for you, your boots were whichever ones you wanted. You got what you wanted, when you wanted it and I think sometimes younger players can get caught up in all of that. Once they go out on loan or they get released, they quickly find out life isn’t as easy as that and it is a massive reality check for a lot of them. To be fair, the clubs only do it to try and get the best out of the players and keep their mind fully focused on football, but, in my opinion, it can take away from the character building of individual players. Playing rugby first for me was great as it really toughened me up.”
Morris played alongside some big names in his time at Newcastle.
“Our youth team was actually pretty good; before we went full-time, we were brilliant and would win nearly every week. Looking back at it now, there aren’t actually that many boys still playing who were in that successful side of ours. The most notable would be Andy Carroll, who has obviously gone on to great things, playing in the Premier League right now. Kazenga Lua-Lua who is on loan to QPR from Brighton right now and also Fraser Forster were guys who I worked alongside every day. Tim Krul as well was brought in during my time there, but, there were a lot of boys who I feel could’ve had a good career. It doesn’t just come down to your ability and your attitude, though; you need a lot of luck as well: if you are fortunate enough to get the right doors opened for you then you can easily play at a good level and train full-time and be a professional footballer.”
Morris was involved with the senior squad, without playing professionally for the Toon Army.
“I trained with the first-team regularly; when you were with the youth team, you’d just get a call in the morning to tell you you’ve been invited to work with them – then you just grab your boots, run across the youth training pitch and jump the fence to join up with the first-team! In my second year I went up to the reserves and their changing room is in with the first-team so you were around these guys every day at training, when in the gym and it is great. I played in a few friendly matches for them and travelled with the first-team a few times but I was never in a match-day squad. The manager, actually, told me prior to an FA Cup match that there was a chance I could be playing…then I broke my ankle, so that was the end of that one!”
“When I look back now, I think I was a hard-worker, but, as I have said, players become comfortable when you are in that environment. I kind of regret not pushing more to being let out on loan and getting that first-team experience as a youngster. We used to have the biggest injury-list in world football at one point – players were dropping like flies. When I was out with my broken ankle, we were that short on players that during the week I would spend time with guys in the treatment room that on a Saturday, were sitting on the bench for Newcastle in the Premier League because we were that short of players! I missed a trick there, I think, but I wouldn’t change anything. It was amazing training alongside some of the biggest names in football at that time: Michael Owen, Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan, Damien Duff, Nicky Butt…with Newcastle being my hometown club it was a bit surreal at times.
I played a lot of games at youth and reserve level for Newcastle. I was playing up to four times a week at one point, but I never once saw myself as “the next big thing”, as I had been dubbed. Maybe that was my downfall, maybe I didn’t kick on again because I was so comfortable in my surroundings. If I went back now, I would give it a right go and be really selfish. I think I gave it a good go but in hindsight, there are wee things I would tweak.”
Callum left his hometown club in the summer of 2010, joining Blyth Spartans.
“Everyone was expecting me to get a new contract, but, I went in and was told they were letting me go. Surprisingly, though, I came out of that meeting with so much confidence; Chris Hughton was the manager at the time but some of the things he had said to me made me realise it was just another pathway for me now in my footballing career. The next day, I went down to Leeds and I thought it would have been great – a big club and not too far away from home either. I went in and trained with them; played a reserve match for them, which we won 3-0. I headed back up the road but I got a phone call saying they wouldn’t offer me anything. I honestly thought something was going to happen though, but the phone never rang. I knew a few of the lads at Blyth Spartans and I got asked if I wanted to play with them – I thought to myself that I had nothing to lose so I accepted, and, to be honest, I really, really enjoyed it. We did well that season up until I left- we were high-up in the Conference North and had got far in the FA Trophy, too.
My dad then asked me if I wanted to go to Spain and I wasn’t too sure. He applied on my behalf anyway, to the Glen Hoddle Academy. I didn’t know he had done it until I received an email about going for a trial one day. I went down to Bishop Abbey and they didn’t really say much as there were loads of boys there. I got the train back up to Newcastle from London and then I got an email asking if I wanted to come out to Spain for two weeks to see what it is like before I make a decision, and this is where I felt it began to get serious for me.”
After accepting the offer, Morris joined Jerez Industrial – a Spanish Four Division side – who worked in conjunction with the Glen Hoddle Academy.
“I got to the villa we were staying in at the resort and I thought it was brilliant. I was staying and playing football in Spain – it was a great education about football, nothing that I had ever experienced before. Even though the level wasn’t high, the standard was top notch. The clubs that were part-time in our league had players that were so tactically astute and so technically good on the ball, which I had never really seen before in my career despite having grown up at Newcastle. It was all about the passing, there was very rarely any hoofs up the park or anything like that; unfortunately, come Christmas time it went a bit pear-shaped so we all had to come home as financial difficulties were going on. It then became terrible as I was training with them still from a Monday to a Friday in London and then travelling home at the weekend, but we weren’t really playing any games. Not a lot was happening for me and I started to question where I was going to go. You get promised that you are going to sign for teams or get trials but no matter how many times I played, and I felt I got on well, nothing would materialise.”
