Clive Morley is as warm and friendly of an individual as you could ever hope to chat with and his passion for the Rockets is patently obvious. Over the course of nearly an hour, Clive and I got to talk about various facets of the club. What you see below is a collection of some bits of our conversation.
Clive's time with the Rockets started normally enough. He came as a parent to support his son John. But his role changed very quickly.
"It’s typical stuff isn’t it? I went down, and if you sit there for two or three hours, you can’t sit there doing nothing when you see families with kids in chairs. You want to help! And that’s how it started for me. I’d go down and ‘Well, do you want a hand with this?’ And you’d start putting the bumpers on the chair and getting involved in bolting the things on. And then they start playing the game and Martin [Mills, club chairman and coach] was there and he says ‘come on’ and sticks a flag in your hand so the next thing you’re running the line. And then someone doesn’t turn up and he says ‘you know the rules, get in there, you can referee.’ Then unbeknownst to me about three years ago the guys all ganged up on me and got John, my lad, and said ‘Would your dad like to manage us?’ And here I am."
And what's more, Morley is awfully good at his job. "I’ve got a better record than Sherwood! We just finished the league, we’re fourth in the league again this year, which is the same as last year, but it’s a big step to get to the top three."
As manager, Clive faces most of the issues that you would expect any gaffer to deal with. "It is a football game. Four-a-side. You’ve got rolling substitutes, so yeah, team selection is mine. The team talk is mine. The tactics are very much dictated by the type of player we have and who’s available. And I’m not quiet on the touchline, I’ll admit. I’m quite vociferous sometimes. Not nasty but yelling."
But he yells for different reasons than Tim Sherwood might. "Some of our players want me to do that because they get lost and the concentration span of some of the players we have is not good and they want waking up. And they tell me to shout at them. So it’s about talking the game, and you’re almost a fifth player on the side of the pitch."
Of course, working with the Rockets, Clive deals with issues that go beyond the realm of a typical manager. There are less obvious differences, such as "drug" testing before and after matches. "The chairs are speed limited so it’s player against player. But some of the players are competitive and will change the protection! What the rules say is that there is a maximum speed at which you can play, so [if they're found to have tampered with the limit] they’ll get thrown off and won’t get to play. And they get random tested at the end, so it’s like a drug test."
And injury issues take on a different meaning than what Aston Villa have dealt with. Powerchair football is a no-contact sport, so injuries come primarily from players having trouble with their medical issues that brought them to a powerchair in the first place. Last year, "we had at times just four players going. And we came fourth in the premiership. After all of that, we still came fourth. And the guys battled through and they were just awesome. Awesome. That’s one of the proudest things that I’ve ever done was to see that and to just stand back and say ‘you guys have done something fantastic this year.’"
Heartbreakingly, some of the absences can be for more serious reasons. "We started in 2005. We’ve lost six players during that time. We lost one in January, he was one of our star players." That player was Adam, who died of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a condition that affect approximately 1 in 3600 men and leads to premature death through muscle degeneration.
"When you lose a player like that it just rips your team apart. It’s quite humbling, but you just got to get on with it. What else is the option? You get on. You do it. And that to me has helped me to cope with people like Adam dying."
"It’s a case of, well, they enjoyed playing it. Adam’s funeral, for instance, [he was a] big Chelsea fan. We went down to his funeral and we go into the crematorium. You’ve got a Chelsea football, you’ve got a Villa football. There was a Villa flag over his coffin. The pictures that they had on a little table at the side were him on his own and two pictures of him with the Villa Rockets. His dad and his family, and he had a big family, said he just loved Villa [Rockets]."
"We didn’t realize, in some respects, how much he loved us and loved playing for Villa Rockets. It was his life. So when you get that, you lose him and all you can do is go ‘the compensation is he loved playing for us. We’ve done as much as we can to make that lad’s life worth it.’ So he’s got as much as he wanted out of it."
Clive reflected on Adam and drew some larger conclusions, "He was an argumentative kid, but we all are. He’d argue on the pitch, sometimes I’d walk on the pitch and pull him off a couple of times because he was about to get sent off because he’s as competitive as the next guy and he’s up for it! He’s wanting to argue with the ref! So, the players are no different. It’s the bodies letting them down, it’s not the competitive spirit."
And that means that Clive handles the players in as normal of a way as is possible. "I talk to them like I talk to you now. They’re all shapes and sizes. Deformed. Disability. And some of them you have to work to communicate with. I had one girl on Friday, she’s got CP [cerebral palsy], she can’t speak. She uses her mobile phone to talk. So she’s types something in at the end of the session and holds the phone up. I say ‘I can’t read that, I ain’t got me glasses on.’ So the others had to read it out to me and she was insulting me! Taking the piss! How cool is that? And that makes it. That’s why I do a Friday night."
And Clive does it for a more basic reason: "If you don’t do it, who’s going to do it?"
According to Clive, the biggest challenge facing the Rockets is getting more attention. "It’s about awareness as much as anything. It’s about publicity. Just getting stuff out there! The assumption is that, because we’ve got the Aston Villa name and the Aston Villa badge, that they pay. There’s no funding at all comes from them. We get Nigel’s time, we get the use of their van because it transports chairs to the venue. And Ravi [Masih, head of Villa in the Community] is trying to promote it."
And that's where we can help. By raising funds, by sharing these stories, we can get the Villa Rockets name out there. The £5,000 we're trying to raise this week can buy the club a new chair, a sorely needed basic necessity.
"On Friday," at the club's last training session of the season, "we told our squad players ‘Don’t come. We won’t have enough chairs.’ We’ve got to work out our training sessions around the number of chairs we’ve got."
So pitch in if you can. Share this story. Donate. Even if it's only a pound. Because as Clive says, "Anything is appreciated. Truly appreciated."
Throughout the FA Cup final week, we're raising money for the Villa Rockets Powerchair Football club. With your help we can reach £5,000 and get them a new powerchair! Read about the club and our effort here, or simply click here to donate and help us reach our goal! And remember, if you donate any amount, you can enter to win a free Fabian Delph t-shirt from The Art of Football!