Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Steve Morison is Millwall’s man of steel – natural-born winner has Wembley...

Steve Morison is Millwall’s man of steel – natural-born winner has Wembley success behind him

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Millwall's Steve Morison (left) lefts the trophy after the final whistle.

When the FA were trying to decide who to have England play against to inaugurate the new Wembley Stadium 10 years ago, they thought the negotiations would be tough.

The authorities would demand huge sums to bring over their squads for the big showpiece, due to be staged on June 1 2007.

They need not have worried.

When it came to it, the big powers in world football – Italy, Brazil, Germany, Argentina and France- were falling over themselves to play in the curtain raiser.

The FA found themselves staging almost an auction for the honour of playing in the £800million stadium’s curtain-raiser.

In the end, Brazil – five-times World Cup winners and the most star-studded side on the planet – got the nod, and played a 1-1 draw against Sven-Göran Eriksson ‘s England, with John Terry scoring for the Three Lions.

But the first game was a match between the Geoff Thomas Foundation Charity XI and the Wembley Sponsors Allstars on March 17 2007. The former won 2-0, thanks to goals from Mark Bright and then-Palace chairman Simon Jordan.

Stevenage Borough captain and goalscorer Steve Morison with the FA Trophy

The first competitive game between two clubs, though, was the FA Trophy final on May 12, between Stevenage and Kidderminster Harriers. Who should score the Stevenage winner that day, in a 3-2 victory? Steve Morison.

Morison would play a vital role in the same competition, in the same venue, two years later. This time the opposition was York City. But the result was the same.

Stevenage were the first non-league team to appear three times at the new stadium – but the only time they lost, in 2010 against Barrow, was after Morison had left for Millwall.

The striker, being labelled by many fans as a Lions legend these days – especially after his heroics in the 3-2 win at Scunthorpe on May 7 and his conduct on the pitch – seems to like the National Stadium.

And he was in the Lions team which won promotion to the Championship via the play-offs, with a 1-0 victory over Swindon, in 2010.

Millwall’s Steve Morison (right) attempts to take the ball around Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies during the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London.

All that shows the qualities of the man – a player who, at a time when he gets called the Silver Fox and teased about his age, is able to say he accepts the challenge of high expectations – embraces it even.

The stage he will perform on this Sunday from 3pm could not be bigger. How does this appearance compare with the Lions’ previous appearances at the new Wembley?

This reporter was at their first, in 2009, when Gary Alexander scored what will probably always be the best ever goal on that hallowed surface.

He had already hit the net with a header. But it was his minimalist, utterly assured, almost casual celebration of that second wonder-strike which still sticks in my mind. And it still makes me emotional, all these years later.

“It just sat up nicely so I thought I would have a go,” he said later, with his usual wry understatement.

Manager Kenny Jackett’s almost withheld celebration, followed instantly by him beckoning a player over to brief him, also sticks in the mind.

But the overwhelming feeling that day was a numbing disappointment. Alexander missed another header which would have made it 3-1, and was still beating himself up about it several years later. But getting two goals should be more than is expected of any man in those belief-sapping big occasions.

Beating Leeds in the semi-final, where Nadjim Abdou’s goal at

Elland Road launched a thousand hotel cancellations, might have drained the players’ focus for the much more important, though seemingly easier, task of beating Scunthorpe in the final.

Millwall’s Steve Morison celebrates scoring his side’s third goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship playoff semi-final, second leg match at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe.

A year later, there was no question about any minds straying from the task in hand. And in Paul Robinson, they had the man for the big occasion.

The Lions captain, nine years after being farmed out on loan to Fisher Athletic by Mark McGhee in readiness for being released, scored the goal that secured promotion and lifted the trophy. And slept with it between him and his wife Nicola that night.

Robinson was left trailing when Charlie Austin – later a Premier League player with Burnley, QPR and Southampton – broke through with minutes to go and just had to beat David Forde only for a divot in the turf to cause him to slice wide.

The less said about the FA Cup semi-final, on April 13 2013, in north-west London the better.

Few Lions enhanced their careers that day against a fluid Wigan side who won 2-0. And when Millwall fans started fighting amongst themselves, it was the last straw for Jackett, who quit 24 days later.

Last year’s progress to the play-offs could not have gone better – until it got to Wembley. Neil Harris’ side did the hard work up at Bradford, with a 3-1 win, then contained and frustrated Phil Parkinson’s Bantams at The Den.

Millwall’s Steve Morison celebrates his side win after the final whistle during the Sky Bet Championship playoff semi-final, second leg match at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe.

But the game at the National Stadium had hardly begun before unfancied Barnsley, on a run of three defeats in 33 games under Lee Johnson then Paul Heckingbottom, opened the scoring in the second minute through Ashley Fletcher.

Their second goal came in the 20th minute, when the mercurial Adam Hammill, who seemed to play some of his best football against Millwall, bamboozled their patched-up back line and scored in the 19th minute.

Mark Beevers gave the Londoners hope just before half-time with a striker’s turn and shot.

But when Southampton loanee Lloyd Isgrove, the smallest man on the pitch, headed the Yorkshire Tykes two goals ahead again, the game was up.

Byron Webster was injured in the warm-up. Joe Martin had to go off before half-time. Things could have gone a little better.

That was the last Lions game for the astounding Carlos Edwards, who was still only just returning to fitness. It would be unfair to speculate on what might have been if the emerging Mahlon Romeo had not been red carded in the last game of the campaign and as a result was banned for the final. This time, the 21-year-old could get his chance.

Last year was the first occasion that Morison had tasted defeat at Wembley.

Steve Morison
Millwall v Scunthorpe United, SkyBet League 1 Play Off Semi-Final, The Den, 4 May 2017.
Image by Keith Gillard

If Romeo’s career is half as long or half as successful as his captain’s, it will be because he has adopted a similar resolve.

Silver Fox be buggered – Morison is Millwall’s Man of Steel. But it will take 14 of them to bring the silverware back to The Den on Monday.

Whose bed it would be in on Sunday night is anybody’s guess.

Chief Reporter | Former news reporter on Daily Mail and Times, former editor in Edinburgh and Barnet. Sports editor and father for 15 years. Once made nine doormats for Harrods entrances. They lasted two years.

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Steve Morison is Millwall’s man of steel – natural-born winner has Wembley...