Then, a break did come Morris’ way, as Blue Square Premier club Hayes & Yeading gave Callum a chance to impress.
“As I was making such a fuss over not playing, the Glen Hoddle Academy told me they’d sort me out with a club. The club were struggling for players at the time but it was a similar scenario – I was living in Reading, but I didn’t have enough money to get by, so I ended up staying with the Assistant Manager! It was part-time, so, I was still training in London Monday to Friday while also training at nights twice a week plus playing games, but, I had no money in my back pocket! I don’t think they played me at centre-back in any of my three matches for them either: I am sure they put me in at right-back twice and left-back once. That club was crazy, to be quite honest. It is the biggest transitional phase I have ever seen in my life. You’d turn up for training and they would have about 20 new players there as they were desperate and were taking anyone and everyone willing on trial. I called that one a day at Christmas time as it was just ridiculous – I was on less money than I was at Newcastle when I was 16, to live with a random guys, train twice a week and then play on a Saturday at left-back! I wasn’t getting anything out of it and my love for the game began to diminish as all the sacrifices just weren’t worth it. We were getting beat every week as well; that is when I went home and said enough is enough.”
This is when Morris began to question whether he wanted to continue his footballing career.
“I came back up to Newcastle and told everyone that I didn’t feel this was the career for me, anymore, as it just wasn’t working. I then went to Hull on trial but it was the same thing – you are good, but, you aren’t better than what we have already got. I needed to get my life in order: I hadn’t been paid a proper wage since I was 20 and I was just about to turn 22 at this point. I just couldn’t live like that; I had given the sport a go and I had travelled all over the world, but, I just wasn’t wanting to be mucked around anymore.
I was looking to stay in the game but not at a professional level as I wanted to do further education or get a job, so I mentioned to my mate in the Northern League that I was looking for a club and he put my name around the managers. The next thing I know, my phone is going off right, left and centre from clubs all over the division wanting to speak to me. I met a guy from Morpeth Town and everything fitted well – I wasn’t really bothered about the money at that point, I just wanted to play games and enjoy myself again. I went and played for them and it was great; I have friends for life that I met in my first few months while I was there. I got asked at the end of that season what I was going to do and the guy who was in charge of the club owned an oil company and he offered me a job there, but he told me he wanted me to not give up on my dream and try aim higher.”
From there, Morris was to pack his bags again as he jetted off abroad once more.
“The next thing I know, I am flying out to Portugal as he has set me up with a training camp over there. It was amazing; I was at a training camp in Lisbon, for two weeks. After I came back, I got told I was now away to Greece. I couldn’t speak a word of Greek and they couldn’t communicate with me in English either! We trained in a massive stadium and it was brilliant, but, it was so corrupt. I had to phone the guy back up and tell him I couldn’t take the risk as I didn’t want to be left high and dry in a foreign country so I flew back to England again. If it had been the right situation, I probably would have stayed, but, it wasn’t to be.
I then trained with Gillingham but it was just the same things repeating itself, again. To be fair, they were really honest with me and that is refreshing as you’d get a lot of clubs who would lie to your face and give you lots of excuses, but, they were so-up-front with me, I knew exactly where I stood, however, that was me, I was done…I got asked if I wanted to go on trial with Dunfermline Athletic and I said “nope, not a chance, I am doing no more trials” but they told me to give it a try as I didn’t have anything to lose.”
Callum came up to Fife to view the facilities and the club, as well as play in a trial match against Livingston.
“I travelled up on the train and then trained at Pitreavie on the Monday. We played Livi over Edinburgh way and I remember after arriving at the game, I phoned my dad and said “I can’t wait till this is over” as I just wanted to get home and get my life sorted. I played the game – Neil [McCann] took charge and I am sure Whitts [Alex Whittle] and Faiss [Faissal El Bakhtaoui] were involved too. I left the changing room to head home and someone shouted at me from across the car-park. I was sitting in Mojo’s [Mo Hutton – Kit Man] van and I look over to see Jim Jefferies coming to talk to me. He told me “you are signing, stay up here and we will get it all done”. It took me aback, I wasn’t expecting it considering everything I had been through.
As soon as he said that, the light went back on again. I didn’t know anything about Dunfermline as a town or a club at that point. I knew Whitts from his time in Spain as we lived together across there too, so I spoke to him and he told me it was amazing and I should sign. When I got shown around, I couldn’t believe how big the stadium was, how close the club was with the local community and to be honest, I just couldn’t wait to get going. I couldn’t get clearance to play when I first came up but I got involved against Montrose and then my first ‘proper’ game in front of a massive crowd was Raith Rovers. That is what I wanted to be involved in: big matches, in front of packed out stadiums, playing for a good team and I had managed to get that by coming here to the Pars. It was a long and bumpy road from Newcastle to Dunfermline. It is about never giving up, even though I was on the brink of chucking it all together. In my head, I probably had already given up, to be honest, but it just shows you that you can’t turn any opportunity down in life, no matter what it is as if you don’t, you never know what might have been.”