Micky Morgan

  • by Graeme Howlett
  • Friday, 9th February 2018

Ironically perhaps, there's a storm brewing above in the east London sky as I head towards Stratford in order to meet Micky Morgan, one of the leading lights of the recently-formed Real West Ham Fans Action Group.

A West Ham supporter his entire life, and one not used to turning the other cheek, he is currently preparing for perhaps his greatest adventure of all as the Real West Ham Fans Action Group plan how to tackle West Ham's Board in a battle for the heart of the club.

Inaugurated just three months ago, the action group's Facebook page has already attracted in excess of 15,000 members whilst a justgiving appeal launched last week to fund a proposed anti-Board protest in March smashed through its £20,000 target within just four days. It's fair to say that the incredibly positive response has left Morgan feeling slightly overwhelmed.

"No-one wanted to be the mouthpiece, to rally the troops," he tells me when I enquire as to why he decided to launch RWHFAG. "So it fell upon us - we have the credibility to pull it off. Andy [Swallow] has organised marches involving West Ham before and he knows how to make a statement.

"With all the fan groups saying the same thing, it proves how much bad blood there is at the club. I've had people contacting me from California, Virginia and Dubai, all trying to get flights for the forthcoming march. I just can't believe it. I'm shocked!"

The credibility Micky refers to was earned on the terraces during the 1970s and 1980s, when disturbances between rival fans were commonplace and travelling to away games was equivalent to running the gauntlet, an exercise that often required near military precision to successfully circumnavigate.

However this kind of tactical acumen was second nature to Morgan, who spent three years in the army during his teenage years where he learned great discipline and other positive traits that stand him in good stead to this day.

Entering the forces was perhaps natural progression for a young man who'd spent most of his childhood in institutions having been placed in care at the age of six, where he remained until leaving the system at 16 - albeit briefly. And it was during that time he acquired a love of football and specifically, West Ham United.

"I'd been in and out of care as a kid and ended up in a Work Hostel in Kent, where they took you to prepare you for work," Morgan recalls. "It was a lovely old Tudor house with a five-a-side football pitch. I was a useful footballer as a youngster, a central midfielder, and made many friends as a result.

"There was a fella called Alan Andrews who lived next door to me, he was part of the older group [of fans] at West Ham. At the time I always used to wear a claret and blue shirt with a number 10 - the shirt of Trevor Brooking, who was my idol - so Alan asked the manager of the Hostel if he could take me to West Ham.

"He knew I loved my football, the old man, and he said 'take him!' So Alan took me up to a few games.

"I recall there was a midweek game coming up and it turned out to be one of the greatest games we had over there - the European Cup Winners' Cup tie with Eintracht Frankfurt! 1975 was my first time at Wembley, against Derby in the Charity Shield. They brought so many it was unbelievable.

"All of a sudden I was bumping into people like Andy Swallow, Neil Taylor and Fraser Jones. All the younger group. I thought 'there's the football ground, there's Green Street - I want to live here, be part of this and settle down'.

"When they slung me out of the Hostel in 1976 at the age of 16, Andy [Swallow] offered me a place at his family home in Waghorn Road. His mum was insistent that we find work so every morning started with a cup of tea followed by a bacon sarnie then bang, out you go! Fortunately I soon got a job in Forest Gate as an upholsterer."

Yet despite being welcomed into the Swallow family home and holding down a respectable job, something wasn't quite clicking for a young man who was possibly struggling to come to terms with the mundane existance a standard Monday-to-Friday working life presented - and so it was with perhaps uncharacteristic spontaneity that he turned to the forces.

"In 1978 I decided I wanted to join the Army - so that's what I did, with the 3rd Battalion Queen's Regiment," he recalls. "Some time after I'd joined we had a game against Newcastle and I remember saying "if we keep scoring goals I'm not going back" - and in the end we won 5-0 and I went AWOL!

"After returning home to Andy's I was eventually captured and taken back to the barracks. Now I was a good soldier but I was an even better footballer, and the Army wanted me to represent them. I was 18 and taking their free kicks and penalties - a dead ball specialist, really!

"At this point a lot of the lads were going on exercises - not active duty, as I'd done that myself in Ireland - to places like Salisbury Plain and Germany. I was playing football for the Army in Aldershot and a lot of them were coming back with their stripes telling me what to do! I'd been in longer than most of them so made it my desire to get out."

