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Bourne Legacy: Mark Morris


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Mark Morris skippered the Cherries to their 1994/95 Great Escape and was crowned player of the year in 1992/93.

He also featured prominently when Sheffield United were promoted to the top flight in 1989/90, playing alongside current Blades boss Chris Wilder.

How did your move to AFC Bournemouth come about?

I had played in the promotion-winning team with Sheffield United and then played 14 or 15 games the following season in the top flight.

It was becoming obvious to me that I wasn’t an immediate first choice so I had a chat with Dave Bassett.

He said if anyone came in for me, he would let me know. He pulled me to one side in pre-season and said Harry Redknapp had been on the phone and would I be interested in going there.

I spoke to Harry and signed. I just wanted to play regular football. With the players Harry brought in, we thought we might have a good chance to get promoted.

It didn’t turn out that way but, with the side we had, we should have done better because we had some good players.

You may be biased but was the escape of 1994/95 better than the escape of 2008/09?

They were both tremendous achievements and both times the club was at rock bottom.

In 1994/95, we didn’t have a manager for the first few games of the season. Me, Sean O’Driscoll and John Williams picked the team. We didn’t have the players of that calibre, it was ridiculous.

Mel Machin came in and stabilised it. He got a lot of loan players from good clubs, West Ham and Tottenham, and the improvement was almost overnight.

I remember going to Wycombe just after Christmas. He was forced into playing two centre-halves who weren’t centre-halves as markers and me playing like a sweeper.

My job was to head the ball away and make sure it got cleared when it came into our box. It just seemed to take off from there and we very rarely got beaten for the rest of the season.

It was fantastic to be a part of that because the club was at a low ebb by then.

The 2008/09 escape was as much of an achievement and is probably more fondly remembered because a lot of the people involved are still at the club today.

Avoiding relegation with a 17-point deduction was a massive achievement. It wasn’t just the fact that it was achieved, it’s more that the club hasn’t looked back since.

It’s been a continuous climb up the ladder since then and that was the start of something that’s going on to this day.

Did you ever anticipate seeing Harry Redknapp crowned king of the jungle?

Nothing surprises me! He attracts people to him, he’s a good fella and the kind of manager you want to play for. He’s honest and he encourages players.

Out of all the managers I ever had, he was the one who had the kindest words for you. He would build you up whereas all the others were a little more in your face.

Harry would try to big up his players. He could make people feel better than they really were and that’s a big gift to have.

Mel Machin’s management style appeared very different to Dave Bassett and Harry Redknapp – what was he like to play under?

He was quite a strange man to understand but, in his own awkward style, he made people play. For me, it was something I hadn’t experienced in football.

I had played under Dave Bassett, Harry Redknapp, Tony Pulis and Steve Harrison and they were what I would call motivational managers. I wouldn’t say Mel was motivational. But you knew what you had to do. You had to play because that was what he wanted.

He was probably the start of how the club went in terms of its playing style. He was the building block for people like Sean O’Driscoll and Eddie Howe.

I’m sure he had an influence on the way they liked to play, without people even realising it. It almost happened by default. I imagine Eddie has taken a lot from him and I know Sean did.

Who was the best player you played with at Dean Court and why?

I don’t like to pick one because there are different positions and it’s difficult.

Efan Ekoku was a good centre-forward and it was no surprise to me that he went on to play at the top level. He was very quick and had an eye for a goal.

Joe Parkinson was an excellent player and you could see pretty quickly that he was going to be something out of the ordinary and it was the same with Matty Holland.

Alex Watson was a really good centre-half and I don’t think he got the praise he deserved during his time at the club.

It’s horses for courses but you would have someone like him in your team every day.

Plenty of good players came through while I was there. It was just a shame we either couldn’t keep hold of them or we didn’t have enough of them at any one time to make a really big impact.

What are you up to now?

I’m trying to retire! I’m still doing a bit of work in London and run a cleaning company. I’m in the throes of maybe going to live in Spain and hope something might happen in that direction in the next six to 12 months. Other than that, I’m working for a living, the same as everyone else does.

Footballing-wise, I had seven or eight years as manager at Dorchester Town and helped out at New Milton for a season. I enjoyed being involved in non-league.

I watch, talk about and enjoy football now and that’s the way I like it. I wouldn’t say I overly miss being involved.

What’s your most memorable Bournemouth moment and why?

It was the last game of the 1994/95 season against Shrewsbury at a packed Dean Court. We knew we had to win to guarantee our safety.

We’d had nine points at Christmas but had managed to claw ourselves up the table during the second half of the season.

We had just won 2-1 at Brentford but it still all came down to this one game. Although we were playing well at the time, there was still a lot of pressure on what was a very young team.

We were feeling confident and, in my own mind, I was thinking “surely after everything we’ve been through, we can’t get beaten by Shrewsbury at home?”

We got off to a flyer and Steve Robinson scored within three or four minutes. Any kind of nerves we had were over. We went 3-0 up after about 20 minutes and then just did enough to stop them getting back into the game.

The scenes afterwards were unbelievable and you would have thought we had just won the league.

The fans turned out in their thousands and we had a good night. That was what football was all about in those days. We had a few beers in the players’ bar and in the vice-presidents’ lounge and they were well earned.

I know you don’t want to be remembered for only just staying up and would rather be remembered for winning things.

But in a small way, that season brought a lot of kids through the team and through the ranks and stood them in good stead for the future.

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