Ireland's forgotten man: How the sixth Italia 90 penalty taker ended up running a Cornish pasty business
Published 25/05/2016 | 15:37
Signing a professional contract is meant to be one of the best day's of a player's life, a time where all their hopes are realised with the stroke of a pen - but when your manager is Jack Charlton, your dream moment can take a decidedly matter-of-fact turn rather quickly.
Chris Morris started every game for Ireland at Euro 88 and Italia 90 but long before he was a soldier in Big Jack's army, he sat before the World Cup-winner in his office at Sheffield Wednesday back in 1982, nervously waiting to see whether the notoriously straight-talking Englishman would sign him to a professional contract.
The 18-year-old Morris was hopeful, and although he ultimately got what he wanted, the manner in which it came about was classic Charlton.
"I walked into the office and Jack was sitting at his desk," Morris tells Independent.ie.
"He said 'I saw you play twice last season... and you were bloody awful. The coaches have told me that you've played better this year, so there is a contact on the table over there. Sign it on your way out.' And that was it."
That minimal level of fuss and attention followed Morris throughout his career. Despite playing a key role in the Irish rearguard alongside Packie Bonner, Mick McCarthy, Paul McGrath and Kevin Moran, the Cornwall native enjoys a fraction of the public profile of that lauded quartet.
After all, while seemingly every other member of the Ireland starting teams from Euro 88 and Italia 90 are regularly wheeled out to do punditry work or to promote products, Morris eschewed the limelight while managing his family business, Morris' Pasties, a company that specialises in meat-filled pies.
The Republic of Ireland team that played against England at Euro 88.
He has returned to football subsequently, working as a coaching development officer for the FA in the Cornwall area, but don't mistake that for Morris wanting to raise his profile - he remains very humble about the part he played in Irish football's greatest era.
The only time Morris displays anything close to self-promotion is when he talks about his elevation to the Irish team, which almost happened overnight. After moving from Sheffield Wednesday to Celtic in 1987, Morris got the chance to form a defensive relationship at Celtic Park with Ireland regulars Bonner and McCarthy.
After an injury to Mark Lawrenson opened up a spot in the Irish defence, Morris seized his chance. He made his debut in November 1987 in a friendly against Israel at Dalymount Park and the following summer he started the Euro 88 opener against England in Stuttgart, despite not playing a single minute during the qualification campaign.
Morris admits that he felt a bit out of place having parachuted in before Ireland's first major tournament, but at the same time, thinks that his stellar performances couldn't lead to many complaints from the squad.
"The day I made my debut was around the time that they qualified," Morris says.
"Since I hadn’t been involved in any of the qualification campaign I sort of felt like a fraud.
"When I came in, to be honest, I played out of my skin around that time. I don’t think anybody resented it from that point of view but everybody wants to play. I’m sure someone like Dave Langan who represented Ireland so fantastically well over his career – and then we kind of overlapped and he didn’t make those tournaments – would have been massively disappointed. I would expect that and fully understand that."
Morris was one of the many English-born players in the squad at the time - he qualified for Ireland through his mother, who was from Monaghan. Having had no interest from the English senior squad despite strong club form and underage caps on his CV, Morris jumped at the chance to represent Ireland.
However, in the build-up to that famous game against England in Stuttgart, he remembers their press pack needling him with questions about how he would cope against his birth country - could a Celtic defender possibly stop Player of the Year John Barnes?
"The English media were trying to rattle me a bit in the build-up," Morris remembers.
"I got asked a lot of questions about being new to the squad, a lack of experience, being new to the tournament. I was going up against John Barnes, who was the Football Writers' Player of the Year. They all seemed to be very leading questions. I remember thinking that they were trying to see if I was the sort of player who could be undermined confidence wise."
If that was the intention of the English journalists, then they merely made Morris more resolute, as he took his place in a defence that was on the back foot for roughly 98% of the game. However, Ray Houghton's famous header and some heroic defending from the back five allowed Ireland to record their most famous ever victory.
Morris shakes hands with Bryan Robson after Ireland's 1-0 win over England at Euro 88.
