Ryan Morton (centre, in green bib) pictured in training last week by Jonathan Moore.
Written by Alty Insider, John Edwards
Don’t believe your own publicity, the saying goes, and it has been uttered by many a football manager to guard against rave reviews turning the head of a young protege.
In the case of up-and-coming Alty hot-shot Ryan Morton, following that particular piece of sage advice might prove a bit tricky - he’s written some of them himself!
Alty’s young penalty box predator is rightly proud of his standing as a Robins history-maker after becoming the first Academy player to break into the first team when he went on for the last 10 minutes at Bromley two months ago.
And he allows himself a quiet smile of satisfaction at proving he can hack it in a press box as well, if need be.
It all started with a playful dig at Academy coach Paul Fay midway through last season, as Ryan recalled after scoring in an in-house warm-up game at the Manchester Health Academy at the weekend.
‘Joe Cooney was dishing out a bit of stick about Paul’s match reports on the club website, claiming he wasn't getting enough mentions, so Paul told him to have a go himself if he thought he could do better,’ he said.
‘Needless to say, Joe thought he could, and, to be fair, he made a decent job of it. Being the first one, it got a lot of attention, most of it mickey-taking, but it really caught on, and seven or eight of us ended up having a go and writing reports on games we’d played in.
‘I took a turn, and I thought mine was all right. It’s a bit tricky, because obviously you can’t take a notebook out on the pitch with you, and you’ve got to try and remember who did what and what minute it was.
‘But, fortunately, we were able to watch footage of the game on the video afterwards to make sure we got our facts right, and it was then just a case of writing it up the best we could.’
So, was there a reporter-of-the-year award as well as player-of-the-year?
‘There were plenty of comments flying around, but no actual vote on whose was best,’ said Ryan. ‘I’d have voted for myself, naturally, but most of the reports read pretty well. It was good to show you’ve got that in your locker and can turn your hand to something a bit different.
‘You just had to be careful when it came to describing something you had been involved in. I couldn’t very well say a goal was brilliantly tucked away by Ryan Morton, or I’d never have heard the end of it!
‘Whenever I mentioned myself, I probably played it down a bit. But, that’s fine - it was a great experience, and I really enjoyed doing it.’
The reality is that Fleet Street never truly beckoned for Ryan. Neither did any other non-sporting career choice. It was football all the way for this Sale lad, though the path to a professional contract with Alty wasn’t all plain sailing, particularly when growing pains stopped him in his tracks in his mid-teens.
‘I was kicking a ball almost before I could walk,’ he said. ‘I was playing at Sale United when I was in year four at primary school, and a couple of years after that, I was invited down to Stoke City as part of their development squad.
‘It was a really exciting time, but then I started getting a lot of problems with my knee. It was a growth condition called Osgood-Schlatter, which can affect your knee when you are growing up, and it was really painful.
‘On top of that, due to over-compensating, I tore a cartilage in my other knee and ended up having to take six months out. I was 15 at the time, but at least the rest did the trick, and there were no problems after that.’
The chance with Stoke had gone by the time Ryan returned to full fitness, but another opportunity opened up for him at Alty, where an invitation to join the newly-formed Academy was followed by a moment that changed his blossoming career and helped propel him towards Phil Parkinson’s squad of full-time professionals.
‘I was always a winger when I was younger, and I even had one season at right-back,’ he said. ‘I was ok on the ball and quite quick, so that’s where I played. But there was a game against Buxton about November-time, where I started on the wing and scored, then got a shout from the sidelines.
‘It was Neil Sorvel, if I remember rightly, telling me to move into the middle as the main striker, which I was more than happy to do. I scored two more goals and ended up with a hat-trick, and I’ve never looked back. That’s where I’ve played ever since, and I love it.
‘I think Paul Fay had some input as well. I think he and Neil got their heads together and thought I’d be worth a go up front, and I’m glad they did. Paul said he saw something in me quite early on that made him think I would suit the striker role - it was probably the way I always fancied myself in training and had a pop at goal every time I could!’
Ryan admits he is indebted to his ever-supportive dad John for helping him progress this far and remembers sharing with him the words he was hoping to hear when his time in the Academy came to an end.
‘I remember we all had to report to the ground to be called in individually by the boss to hear what was happening next,’ he said. ‘I had my dad with me, and he was happy and proud when we were told I was being kept on.
‘But it was typical of how he has always been with me that he said: “Now you know what you need to do. You have got a contract. You are a young professional - now you need to start the hard work all over again.”
‘I owe him everything, really. When I was at Stoke, he’d pick me up from school every Friday at 3pm, and there would be something for me to eat in the car while he drove down the motorway. We’d be there until late and then he’d drive me home again.
‘Nothing was too much trouble, and I wouldn’t have done it without him, 100% I wouldn’t. He always comes to watch me play. He’s my biggest fan, and that drives me on.
‘He put a lot of pressure on me as a kid to make the most of myself, and I think that has made me stronger today. Pressure’s probably not the right word. It’s just that he knew my potential and didn’t want it to go to waste.’
There seems little danger of that, after the teenage marksman, a prolific finisher for the Academy, forced his way into the first team in the 1-1 draw at Bromley.
‘I remember the boss saying “you’re coming down with us on Tuesday, you and Ryan Forde”,’ he said. ‘I just thought “ok, I’d love to get on and show what I can do, but let’s see”. Then I was told to warm up in the second half and I thought “here we go!”
‘There were a few nerves, especially as I’d been out for a couple of weeks after getting a knock on the head at the end of the Reserves’ cup final at Wythenshawe’s ground and having to have a concussion break.
‘But it was the chance I had prepared for, and I was determined to make the most of it. The first thing I did was clatter into their big centre-half. He was about 6ft 5in, but the ball was bouncing and I just thought “there’s no way I’m not going for that”. So I did. I just piled into him, and he went over, flat out - that gave me a boost!
‘I made a couple of runs in behind as well, so I thought it went all right. I was just buzzing to be out there, making an appearance for Alty’s first team. What a moment.
‘Unfortunately, my dad couldn’t get down to the game, but he tuned into Radio Robins and listened to the commentary. And, of course, there were lots of messages from him on my phone at the end. It was a proud moment.’
So, how has week one of training with the senior players gone and where are we up to in the development of Ryan Morton, full-time professional striker?
‘It has been amazing,’ he said. ‘I’ve enjoyed the first week massively. I’m doing something I love doing and I’m already learning from the established players. I watch when they have a seven-a-side or whatever and then I ask about some of the things they’ve done afterwards. It’s an education.
‘I’d say running in behind the back line is one of my strengths, knowing when to do it to catch a defender off-guard, but I know there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Basically, I’m working at trying to improve all aspects of my game.
‘A year ago, I would never have said I was a good header of the ball. I’ve always had quite a good jump, but I always used to close my eyes. So I’ve worked on getting up, getting over the ball and keeping my eyes on it, and there’s been a big improvement. I scored four or five goals with headers last season, and some were important ones in big games.
‘Every kid dreams of becoming a professional footballer, and, as a local lad, I’m absolutely buzzing to have got this opportunity with Alty.
‘I know it’s always special for fans to see someone local come through the ranks and make their mark at senior level. That has to be the target for me, and I don’t see it as pressure - it’s more of an incentive to grab any opening that comes my way with both hands.’