Unfortunately for Morgan, that decision was taken out of his hands after suffering a serious injury whilst representing the Army.

"One day whilst playing, I trapped a nerve in my spine," he says. "It was so bad I couldn't even drive my car and I was taken to hospital by ambulance. A couple of days later they took me to the barracks in a green army van before telling me to get dressed and start cleaning!

"I refused to work and they thought I was going mad, so they put me into a hospital at Shaw Barracks in Folkestone. The doctors there said I was in a bad way so I was transferred to Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich - which was good, as I was getting closer to home!

"There I was in traction as the doctors attempted to stretch my back and sort the nerve out; in the end, it got to the stage where they said I was unfit to go back to my unit and put me in the mental unit at Shooter's Hill - the institution for the Army boys who'd gone loopy!"

However this unexpected twist of fate was manipulated in his favour by Morgan, who was eventually offered an unusual opportunity to make a few quid. "The white coats lined up and said I had to work - either woodwork or printing," he adds. "I chose printing and they asked me what I wanted to print - so I replied 'congratulations, you've just met the ICF!'

"They asked me what 'ICF' stood for and I told them it was 'Ice Cream Firm', and that the cards would be handed out to kids from an ice cream van - and they said 'well, you can do that!' So I used the guillotine to make hundreds of playing card-size [ICF-branded] cards.

"When I eventually got over to West Ham again, we were selling three for a pound or ten for a fiver! All the fans who didn't live in London wanted to take them back home, to their pubs in Surrey, Hertfordshire or Essex. It paid for our away games or anything we wanted in those times - we didn't need a regular job!"

Morgan's eventual exit from the forces - a few weeks shy of his full three-year term - was the result of a little 'creative thinking' by the father of another acquaintance he'd come to be able to rely upon since becoming a regular at Upton Park.

"When I left the Army I went to live with Brett Tidman," recalls Morgan. "His Dad, Roy, would ring the barracks telling them he had a job for me - by this time they'd let me return from the institution. They were going to Fallingbostel in Germany but didn't want to take me; they thought I'd be a liability.

"I had six weeks of my three years to go, so instead they sent me to another barracks where I didn't know a soul. I was no good to them there either. Roy kept ringing and in the end they gave up and kicked me out early. I was running the Madhouse in Deptford, Roy and Shirley's pub.

"I wanted to stay in the East End so Brett, my football pal gave me a bed as Andy and his Mum had moved to Southend by then. The rest is history; we started this unit that lasted until 1988 when people started getting nicked. It was a big part of my life."

The group he refers to was the Inter City Firm, founded by Swallow and Morgan in the mid-1970s - a time of great social upheaval, strikes and shortages, when every club in the land would boast a 'firm' seeking to strike fear into the heart of their opponents. "When you look back, we were kids - there's no-one there who's bigger than ten stone!" he laughs.

"The biggest ones would be the likes of Johnny Butler or Carlton Leach and they didn't accept us straight away. They'd say 'no, you're too small'. That's when we started getting the trains away and proved that we were loyal. We were kids and we had nothing but each others' backs."

Despite the group becoming notorious over the course of the next decade, to the degree that members of the ICF were eventually invited to Government meetings tasked with breaking the hooligans, Morgan admits that an incident in 1982 forced him to re-evaluate and question his position as one of the party's most active members.

After leaving the Army, he married his now ex-wife and shortly after, she fell pregnant with their first child. But it was a birth that Morgan nearly missed as a result of his continued involvement with the Firm.

"In May 1982 I got nicked for threatening behaviour outside the bookmakers at Arsenal," he says. "That was the charge in the day. Anyone who was arrested that day, it didn't matter what the charge was, at Highbury Corner on the Monday you were sent to Pentonville for a month.

"All of a sudden I was thinking to myself, 'what am I doing here, my daughter's being born in June - I'm not going to get out in time!' My first baby was going to be born and I wasn't going to be there. Fortunately you got a bit off for remission and I just got out a few days before she was born.

"But I remember thinking 'what was all that about?' It changed me, as earning a pound note became more important than putting your hands up. Then they started caging the fans and Margaret Thatcher stepped in after she'd smashed the miners."

Post 1988, there was very little left for the firms; a slew of individuals representing various clubs were jailed as a result of several high-profile cases whilst technology was slowly beginning to catch up, with mobile phones and portable recording equipment on the horizon.

