Home and Away: Jody Morris

In our latest feature speaking to former Blues about their experiences of playing at Stamford Bridge and on the road, ahead of our trip to Stoke tomorrow we hear from our current Under-18s boss Jody Morris on some of his most memorable away days, which range from the day he had to colour in the name on the back of his shirt, to when he received death threats a long way from home…

Jody Morris played for Chelsea in some of Europe’s football cathedrals: the Nou Camp, the San Siro, Wembley, Old Trafford. The list goes on. But it was in altogether less glamourous circumstances and surroundings that his senior career with the club he had supported all his life started, as an unused substitute in a midweek FA Cup tie at Loftus Road in January 1996. Morris had turned 17 a few weeks earlier.

‘It was a strange situation,’ he recalls. ‘I am a west Londoner and I have got a few QPR-supporting friends from the Bush. I trained at Stamford Bridge in the afternoon and was told by Glenn Hoddle I was going to be on the bench. I thought I was just going to be training and helping out with the kit.

‘So I helped the kitman Terry Byrne out before meeting the rest of the players at the hotel on the Cromwell Road. It was the orange and grey away kit, and because I didn’t have one we had to go to put my name on the back in Apollo Sports on North End Road.

‘But they only had white numbers, and we needed orange ones. So they put on a white 23 and Morris, and then we had to go next door to WHSmiths and buy an orange marker pen and colour in my name and number before I could get dropped off at the hotel! That was surreal.

‘At the ground I got a few shouts of ‘aren’t you supposed to be at school?’ and ‘have you done your homework?’ because I was really young. I didn’t get on but it was still a great experience.’

A few days later Morris did get on for his Chelsea debut, a 5-0 home win over Middlesbrough. It was the first of 173 appearances he made before leaving for Leeds in 2003. We ask him if any particular away games spring to mind in terms of the occasion and the atmosphere. He cites two.

‘Playing at Anfield as a 17-year-old was a real eye-opener for pure noise and how close the fans used to be to the pitch. It was probably one of the only times I found it hard to find players because the crowd were so close and at your level.

‘For all-round experience I would go Galatasaray away,’ he continues, recounting our Champions League fixture there in 1999. Morris is pictured top celebrating one of our goals that night, and below in action. 

‘We arrived at the airport and there were a couple of thousand fans outside, there were fireworks and they were burning flags. That was the beginning of it and then it just continued. We had prank phonecalls in our hotel rooms with people shouting out “you’re going to die, you’re going to die!”

‘On the way to the game our coach window got smashed. That was a strange one! In the ground it was a boiling hot atmosphere. Even coming out of the tunnel we had to have the riot police with their big plastic shields held over us because they were throwing so much stuff at us. I remember seeing mobile phones on the side of the pitch.

‘The ground was packed two hours before kick-off, which is unusual in England. But to be fair to the Galatasaray fans, they clapped us off the pitch after we beat them 5-0.

‘It was the best experience I had. I think they were used to intimidating people, but we just found it brilliant and couldn’t wait to play. Some teams would have wilted, but we stuck our chest out and said “we will have a bit of this”. We put in a really good performance.’

Morris says he preferred it when playing in a hostile environment away from home. It helped him raise his game and he relished silencing the home crowd when we scored. He also knew he’d get great backing from the travelling Chelsea support.

‘I always felt our away fans were extremely vocal. You could always hear them. I remember from being a ballboy when we were in the Second Division and even then we were always in full voice, even if there weren’t as many people there as there are now.

‘Our away support is the real heart and soul of the club, the fans that would travel up and down the country. I always heard them no matter where we were, with one exception: the Nou Camp. 

 Morris and Barca captain Pep Guardiola vie for possession

‘It’s certainly the quietest it have ever been in a stadium when we scored because our fans were so far away. You could hear a pin drop; it was just our screams when Tore scored.

‘The Nou Camp was an amazing place draped in tradition,’ Morris adds of Barcelona’s home ground, which we played at for the first time in the Champions League era in 2000, losing 6-4 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

‘It was a lot bigger than you thought when you arrived because it goes down below ground level. The tunnel was huge with a chapel on the way. The pitch was amazing and huge too, and you certainly felt how big it was when they started passing it well.’

We finish by discussing a man who played for both Barcelona and Chelsea, and who was nearing the end of his professional career when Morris was starting out in the senior game. Mark Hughes will be in the opposition dugout tomorrow as Stoke City’s manager, but it is Hughes the powerful centre-forward that made such an impression on Morris two decades ago. 

‘He was a midfielder’s dream. He would turn so many bad balls we hit up to him into good ones. He would make every pass stick. Back to goal, he was one of the best I have ever seen at holding the ball up and bringing others into play.

‘He wasn’t the most vocal in the dressing room and not the best trainer you would ever see, but when it came to matchdays he was a fighter, and if the game got a little bit niggly you would always want him next to you because he was a true leader. He was fantastic under pressure when defenders were trying to come through the back of him, in the days when they could get away with a lot more.

‘He took so many knocks for other players in the team. He’d never miss training, he was always out there strapped up with bumps and bruises. He didn’t speak much but when he did, everybody listened because of the respect we all had for him. He was a world-class player.’