Having only made his debut seven months earlier, the enormity of the win was lost on him somewhat, as Morris hadn't toiled for years in pursuit of qualification like the rest of the squad.
"The significance of that game is kind of lost on you until you see the dignitaries, members of the FAI council and politicians coming in and out of the dressing room and they are weeping at the result," Morris says.
"It is only when you look back that you realise how historic a day it was for Ireland."
Despite exiting Euro 88 at the group stage after subsequently drawing with the USSR and losing to the Netherlands, Morris had done enough to nail down a place in the Irish team. He maintained his place as Ireland qualified for the World Cup in 1990, having excelled for Celtic too.
He won a league title with the club in 1988, and his time at Celtic Park featured one eerie incident with a devout fan, who he visited in a hospice.
"Poor old guy, he had a few cans by the side of his bed and he was obviously being treated with a number of painkillers," Morris said.
"He said ‘I’ve had a bet on you to score tomorrow in the third minute’. I didn’t have any money on it and didn’t think any more about it. Went into the game the following day against Dundee and I scored my first goal at Celtic Park.
"I remember looking in the paper the following day and I scored in the third minute. I tried to contact the old man but he passed away over that weekend."
Strange encounters aside, Morris' football career was peaking by the time Ireland's first World Cup came around. Charlton's side were placed in a tough group once again but on this occasion they advanced to the second round after draws with England, Egypt and the Netherlands.
Morris goes up against Ruud Gullit at Euro 88.
Despite being roundly criticised after a dull draw with the Egyptians - 'I think there are people who wait around for a result like that; Eamon Dunphy is definitely one of them' - Ireland regrouped to defeat Romania in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Packie Bonner and David O'Leary achieved iconic status in this country for their heroics during the fifth round of spot-kicks, but Morris reveals that if Romanian Daniel Timofte had beaten Bonner that day, he could have been the player that everyone associates with Ireland's Italia 90 glory.
"We had our five and when it went to around 3-3 Jack went around to see who would go next," Morris says.
"There were a few lads who had enjoyed monumental games but were either injured or had cramp. I can’t remember who else it was, but me and one of the other lads were six and seven. We were going to get forced down that route."
However, despite coming tantalisingly close to taking the decisive penalty, Morris has no regrets with how the day unfolded.
"The history books were written the way they were supposed to be written, and the people who were supposed to be the heroes are they heroes they were supposed to be," he says emphatically.
Ireland's glorious run ended at the quarter-final stage with a 1-0 defeat to Italy, and Morris' period of fame ended with it. After an open-top bus tour of Dublin during the team homecoming, the majority of the squad became household names while Morris gradually faded to the background.
His international career ended almost as quickly as it began, with Morris winning his last cap in 1993 at age 29, a year after he joined Middlesborough from Celtic.
Morris played there for five years before hanging up his boots in 1997. After initially dabbling in property development, Morris entered the family business, which undoubtedly surprised a few people.
Morris' pasty shop in Cornwall
Morris helped develop his dad's Cornish butcher's into a highly-regarded Cornish pasty shop, which grew to have a number of franchises in the Cornwall area.
The former Ireland international wasn't behind the counter making meat pies, but it still represented a massive change from professional football.
"I have made the odd pasty but I don’t think I was any use to the pasty production line, I was more developing the business," he explains.
"I did a bit of property developing for a few years but then my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I went back to try and help with the family business in Newquay in Cornwall, which is where I'm from. My dad was originally a Cornish butcher but we developed it into a Cornish pasty making business. I looked to develop that aspect of the business and we developed into quite a significant pasty manufacturer and retailer."
After a few years in the pasty business, Morris had a yearning to get back into football so he applied to get his coaching badges. He quietly returned to the game and now tutors coaches in his area in what he describes as a 'fascinating' job with the FA.
Morris now works as a coaching development officer for the FA.
Ireland's qualification for a major tournament naturally prompts a rush to talk to former players, and while Morris is happy to look back on his time in green, he is equally satisfied with how his life has worked out after football, fame or no fame.
“I don’t feel the need to do be the centre of attention and I certainly don’t long for the days when I was more in the public eye," Morris says.
"I don’t want and need that. I’m really happy with my lot.”