And so it was that Morgan began to invest more time in football - firstly as a player, then later as a coach. "Andy [Swallow] had so much other stuff going on his life because the rave scene had kicked in. He's always been functional like that," he says. "I was still playing football and ended up being the Ramsgate U18s and U23s manager.

"We only signed players from the local borough. I used to clean and paint the changing rooms, refurbish the dugouts and do things like that as I wanted to show the kids I was coaching that it meant a lot to me; if I couldn't gain their respect, how could I tell them what to do?

"We had a good side and someone had a word with Harry Redknapp. He told me that if I had anyone worth looking at, to bring them up to Chadwell Heath. That was a dream to me - the boss of West Ham saying that to me!

"I got a couple of kids a week's trial and had high hopes for my centre half Eddie Viede, who was up against a quick young striker. Tony Carr wasn't sufficiently impressed so I asked who the forward was - and he said, "that's Jermain Defoe, we've just paid £1m for him!"

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"In the end Eddie stayed with me at Ramsgate. Do you remember the Chelsea fan who walked across the netting to confront West Ham fans [at the OS last season]? That was my old right back. His father was my physio and his uncle used to be involved with Millwall's F-Troop!"

Morgan's love affair with Ramsgate - the moniker under which he was often referred to during his days with the Inter City Firm - ended when marital difficulties left him in a dark place. "In the end I walked away from it as my marriage was going tits-up," he recalls.

"I spent so much time away from home [with the football team] and I met someone else, my current partner. I ended up going through a messy divorce, just at a stage in life where you've got your nice house with a gravel pathway. I think I lost the plot a little bit, thought I was bigger than I really was.

"Whilst that was happening I couldn't really concentrate on the football any more so I stacked it. The Chairman tried to persuade me to come back but I couldn't do it. I walked away - and it was probably one of the worst decisions I've ever made. Still, several of my lads stepped up to the first team - and they won the Ryman League. I loved it, but at the same time it broke my heart. Now they're in the Conference."

Although he still retains plenty of affection for Ramsgate, it's claret and blue blood that runs through Morgan's veins. A regular attendee at both the Boleyn and the Olympic Stadium, he now enjoys attending matches primarily with his family.

"I'm a season ticket holder with my youngest son but my eldest comes too, as does my wife every now and then", he says. "I met Mark Noble recently and asked him to 'face time' Max, my youngest and tell him to go to bed. They waffled away with each other - imagine what that was like in the playground the next day!

"At the start of the season I had to ask him to stop slagging off Joe Hart. He used to destroy him in front of me and I'd have to say 'would you stop it, he's our goalkeeper'! This went on for about eight weeks, it was driving me mad. All of a sudden I had to tell him he was right - the wrong man was in goal, he can't even control his six-yard box. His heart's not in our cause."

Unfortunately his family's experience of the Olympic Stadium had already been spoilt by an incident involving fellow West Ham supporters in the opening match, an event that was only too familiar around the ground during the opening few matches when the club had made no provision for standing areas, leading to pockets of fans around the ground electing to wilfully obstruct the view of others.

"I had problems from the opening game [at the new stadium] with a group of lads in the row in front of me," he recalls. "At the Juventus game they were all standing up in front of us so I tapped one on the shoulder and said, 'my little lad can't see the game and I haven't paid £1,400 for four seats to look at your arse'.

"This carried on and when I arrived for the fourth game they said, 'we've been waiting for you' - and called it on! All of a sudden, people came from everywhere. I didn't know where they were in the ground but anyone that knew me came down. I told the group, 'you've got 15 seconds or it's all over'. They were West Ham fans, but they had respect for nobody."

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It was then that Morgan noticed how unprepared the stewards had been to deal with the incident - not surprising perhaps considering that the vast majority of the Boleyn Ground staff has not made the transition from Upton Park to Stratford, and that those employed by stadium operators E20 appeared to be ill-equipped to deal with a football crowd.

"They do a debrief when we all go home - each section has a head steward and they get those stewards to sit in the seats to inform what they've heard or seen," tells Morgan. "They've started sending letters out. I was temporarily banned, before being reinstated [a few days later].

"They wrote to me to confirm they were reinstating my membership, but said that as my eldest son had been sitting behind the goal and not in his normal location - because he likes to sit behind the goal with his mates - I would be given a one-match ban, which by then I'd served. I think that was their way of getting out of reimbursing me for the four tickets!"

