FA Cup Countdown: Morley looks to transform giant-killing scripts into hard news

As lowly Macclesfield take on Chelsea in the Cup, their captain Dave Morley tells Phil Shaw he is hoping to make football's big news before starting to report on it
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The Independent Football

"Welcome to the sports news. It's FA Cup day and the shock result of the third round is Premiership champions Chelsea being knocked out by bottom of the League Macclesfield Town. The only goal was scored in stoppage time by their captain, Morley."

Dave Morley's script on the autocue in Staffordshire University's TV studios is the stuff of giant-killing dreams. It was penned for a journalism course he is taking, but as Paul Ince's voice on the Stamford Bridge pitch in tomorrow's third-round FA Cup tie, Morley hopes to turn the student fantasy into sensational fact.

The central defender is one of three Macclesfield men in a squad of 17 players attending the Stoke campus two afternoons a week for a professional sports writing and broadcasting degree that the university runs in tandem with the Professional Footballers' Association. Morley, 29, has had hold-the-back-page moments before, notably with Manchester City, yet nothing quite like a tilt at Chelsea.

Through the autumn he toiled at the foot of the League in a side that failed to win in its opening 20 games. Then the guv'nor, Ince, became the gaffer, the victories began flowing and Macclesfield were paired with Jose Mourinho's galacticos. If Morley had submitted the story in a creative-writing exercise, it might have been deemed too fanciful.

Now his "news bulletin" needs updating. The sides are no longer first and 92nd and the prospect of the greatest Cup shock ever has increased. While Chelsea trail Manchester United after three consecutive draws, Macclesfield are up to the nose-bleed heights of 91st after four consecutive wins.

Morley has been around long enough to know better than start shouting the odds. But when he looks forward to "a great day out" in London, it is evident he aims to return north with more than the shirt off the back of the £24m Didier Drogba or the £30m Andrei Shevchenko.

"Everyone wants an away tie against one of the big boys - Manchester United or Chelsea - and we got the draw we wanted," he says. "But you still want to win your headers and tackles, and you want to keep a clean sheet. In that sense it'll be the same as a normal weekend.

"I haven't been watching Chelsea any more closely than usual. They're on TV and in the papers every day, so I know Drogba is on fire. People said last season he wasn't worth what they paid, and they're saying the same about Shevchenko, but he came good."

Morley has encountered only one Chelsea star, Frank Lampard, when he played for Southend in a friendly against West Ham. "He's huge at the moment, but they're all footballers. I know their wages are massive but I don't think there's that big a gap between us. Wycombe showed that by winning at Charlton in the Carling Cup."

Ince preceded Lampard in the Upton Park midfield before amassing medals and millions in Manchester. Morley, St Helens-born and a boyhood fan of the local rugby league side and Everton, started out with similar ambitions. He was in the City set-up at 11, making his debut aged 18 in a derby at Bury. "Luckily it was live on Sky and I scored the equaliser. Just a header from a corner, the usual centre- half's goal."

His first manager at City was Brian Horton, who later brought him to Macclesfield. Then came Alan Ball, Steve Coppell, caretakers Asa Hartford and Phil Neal, Frank Clark, who blooded him, and Joe Royle, an appointment he remembers as "the end of the merry-go-round".

"When you're a young player, you're trying to make an impression. It's hard with managers coming and going. Joe sold me to Southend. City had 55 pros and it was either 'stay and fight for a place, or go for first-team football'. I just wanted to play every week, so I took the second."

The same desire led him to Ayr (on loan), Carlisle, Oxford and Doncaster, a career trajectory some would see as depressingly downward. Not Morley. "Everyone wants to be a footballer when they grow up. If you love the game, it's the same no matter where you're playing. You just want to give your best."

His zeal was tested as Macclesfield's horrendous start dragged on. "I've never known anything like it. After 10, 12, 15 games without a win, we were saying, 'It can't go on'.

"But it did. As captain, you sometimes think it's all falling on your shoulders and wonder what you can do to lift the team. You try different things, but it just wasn't happening."

Ince's arrival stopped the slide back towards to the Conference. "The change lifted the spirits," explains Morley. "We needed someone in as quickly as possible and we're just glad it was Paul Ince."

Afternoon training was just one of his "different ideas". Morley adds: "He played for some of the world's biggest clubs, under numerous managers, and picked up ideas from them all. He also got the lads together and they've gelled. He knew that some need an arm round them and others need a kick up the backside."

Does Ince still demand to be called the guv'nor? "It hasn't been mentioned - it's just the gaffer." Has he employed the "hair-dryer" rollickings for which Sir Alex Ferguson is notorious? "Not yet! The lads have given everything since he has been here, so he hasn't had a reason to use it."

The answer to the question of whether Ince might play in the ultimate Dave-and-Goliath encounter is much the same (having turned out for Swindon Town before joining Macclesfield, he became eligible again when the transfer window opened). But, says Morley, he "still looks a quality player in training and the will to win is still there. It would be a bonus if he did pull on his boots."

The would-be journalist could be sitting on his first scoop if the former Old Trafford warhorse plans to renew hostilities with Chelsea. Yet if Morley does know anything, he has learnt to throw a rival off the scent. "I think he'll be able to resist the temptation to play, and stay on the touchline," he says, plainly relishing the thought of him doing the exact opposite.

Chelsea beware: The Ince Effect

Macclesfield's 10 results before he arrived:

Stockport (h) L 0-1

Bury (h) L 2-3

Shewsbury (a) L 1-2

Hereford (a) L 0-1

Chester (h) D 1-1

Torquay (h) D 3-3

Walsall (a) L 0-2

Lincoln (a) L 1-2

Barnet (h) L 2-3

Grimsby (a) D 1-1

League's bottom four in october when he took over:


Grimsby 15/4/3/8/14/26/15

Barnet 15/2/6/7/21/30/12

Boston 15/3/3/9/17/27/12

Macclefield 15/0/5/10/13/29/5

Macclesfield's 10 most recent results:

Lincoln (h) W 2-1

Torquay (a) W 1-0

Chester (a) W 3-0

Swindon (h) W 2-1

Accrington (h) D 3-3

Notts County (a) W 2-1

Rochdale (h) W 1-0

Hartlepool (FA Cup) (h) W 2-1

Stockport (a) D 1-1

Walsall (FA Cup) (a) W 1-0

League's bottom four after New Year's Day:


Boston 26/7/6/13/34/45/27

Accrington 25/6/8/11/40/47/26

Macclesfield 26/6/8/12/32/42/26

Torquay 26/4/8/14/18/34/20