Friday 9th January 2015 ko 19.00
FA U21 Premier League
WEST HAM UNITED 1 (Morrison 37)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (Ward 21 90 Winks 55)
Att c500 at Rush Green Stadium, Romford
As a writer I suspect if you want to find a football ground to write about, the easiest way of find some subject matter is to head to East London. The Rush Green Stadium is on the A124 at Romford’s edge. Its now home to West Ham’s academy, although the club’s training base is still at Chadwell Heath, a few miles away, and you do wonder when the club moves to the Olympic Stadium the season after next, whether one of those bases will lost.
The ground has had a chequered past to put it mildly. Originally it was car-maker Ford’s sports and social club, and probably would still be had Ford United not wanted to get into the Isthmian League. Ford wouldn’t give the football team more than a year’s lease at a time, which broke Isthmian regulations so United moved to Barkingside in 2001, and eventually changed their name to Redbridge.
The current incarnation of Romford spent the 1995/6 season at Rush Green before merging with Collier Row to form Collier Row and Romford FC. They moved to the latter’s ground, Sungate and dropped the Collier Row prefix with almost indecent haste. Romford returned to Rush Green before a tour of groundshares, their current “home” being Thurrock.
West Ham bought the ground from Ford in 2001 for £1.4 million, and eventually turned it into an academy which provided a real issue for their last tenants- Grays Athletic who spent the 2012-13 season at Rush Green. To fulfil the FA Premier League stipulation that academies must not have alcohol on the premises the social club was permanently closed, annoying the former Ford employees that still drank there. It was always going to be an uneasy relationship with a non-league club and its fans so it was little surprise that West Ham ended the arrangement after that one season, and Grays are now sharing at Aveley.
For all of its turbulent history, Rush Green still looks like a works ground converted to an Isthmian League stadium, albeit one with a bowling green of a pitch and upgraded lighting. But this Friday night turned rapidly into a story of of two 21-year-old players meeting at a crossroads; one whose career is set to reach new heights, the other on a seemingly downward spiral.
The previous Wednesday US right-back DeAndre Yedlin flew into the UK having signed for Tottenham from MLS club Seattle Sounders, although he’ll play here on a Latvian passport via his grandmother. In Major League Soccer he’s highly thought of and has already got 10 full caps for the USA including 3 appearances the last summer’s World Cup. He was interviewed after the game, and his excitement was obvious, talking about moving into his new flat, his new car, and learning to drive on the “Wrong side of the road!”
To misquote myself, “The wrong side of the tracks” could easily be used for West Ham’s forward Ravel Morrison, in fact I was surprised to find out he’s still only 21! Born in Wythenshawe he signed for Manchester United in 2010 after Alex Ferguson described him as the best player he’d seen at his age. I suspect that if Morrison could live his entire life on the football pitch, he’d have had no problems in his personal life.
Questions about his behaviour and attitude kept being raised, so after Morrison pleaded guilty to two counts of intimidating a witness in 2011 and a homophobic comment via Twitter a year later, Ferguson lost patience with him and sold him to West Ham for £650,000 plus £25,000 a game for the duration of his £15,000 per week, three-and-a-half-year contract. Morrison negotiated an automatic increase in salary to £60,000 a week should a club make a £10million bid for him, which seems rather fanciful now.
Morrison’s indiscretions continued, and loans to Birmingham and QPR failed to kick-start his career, despite glowing references to his on-the-field ability. He started a 3 month loan at Championship side Cardiff City, who could have taken the player permanently for a nominal fee, but they opted to send him back to West Ham roughly a month early.
He’s been told he has no future at West Ham, is not allowed to train with the first team squad, and the club are trying to find ways of ending his contract even though it ends in the summer. He is due in court on 26th January, accused of assaulting an ex-girlfriend and her mother. I’m told a League One club are interested in signing him, pending that case, but Morrison is in dispute with West Ham over unpaid wages in December that the West Ham claim are club fines. Clearly both these issues need to be resolved before Morrison can move on and try to resurrect what little there is of his career.
The talent of both players was there for all to see, Yedlin playing in that cocoon of unconscious competence that really good players can retreat into even if they don’t know their team mates. Morrison scored with an outrageous bicycle kick, and whilst heimpressed with his link-up play and work-rate, his infantile barracking of referee Richard Hulme grated.
Tottenham won the game through a mix of playing better in a howling gale and some poor goalkeeping from West Ham’s Raphael Spiegel, but this was a game that was far more interesting for matters off the pitch than on it.
UPDATE 8th February 2015.
Things tend to move quickly when Ravel Morrison is concerned. The player travelled to Italy a week or two ago and signed a pre-contract with Lazio presumably to join at the conclusion of his West Ham deal at the end of this coming June.
However, the BBC report that West Ham have terminated Morrison’s contract as of today, presumably leaving the player to move to Italy immediately, subject to international clearance.
Off the field of play Morrison was cleared of all charges so can hopefully rebuild his life, reputation and his career, without the threat of legal action. Whether he either can, or wishes to of course is subject to conjecture.