The issue with stewarding was just one of many complaints Morgan was hearing from fellow supporters. Eventually, in November 2017 he, Swallow and members of their inner circle decided to officially launch a group in order to take West Ham United's Board to task - an organisation now known as the Real West Ham Fans Action Group.

"We weren't sure at first as a lot of people don't trust social media," says Morgan. "I was probably one of those people. We had some people questioning why we'd called ourselves 'Real' West Ham Fans, asking 'aren't we real then'? They were our mates too, but we needed to make a statement, as an Action Group.

"I couldn't believe how quickly the Facebook group grew. Andy does all the footwork and I run all the social media. Now we're taking action, as soon as that's over the 'Real' and 'Action' would be removed and we'd become 'The West Ham Group'. I know this is a long-term projection, but all the groups needed someone to step up to the plate.

"We try and keep transfer dealings and general football chat off the group. There's so many other places people can discuss that, we don't want football talk on the page. We're specifically interested to learn what people want. We want to hear their ideas, what we can do for them.

"I hate the word 'leaders'; there are no leaders at West Ham. We're all friends, no man can tell another man to jump. With all the groups involved at the forthcoming meeting, they might be able to sort out a new Supporters' Group and delegate positions to various people involved."

Initial meetings with the club centred upon a handful of basic demands, all of which were complied with (to a degree) by a Board that at first appeared willing to communicate. "The five points have all been addressed now," confirms Morgan.

"The memorial ground has been cleaned up, there are more buses available for those requiring a shuttle service, stewarding has improved, as has the allocation of away tickets and it's easier to get served at half time. They were the easiest things to put right, but we needed something to get the wheels in motion.

"Now we've got to make it as uncomfortable as possible for them. Someone suggested buying 500 claret and blue dildos, but who's going to go and buy them!? The balloons seemed like a lot of hard work, but we did it at Upton Park.

"It's like Andy [Swallow] said the other day: he [Sullivan] lives in a £150m house. If he wants to buy a yacht, he opens up a magazine. How do we compete against these people?"

Having discussed some of the many options available to them, it was decided that the most appropriate method of expressing the fans' general dissatisfaction would be via a very public, high-profile march - one that has now been tentatively arranged for 10 March in Stratford, prior to the home game with Burnley.

"It's set in stone now," says Morgan with an element of pride. "We considered starting with a hearse at the Boleyn, with a coffin and wreaths but we've decided it'll start in Stratford. We're going to descend upon the ground from there and lay our wreaths on the main gates.

"Our disabled attendees will be taken care of, transport is being arranged so they can get there. Everything is being outlined with the police; families and children, everyone's welcome. We've got grandads coming along because this needs to be done. This is about West Ham 'United'.

"There will be no confrontation, we'll just be protesting against a bad Board. Birmingham's fans wanted to march with us but we said 'no'. Someone might have a couple of beers too many and we don't want that. We want a peaceful demonstration walking from Stratford to the ground. We want to protest against the Board because in our view, they've absolutely destroyed the soul of the club."

In terms of the numbers they're hoping to attract, Morgan is almost certainly a little conservative with his estimates - and appears genuinely surprised when being told this. "We've got around 15,000 members and probably 70 per cent of them have indicated interest in joining the march," he says. "But I'd be pleased if we got anywhere between 3,000-5,000 of them. I think that's a lot, although the fund illustrates better who's really interested."

The fund in question is a justgiving page set up to provide financial support for the march - which reached its £20,000 target within just four days. The group plan to hire former Boleyn Ground staff plus a series of hearses, in addition to pumping out thousands of flyers and other associated material to promote the event.

And according to Morgan, the march will be just the first step in what could be a long, drawn out battle with the Board. "We want to put sustained pressure on Sullivan," he says. "We feel he is unfit to run out football club. He destroyed Birmingham, he's destroying us and that's why we're here. He feels that West Ham fans haven't got any clout - he really doesn't realise what's coming.

"The transfer window was the final straw. And where are our youth players coming through [to the first team]? We haven't got any. We haven't got anybody coming through. We have no [youth] coaches who've played at the highest level to bring players to that level.

