After 14 years, almost 500 professional games and two promotions to the Premier League, Chris Morgan knew his time was up.
The damage had been done some time earlier; a devastating knee ligament injury, sustained in the first half of Sheffield United’s home defeat to Coventry City, on October 30, 2010.
In typical Morgan fashion, he tried to play on. But the damage, so severe, was done and he never played competitively again. Not that Morgan doesn’t do competitive. Your columnist saw this first-hand at the weekend, when the former United skipper pulled on the red-and-white again for a charity game at Bramall Lane, to raise funds for The Brathay Trust as part of the Master Cutler’s Challenge for 2015.
Football Aid-style, supporters of United and Wednesday had pledged £1,000 to play for their side on the Bramall Lane turf and I had been allocated a place on the home side. Number four. Next to Morgan in the changing room. Now, football is full of platitudes comparing it to war but, make no mistake, this is one bloke you’d want next to you in the trenches. Strolling into the home dressing room with the aura of someone who truly belonged there, Morgan - and Tony Currie, officially United’s greatest-ever player and our manager for the day - led us to a 3-2 victory, courtesy of Luke Froggatt’s brace and one from Craig Mounsey.
A combination of fitness (or lack of) and the formidable partnership of Morgan and Ash Leach at the back limited my contribution to proceedings, but to partner a true Sheffield football legend in defence at Bramall Lane was a real eye-opener, to say the least.
Bramall Lane’s newly-laid Desso pitch was a cut above - literally - the parks pitches most of us were used to, even if it was left a little long to protect it ahead of Tuesday’s JPT tie at home to Notts County. Even for those used to wide-open green surfaces on a Sunday, the steepling Lane stands added an extra dimension.
And the oldest major football ground in the world, graced by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo in the past, was a fitting stage for the opening goal, which saw Froggatt lob the Owls goalkeeper from distance before his effort hit the bar and rolled agonisingly over the line.
I know what you're dying to know, dear reader. The closest I came to scoring a screamer, writing my name in the history books? Well, I did narrowly miss a volley at the Bramall Lane end.
I say narrowly, but mean completely. A corner, swung in from the right, landed almost perfectly at my feet. In my head since, I have taken it down and slotted home a thousand times; I’ve even chipped into the top corner in my mind’s eye. In real life? All composure left me, I swung wildly at it and ended up in a heap on the turf.
Some things just aren't meant to be, I guess.
More importantly, the game raised vital cash for a local charity, and helped bring David Grey’s year as Master Cutler to a brilliant conclusion. He even had the honour of presenting me with the FA(KE) Cup, a full-scale, just-as-heavy replica of the real thing, at the end of proceedings, before thanking referee Howard Webb and his assistants, Dave McCarthy at United for allowing use of Bramall Lane and Christie Munley, from Brathay, for organising the entire day so well.
Oh, and the original story? Morgan, keen to make a return to professional football, began training with United’s youngsters and, one session, felt his knee “go” from under him. Enough was enough. He moved his stuff from the players’ dressing room to the staff area, where Danny Wilson - then the United boss - was chuckling.
He’d been waiting for this moment to happen. “But you had to make the decision yourself,” he added. Typically for Morgan, he gave it one hell of a fight.
A successful spell coaching United’s U21s followed, before two stints as caretaker boss. At Bramall Lane or elsewhere, further managerial roles surely beckon for one of football’s greatest competitors, and one of the top blokes.