Once upon a time, there was a small team in the East Midlands dreaming; not about the Premier League title, but fighting for survival in the English top-flight. They were a group of rejects – Nobody’s. Now the greatest story in sporting history has become a reality.
Only eight years ago, Leicester City were playing League One football; long trips to Yeovil Town, Cheltenham Town and Hereford all now seem worth it, as the Foxes – on Saturday – lifted the top division trophy in English football for the first time in their 132-year history.
In fact, they became the first new champions of England since Nottingham Forest back in 1978. So how coincidental then that an adapted Leicester star used to be a legend down the road at the City Ground.
Wes Morgan has witnessed the heartbreak. He has witnessed trips to League One stadia and has played in very average sides. His most proudest of moments came lifting the Championship trophy in 2014 with the Foxes. Until Saturday, when the former Forest captain lifted the most glistening and attractive of prizes in English football for Leicester. Yes, Leicester City.
Where did it all start for Morgan?
Morgan was born in the East Midlands city of Nottingham. But it was not an ideal start in life for Morgan, growing up on The Meadows estate towards the south of the city (known for its high crime rate) with his mother, who worked in a nursery, and his sister in a three-bedroom council flat.
Despite his friends getting in trouble with the police as a youngster, who eventually ended up in prison, Morgan always had a passion for football and played on people’s lawns on frequent occasions. He did alright at school as well, gaining five C’s and one B at GCSE level.
But academic studies were never going to be the way forward for Morgan. Since a youngster he breathed football, starting off playing football for Meadow Colts FC alongside the likes of former Liverpool player Jermaine Pennant and former Walsall left-back Julian Bennett. It was clear, however, that this kid could make it professionally.
What happened next?
Despite being known in the city of Nottingham as a Red, as a teenager Morgan actually represented Notts County for a few years. However, he received the heartbreaking news when, aged 16, he was not kept on as a YTS Scholar.
So the dream of professional football was over, right? Reality struck and Morgan, despite playing for local football side Dunkirk, studied Business Studies at a local college.
Eighteen months later, and the football dream was now a distinct memory. That was until a phone call that changed his life when he was offered a football trial; not with Notts County, but with their more illustrious of neighbours, Nottingham Forest.
Everybody was delighted for Morgan. A week-long trial was turned into two, then a month. Since then, he has not looked back. That was after he got into shape, however. Morgan has always been known for his big build, however he was offered the contract for the Reds as long as he lost weight. Cue numerous of laps round the City Ground pitch. But did he care? Certainly not. This kid was now a man; he was now a professional footballer.
What was his early days at Nottingham Forest like?
Come February 2003, he was firmly in the eyes of then manager Paul Hart, and after five successful appearances playing Division Three football (now League Two) with Kidderminster Harriers, Morgan was ready to make his debut for the former European Champions. He eventually made his first-team bow in a League Cup game, aged 19, in the tie against Port Vale at Vale Park; it ended 0-0, with Forest winning narrowly on penalties.
Four days later, he made his league debut in a 3-0 defeat over Reading. The entire season for Nottingham Forest did not go to plan; while Norwich dominated at the top, Forest slipped to 14th with boss Paul Hart leaving by February.
But if that season was a poor one for the once kings of Europe, the following season was a complete disaster; as they were relegated to the third-tier of English football after a 2-1 defeat over QPR in late April – Morgan played the full 90 minutes.
So it was going to a breeze in League One. That’s what everybody thought – but it turned out to not be the case, finishing two points off the play-offs in the 2005-06 season. The following campaign, and while their fiercest rivals confirmed a return to the Premier League, Yeovil Town produced one of the greatest stories in play-off history when they eliminated the Reds at the semi-final stage.
The following season he shone himself, to guide the Reds almost single-handedly to a return to the Championship – missing only four games as Forest, under Colin Calderwood, kept a record 24 clean sheets.
So how did he depart the City Ground?
Ask any Forest fan about the start of the 2008-09 season, they will admit that the Reds looked like a dead man walking and looked set for a return to League One.
However, following the sacking of Calderwood and the appointment of club legend Billy Davies, the defence looked a lot more solid as the Scot guided them to a 19th place finish.
By 2009, the entire football club had been transformed and the Reds looked set for promotion during the 2009-10 season as they flirted with the automatic promotion places on many occasions. Despite this, they did not finish in the top two and had to settle for the dreaded play-offs. Here they were embarrassed by eventual champions Blackpool, despite leading in their first-leg at Bloomfield Road.
Onto the next season, and a play-off campaign followed once more. This time the opposition was Swansea City. Sadly, it wasn’t to be for Morgan; the dream of Premier League football was yet again over – now, as he approached his 27th birthday, his Premier League dream was surely over.
How has he performed for Leicester?
Leicester City over recent years have been dubbed a team of expert recruitment. And while the signings of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kante may make the headlines, the genius move by Steve Walsh in January 2012 to lure Morgan to Forest’s East Midlands rivals has to be commended as well.
After signing just days before the window slammed shut, Morgan was a rock in the back of the defence and has since been ever-present in the Foxes outfit. After a frustrating end to the 2011-12 term, where the unlikely prospect of gaining a play-off place ended, Morgan was key the following season and even gained him a nomination for September’s Player of the Month award; this time they did make the play-offs – a late Anthony Knockeart goal on the final day of the season against Nottingham Forest earnt that – but it ended in the most heartbreaking of climaxes at Vicarage Road.
But ask any Leicester supporter and they will claim that the anguish suffered on that overcast day was probably for the best. The following campaign, Nigel Pearson’s men blitzed the league – accumulating a whopping 102 points to lift the Championship title. Morgan was influential, and despite midfielder Danny Drinkwater taking the main award at the end of the season, Morgan was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year alongside goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
So it was a return to the Premier League for the first time in 10 years for the city of Leicester, and despite not making a solid start to the season (they had to wait 99 days for a victory at one stages), the Foxes pulled off the ‘Great Escape’.
Morgan played a key part, scoring in a 3-0 victory against Newcastle United and during their 4-3 win over Tottenham – a day where the tables began to turn for the Foxes.
But this season has been unprecedented as the greatest achievement in world sporting history has been finally accomplished. Morgan’s relationship alongside the ever-present Robert Huth has been instrumental as the Foxes were crowned Premier League champions. The sort of thing, dreams are made of.
Why has he been so key in the Foxes success?
Morgan is a rock. Despite his build being perceived as a disadvantage earlier on in his career, this season, it has been imperative to the Foxes’ success. His partnership with German centre-half Huth has been key for Leicester, with the statistics staggering when they feature in the same game. But if you had to define the Foxes season in one word, it would be camaraderie. Morgan has been key in building a great dressing room with him also a character, which arguably has led to magical moments this season.