‘Those Bishop rumours almost killed off my career in football’

Former West Ham striker Trevor Morley on his time in east London, rumours about his sexuality and his new life living in Scandinavia

Bonds and Brooking. McAvennie and Cottee. Sullivan and Gold. Claret and Blue.

There seems to be something about West Ham that attracts double acts, and for fans in the late 80s and early 90s, one of the most significant and unforgettable pairings was Ian Bishop and Trevor Morley. Th e duo joined together from Manchester City in 1989 as part of a swap deal which saw Mark Ward go the other way, and for many reasons, their names have remained spoken of together during their playing days – and beyond.

Now 55 and living in Norway, Morley who scored 70 goals in 215 appearances for the Irons and was named Hammer of the Year in 1994, spoke exclusively to Blowing Bubbles about his unlikely route to the top, the lies that threatened to ruin his career, and his surprising path in life aft er football.

‘The way I came up gave me a great grounding – I was rejected by Derby as a kid and was working on market stalls and playing non-league football before Northampton Town took a chance on me, and it was an absolute lifeline,’ he explained.

‘Over the years lots of people had taken a look at me but not done anything about it, until Graham Carr [father of comedian Alan Carr] decided to take a punt on me and some other non-league players, and it worked out brilliantly. ‘At Northampton, we won the old 1986-87 Division Four title with 99 points and 103 goals because the squad were so super-fi t and hungry. It was basic football but it worked, and if we’d managed to keep that team together, I think we could have got promoted again, but it wasn’t to be as the team broke up, and then at the age of 25, finally I got my chance in the big time when City came along.’

It was at City that the Bishop/Morley partnership was born, but they first crossed paths as opponents – and not in a friendly way. ‘Our first meeting was when City were playing at Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth, in the second-last game of the 1988-89 season, and we still needed one more win to get promoted. ‘We were three up at half time, and in the second half, we went for a challenge together, I took a kick at Bish and he stuck his hand in my face – that was our first meeting!

‘I could tell straight away he was a bit useful though, and after we’d been 3-0 ahead, he helped Bournemouth turn things round and deep into injury time, they scored an equaliser, which meant we had to go and get a point at Bradford on the final day to win promotion.

‘Fortunately, with five minutes left I got the goal that sent us up, and that summer, City signed Bish – so I like to tell him if it hadn’t been for me scoring that goal, he’d never have got his chance! ‘He was a great player, but when Mel Machin, who had signed us, was replaced by Howard Kendall, who had let Bish go from Everton, he put Gary Megson in the team instead of him, and he and I were soon out the door.

‘Mark Ward was a good player, but I think West Ham definitely got the best of that deal with the two of us. ‘We’d got on fine at City but hadn’t been particularly close mates, but moving like that forced us closer together and we’ve stayed good mates ever since. He always likes to think he’s better at things and I like to take him down – that’s the basis of our relationship to this day!’

Morley and Bishop arrived at Upton Park in late 1989, as West Ham’s greatest-ever squad, the class of 86, was starting to fragment, and it was not long before Lou Macari, who signed the pair, was on his way out. Morley admits it was a slightly awkward situation for everyone at the club.

‘When we arrived, some of the big names of 1986 were still around, and there was definitely a bit of friction between some of them and the new arrivals who were taking their places. ‘It wasn’t a big problem – they were great players, and as a striker, this was the first time I’d worked with centre halves who could actually pass the ball to me, so I loved that – but it was a difficult job for any outsider trying to come into a club with such big characters in it, and I’m not sure Lou was really given a good chance to try and handle it before he was given the chop.

Macari’s successor was club legend Billy Bonds, who calmed things down at the club and restored stability and morale. Morley prospered too, finishing as top scorer in the 1990-91 promotion campaign, but the following season – the last of the old Division One before the introduction of the Premier League – panned out in a way Morley could never have imagined.

With the team already involved in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to avoid relegation, Morley sustained serious stab injuries in a domestic incident. Although he made a good physical recovery, rumours that the incident had been caused by him having a gay relationship with Bishop began to circulate – and refused to go away.

‘I nearly died in the incident, but my long-term recovery wasn’t actually that bad,’ he explained. ‘Wounds heal, but those rumours almost killed me off as a footballer over the following year. ‘We’ll never know quite how it started. I remember being at the house on my own and the press knocking on the door asking why I was stabbed.

