Andy Morrell is back in the dug-out at Hednesford having started his managerial career as player-boss at Wrexham
By Matt Badcock
Andy Morrell was wide-eyed and ready to learn when the 23-year-old him turned up at Wrexham in 1998.
Having been at university in the north east while playing for Newcastle Blue Star, the striker had never had a taste of life as a full-time footballer.
But he was determined to educate himself quickly and there weren’t many better around to learn from.
“I had no academy upbringing,” Morrell, the new Hednesford Town boss, tells The NLP.
“I was 23 and really late going into the professional game. But what I was able to do I suppose was I picked things up really quickly. I was hungry to learn. I had Kevin Reeves and Ian Rush at Wrexham for a bit, who I just tried to learn off.
“All the strikers there, they all had a bit I could maybe just gleam a bit off. That helped me a lot because my learning curve was quick going into full-time.
“I like thinking about the game. I remember playing in a play-off semi-final against Oldham for Blackpool. One of our players had five or six really good chances and missed them all. I recognised the keeper was going down early on all of them.
“I thought, ‘If I get a chance I’m going to lift it up’. And I did. I got through one-on-one, he went down early and I managed to lift it over. It’s just that thinking about your job and how it might happen if it comes up. That’s key. And practising that. Even the little tap-ins. Practice them, because you don’t want to miss one.
“You may only get three chances in a game. As a striker you’ve got to be able to take one. The difference from taking one-in-three to one-in-two is practice. That can be the difference between you being a National League player to being a League One/Championship player potentially.”
Morrell wants to help strikers unlock that potential and, alongside his return to management with the Step 3 Pitmen, is looking to expand his reputation as a strikers’ coach.
It’s a growing area with England taking one, Allan Russell, to the last World Cup. Morrell has already been helping out Burton Albion’s U18 frontline along with some other one-to-one clients.
“I wish I knew at 22 what I knew at 32,” Morrell says. “People are now investing in themselves and the smallest of margins can make a big difference in the long run.
“There’s so much detail you can go into with a striker if you’re one-to-one. There’s always an end goal because you can always score – if you’re a defender you need a striker to work off, whereas a striker you can work off the technique and way of finishing. I just find it fascinating.
“It doesn’t have to just be out on the grass. I’m even looking to get a couple of players and work with them from their clips.
“Sometimes at pro clubs the coaching staff just don’t have the time to go into that depth individually. It might just make a difference. Especially for a striker. You only need three months of scoring goals and you can earn yourself a lot of money and have a really good move.
“People are investing in themselves because it’s not a lot of money for the rewards it could potentially bring.”
After Wrexham gave him his big break, Morrell made a good career for himself with spells at Coventry City, a League One play-off win at Blackpool before, following a stint at Bury, a return to Wrexham.
“I was very off the cuff,” Morrell says. “Not being coached as a kid, I’d just run. That had held me in good stead because I worked really hard during games. But a lot of it was nonsensical running at the start.
“I did learn you have to decide when you’re going to run and making the right decisions at the right time was a bit more important rather than just legging it round like a lunatic.
“It was a steep learning curve. You have to be a bit cleverer than that to get a goal the higher you go.”
Morrell was player-manager of Wrexham when they won the FA Trophy at Wembley in 2013. A few months later they lost the all-Welsh play-off final to Newport County. It came the season after Morrell’s men missed out on the title despite a haul of 98 points that was pipped by Fleetwood Town.
Andy Morrell hoists the FA Trophy with Wrexham
“We had some really good moments and we had a really good go at it,” Morrell says. “It was just two seasons of trying really hard. We don’t seem to have quite got over that. It’s a brilliant, brilliant club. The people there are fantastic. The fans are unbelievable. It’s certainly had its ups and downs since.
“They’ve had a couple of managers and it takes time to change. The type of player Wrexham needs, they’ve got to be able to handle 5,000 people watching.
“In Non-League that is a big ask. It’s not easy to find players you don’t have to pay a fortune to who can handle it not quite going well enough when there is 4,500-5,000 there. Players that go there have to be able to stand up and be counted and it’s not easy. A Speighty (Jake Speight) for example. He would dream of playing in front of 5,000 people and showing everyone how good he was. Kev Thornton the same. Jay Harris, the same. Animals when it came to the big games.
“You can go and get players who look great but when someone’s shouting at you – and a lot of people shouting at you – you’ve got to be able to mentally hold your own.”
It’s the sort of ethos he wants at an ambitious club like Hednesford who are under the new ownership of businessman Hayden Dando and Graham Jones.
After Wrexham, Morrell was assistant at Shrewsbury before returning to Non-League in a full-time role at Tamworth where he spent nearly three-and-half years in the Conference North.
He departed in February 2018 and is now only returning to the dug-out with the Step 3 Pitmen.
“I’ve missed being out on the grass, I’ve missed being in the dug-out,” Morrell, who has been scouting and working with an academy group.
“It’s taken a while to get back in. I’ve had a house renovation going on as well so I’ve been living in a caravan on the drive for nine months. A Winnebago with three kids – it was interesting, let’s put it that way!
“But we got in a week before Christmas and we’re really pleased. The kids are loving their house and it’s perfect for what we want.
“So I had that in the background and I found it difficult to get back into management. The way I got the job at Wrexham where you’re the next one in line just to run with it as a caretaker is happening across the board. You can’t complain, it’s the way it is.
“And it was reflecting whether I wanted to get back in, really. Do I want the instability of it with kids? Do you just go and get a job that suits family?
“I do miss it. That’s why I wanted to get back in. Hednesford gives me an opportunity to go back in part-time and set up something for myself.”
Part of the Hednesford attraction is the blank canvas. He says it will be small steps but is determined to lay down the foundations he wants in this limbo period ahead of the new season, whenever that is.
Andy Morrell is returning to the dug-out at Hednesford Town
“A mentality that we want to push and do well,” Morrell says. “We want to win football matches.
“That’s the kick-off I and my staff will aim to put into the players. A bit of belief that the club has been in the league above and they want to be back there.
“We have to have a bit of realism with the opportunity for players to come and go, ‘Come on, as a little group, we’re going to have a right go.
“We’re going to run around for each other and we’re going to have a good laugh doing it’. I really feel if you enjoy playing your football and you enjoy going to training, then you’re more likely to enjoy playing games on a Saturday afternoon and try that little bit harder.”
For more info on the services Andy Morrell can offer as a striker coach, check out www.iamfootballuk.co.uk