"If you've only played in the Kent League or Isthmian League, your knowledge can only take them to there. When you get to that level someone should take them off your hands and take them to the next level as a professional. But they won't pay the money. With respect to our coaches, some of them couldn't even lace my boots.

"Andy [Swallow] and I had a long conversation the other day about the coaches. Some of them are black cab drivers. The likes of John Moncur - who people rate highly - should be over there. Rio [Ferdinand] put his hand up and said he'd come and help but they won't pay the money.

"They've just banked around £20million from the transfer window. Are they preparing to do the off? From a football point of view, I can't see them investing into our club any more.

"They've done the damage now. We've had meetings with them and conducted ourselves professionally but they haven't. They haven't done things they promised us. They squeezed us in between the two early matches in January and said they were surprised how well we were organised - but then mugged us off."

And when asked about the RWHFAG's end game, Morgan is unequivocal with his response. "We want them out," he replies. "As a group, having taken into consideration the views of all our members. Though it seems everyone wants them out. They've done damage wherever they've been.

"We did a documentary recently with a Norwegian company. We met in Ken's Cafe and took them to the memorial, the statue and to the Vic where we used to drink before a game. That was October and the cafe has gone now. They knocked the life out of Green Street, the club did nothing for that community.

"We stopped right outside the gates and looked towards the stadium. I said: "In there were 35,000 people we knew like a family". At Stratford, there are another 20,000 people we really don't know. Plus there's Newham's 100,000 free tickets so you never know who's going to be sitting next to you. You've had Arsenal shirts there, a man last week with a Chelsea hat. What's going on?

"My friend, who was also being interviewed said [in reference to David Sullivan and David Gold] 'these two have done more damage to the East End than Hitler'! They promised us a dream. They promised us something that we've never had round here. We all looked at the stadium, but we didn't realise we would be treated like second-class citizens."

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Having jumped straight into the deep end with RWHFAG last November, Morgan admits that he is still coming to terms with social media and remains wary of newcomers, despite having been a regular user for the last two years.

"We get people who've never previously posted in the group asking us what our objectives are," he says. "We've seen recently how others are using social media to try and destabilise us. Recently we had someone who said something on Twitter that upset a lot of people; he said if you didn't come from West Ham, you were a guest.

"Looking back, that'd make me more of a guest than many - and it was an insult to all those hardcore lovers of West Ham from places as diverse as Grimsby and Portsmouth! It didn't matter where you were from, it's where your heart is. At the end of the day I'm still standing here for West Ham, just as Andy's doing, just as Bill Gardner's doing."

Like the aforementioned Gardner, who released a book 'Congratulations...' in 2004, Morgan now feels the time is finally right for him to finally share his own memoirs of his youthful exploits. And so it is that he has begun the arduous task of collating memories from yesteryear with view to emulating the likes of Micky Smith, Gardner and Pennant.

"To me, it's a blessing from everyone," he says. "Everyone who's tried to do it before has been slaughtered. None of our lot [the original ICF] ever have. But I'm going to have a lot of time on my hands soon so I've decided to write a book.

"I'm building a dossier; I'm doing all my research now. I've got people contributing on various football grounds where the memory's gone a little although I can tell when things are being exaggerated! I'm not going to put myself in a position where I'm going to write a load of bollocks.

"I can remember most things perfectly well but when I can't, I can just ask so we get it right. I'm going to cover the decade from 1978 to 1988. The name of it I'm not too sure yet, but I've been promised support from some great guys regarding publishing, guys who can help me get it out there.

"As soon as I can put it together and get it into the hands of my publisher I'll get it passed out. The time's right, we're old enough that we can talk about it now. I'm proud that our group have given me the opportunity to put this story together and tell it how it was. It's a special honour when your own tell you that you have the right to do it.

"I love every single one of them like family. Andy [Swallow] is Godfather to my eldest daughter and Brett [Tidman] was best man at my wedding. We all grew up together through the Brit, the Supporters' Club, playing football together. Although most of us have left east London we're all still only a phone call away from each other."

That brotherly bond has been maintained by Morgan and his band of 20 to 30 close friends throughout the years; they celebrate the 40th in 2018. The only difference now is that he's opening the door to all like-minded supporters who share his vision of a West Ham United more reflective of its core values.

And they intend to show that West Ham fans, not seen demonstrating in such numbers since the BrownOut! protests more than a decade ago, are still a force to be reckoned with when they descend, en masse, upon Stratford next month.

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