‘It was ridiculous – they were literally camped outside my house, and my lawyer said not to comment on anything at all, because whatever you say, they’ll write it anyway, so I was having to go out the back door and jump over the fence if I wanted to leave the house. Then somehow – without it being printed anywhere – this rumour began and it went around like wildfire.

‘Within two days, I had a call from my sister saying on word of mouth alone, it had made it as far as Nottingham, and this was in the days before social media. It was incredible. ‘In the long term, the stabbing incident had no impact on me whatsoever physically or mentally, but those rumours put me off my game so badly. For a long time the following season, I just wasn’t there mentally at all – I was training ok but my head wasn’t right.

‘It was frustrating for me seeing people like Mike Small coming into the team and taking my place. When I arrived at West Ham, they had Jimmy Quinn and Frank McAvennie up front, but I saw them off, so I was proud of my place in that team. ‘Clive Allen was there for a time too, but I outscored him. I wanted to get back what was mine, and with all that going on, it took some doing – but eventually I did it.’

Having been rejected by professional football as a youngster, only to be given a second chance, ultimately Morley’s instinct to grab the opportunity when it came helped play a part in the end of his West Ham career. ‘In 1994 I was Hammer of the Year, but the following season my cartilage went early on and I came back too early because I was desperate to play – and that did for me at the club,’ he explained.

‘I didn’t play that well and soon lost my place to Don Hutchison, who wasn’t actually a striker but started scoring. Then when Tony Cottee came back to the club, I realised I wasn’t going to get my place back. ‘Even in a week when I scored four in the reserves and I didn’t get in the team, I knew my time was up. I didn’t have any real argument with that. I felt it was time to move – you train all week and if you don’t play, it’s like not having a proper job.

‘If I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t happy – I’d rather step down and play for a smaller club than hang around, so when the time came, it wasn’t a tough decision.’ Morley’s final club in England was Reading, where he played from 1995 to 1998, but the end of his domestic career was by no means the end of everything. In fact, it was one of the stepping stones to the whole of the rest of his life since – in Norway

‘My first wife was Norwegian – as is my second one – so I used to go there at a lot, and so that’s how I ended up going on loan at Bergen side Brann when I was a West Ham player. ‘We had about 12 weeks off over the summer in those days, and it was very easy to get out of shape, so I took the opportunity to go out on loan there – and it was the best thing I ever did. ‘The league may not have been the same standard as it was in England, but in my first game I played in front of 20,000 people, and this was the time when there were a lot of Scandinavian players with experience of playing in England.

‘The level of training was better than what we did back home, and when I came back to West Ham Harry said how good I looked because I was sharper than anyone in pre-season. ‘West Ham had been really wary the first time but Brann paid my wages and it worked really well, so I ended up doing it three times in my career, and it was a totally positive experience – I’m surprised more players don’t try it, there’s definitely a market for them out there.

‘The level’s not the same as in England any more, but it’s a decent standard, and as a player, you’d always want to play competitive games rather than just playing for the reserves.’ Now remarried and settled in Norway, the second chance theme which motivated Morley’s professional career crops up again in his surprising new career path – running a halfway house for recovering drug addicts.

‘It’s something I just fell into,’ he said. ‘I’d bought a house and knew someone who needed a room – the council needed places to house people, so I set it up, and I’ve been doing it for 16 years now. ‘I don’t know a lot about drugs and I don’t pretend to cure them, but I have learnt a lot about people. I just give them respect, keep the place tidy, and try to be positive with them.

Morley also retains an interest in the Premier League through his work as a pundit in Norwegian TV, and although his visits to West Ham have become less frequent, he says there is definitely still a connection. ‘The first time I went back to Upton Park was about 13 years after I’d last been there as a player, and I couldn’t believe it – when the fans recognised me, they crowded round asking for autographs and pulling pictures of me out of their bags, 13 years on! They said ‘we knew you’d be back one day’, and I was amazed, I appreciated that so much,’ he explained.

And if he needed any more reminding of his place in the hearts of West Ham fans, and in club history, he received it a couple of years back in a pub quiz. ‘I was at a function with the Scandinavian Hammers, and one of the questions was about who was the club’s top scorer in a certain period of time,’ Morley said.

‘I put Tony Cottee down as my answer – and it turned out it was me! So now that’s always my caption when I’m on television in Norway – it’s nice that people remember that.’ As if there was ever any danger of anyone at West Ham forgetting Trevor Morley.

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