Cheltenham Town compete in the National League South West Division One and have the daunting task of competing against the Southampton FC and Southampton Women for promotion. I’ve been fortunate enough to catch up with one of their players, Sam Morris.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m 25 and currently a centre half for Cheltenham Town, previously captain and league champions with forest green rovers. This is my 3rd season with Cheltenham. Born and bred Gloucestershire. I’ve played football for as long as I can remember and support Manchester United. Although my dad did try to force Spurs on me as a kid.
Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?
Hmm I’d say this is actually a quite tough question because I had so many good role models around me whilst growing up. I’m lucky to have such a supportive family, my mum and step dad must have driven thousands of miles over the years giving me the opportunity to train and play. My dad and Grandad definitely got me into football though. Aside from family, I’d say Arsenal have always led the way in inspiring women’s football to develop, but being a United fan David Beckham was always my childhood idol.
Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
I started off in an under 10’s side at local county level before moving to play for Gloucester City. After that, from U12’s through to women’s football I played for a centre of excellence, I don’t think they have C of E’s anymore but they’re the equivalent of RTC’s. I was always a striker/ right-winger when I was younger but as I got older and moved to forest green it was picked up by the coaching staff that I was much better suited as a central defender. I was the school top goal scorer for a few seasons and attended a regional talent camp at age 14, this was a particularly high light of my youth career… but I’d say I’ve had a lot more team celebrations and success in women’s football.
You are currently playing at Cheltenham Town, what is it about the club that you love?
The squad, without a doubt. There’s such a bond between the girls, given that there such a vast age range too. We play for each other and it’s really nice to be a part of. We’ve got a great managerial, physio and media team too. It’s just an all round good club atmosphere.
What can you remember about your first-team debut with Cheltenham Town?
My debut for Cheltenham after I moved from forest green was actually at Whaddon Road (the Johnny Rocks Stadium) against Maidenhead in a league game. I came off at half time after a quad injury. I remember trying to play through it, it was pretty gutting to come off. Luckily it was just minor and I was back fit after a few weeks.
How do you balance your football and your day job?
I guess my day job isn’t really a day job, more of a lifestyle. Being a paramedic my shift pattern consists of early’s, lates, nights and weekends. I swap a lot of shifts around to play. Work and my colleagues are pretty good at being accommodating for football.
You are currently overcoming quite a serious operation. Could you tell us a little about happened, what you have been going through and how you have managed to stay motivated to come back stronger?
I had quite an unusual complex ankle injury that I picked up during a training session in pre season. Almost a freak accident really. I was running with the ball, looked up to put a cross in and something just snapped. It almost felt like I was shot in the side of my ankle. Luckily Katy Jackson (our sports therapist) was there straight away to assess it but I think I knew instantly I’d done something serious. I ended up having surgery at the end of august to repair the injury. After that, I had 2 weeks in a plaster cast and I’m just coming up to the end of 6 weeks in a boot before going into a brace.
I’ve been really fortunate with the amount of support I’ve had, from both the men’s and women’s sides of the club. Our manager (Alex Cheal), the coaching staff (Tom Davies, Callum Terry, Morgan James), the medical team and most importantly the girls in the squad have been amazing. To be honest if it wasn’t for the Cheltenham Town FC’s head of medical (Gavin Crowe) and my surgeon (Simon Clint) I wouldn’t be where I am now, although I’ve still got a long way to go, I literally can’t thank everyone enough.
Staying motivated can be difficult but with all the girls around me its been a lot easier. I haven’t actually had any game time this season at all, not even a pre-season minutes and I still feel part of the squad. There’s such a good vibe about at the moment, it’s really great to be involved despite being sidelined.
It must have been hard to take. What would you say was harder to recover from, the physical injury or the mental impact?
It was hard to take as I felt the fittest I’d ever been this pre-season. The injury was pretty painful, but pain can be managed. I’d say the psychological impact is far greater and generally much harder to deal with. I’ve had minor injuries in the past but nothing that’s sidelined me for more than a few weeks. I guess the most important thing for anyone involved in football (or sport generally) is to check on your injured teammates/ players because it really is tough mentally and I don’t think I could’ve got through it without the people around me.
What is a realistic target for Cheltenham Town to achieve this season?
Well our league aim is to be near the top of the table and to improve on last years league place finish. Watching from the sidelines, with the squad talent and depth I think it’s definitely an achievable target. We’ll aim to go as far as possible in the FAWNL plate and in the FA cup and then hopefully we can win the county cup again this year.
What are your personal targets for the rest of the season?
My main aim is just to smash my rehab and get myself back to full fitness. I feel in such a good mindset now and I know hard work pays off so I’ll keep pushing. Initially after surgery it would be a six month time scale until I could play again. I’m trying not to put an end date on it at the moment, mainly because I don’t want to rush the rehab process.
Obviously my long term goal is to be back in the starting 11, but Cerys Dollaway and Mai Butler are doing really well as the central duo at the back. We also have Chloe Rogers, another strong centre half, returning from a long term knee injury. The whole squad has really come together this season and it’s so nice to watch. I’m excited to come back but the recovery process has to happen first.