Noah Dougherty
Wednesday 13 November 2019

Forest Green Rovers have found their own Aaron Rodgers in ‘quarterback’ James Morton, who has caught the eye in the early stages of his loan move from Bristol City. Hear from the midfielder as he talks through his fledgling career, how he held off from taking the Academy route for 10 years and how his Christian faith plays a key role in everything he does.

What was the earliest memory for you in football?

It would be playing for my local team. I was told by my parents that I was with a ball from birth apparently and then, from that, I just joined my local team, Nicholas Wanderers in Bristol, and progressed from there.

My parents saw that I was interested in sport and being a sporting family, I guess they encouraged me and I enjoyed football and that was my sport.

How did the interest from Bristol City come about and what was that like?

Originally, I had my first trial with Bristol City when I was seven, but, at the time, I didn’t want to go into academy football.

I was really young and I just stayed playing football locally for 10 years with several different teams.

I had some training with Southampton for a couple of years and I really just wanted to enjoy football with my mates.

At under 15s, I got scouted by Bristol City, had a trial and it felt right and I wanted to take on the pressures of it at that stage and, thankfully, it has turned out pretty successful.

That takes a strong mind from you at such a young age to make that decision, was there ever a fear that you may have missed the boat?

I don’t think I had that fear. The dream was to always be a footballer, like for a lot of children at that age, but I never thought it was ever possible.

I was just enjoying my football with my mates, enjoying winning trophies and all that came with it at that age.

When I heard about the academy again at the age of 15, I thought that was a potential and it would be nice to say that I have played for an academy and when it came round for the second time, I didn’t want to say no and it felt right.

Before that, it didn’t and I was just happy with playing with friends. 

James Morton against Bristol City pre-season

At Bristol City then, how has your time been there so far and how have you developed as a player there?

It has been really good. It has been up and down, as any footballer would say, there are as many lows as there are highs.

I came through the scholarship and enjoyed it, had some good coaches and there were a lot of changes, I think I had three or four coaches through those two years, but that helped me deal with change.

I learnt a lot through the standard about myself and I got to play a couple of times for the Under 21s, which was encouraging.

Since then, I am now in my third year as a pro and it has been a dream to live my life as a footballer and I just want to become the best footballer I can be and being where I am at the moment with Forest Green, I couldn’t be anywhere more perfect to help me achieve that.

That role you have, almost that holding midfield position where you pull the strings from the base of the midfield, has that always been your position or has that developed over time?

When I was really young, I was more of a left midfielder, when it was on a seven-a-side pitch.

When we went to 11-a-side, because I wasn’t the quickest, I was more of a left-back.

It was about the age of 13 or 14 that I moved into central midfield and it clicked and my attributes suited being in the position and getting on the ball and playing forward where I could and trying to get assists and create chances and that’s where I really enjoyed my football.

After a month at Chippenham Town, it was a loan move to Bath City for a year-and-a-half, how important was that spell with them?

It was a massive help for me. Going through the academy, you can be quite safe and it is all quite nice in terms of, it’s all about the passing game and not much physicality about it and not as much pressure for places.

When I went to Bath, I had all of that all at once, with the crowd on top of it, the three points on the line, it was a lot more pressure.

I really enjoyed my time there and it certainly developed my game in terms of physically and using my strengths against players that would be completely different to me.

It was great to adapt to and I played a lot of games there and every game is completely different and that only made me a better player and matured me in my understanding of the game. 

James Morton warms up against Oldham Athletic

Did it feel like the next step from Bath would be to a Football League club, or did that come as a bit of a surprise during the summer?

I definitely felt like going up a league, maybe to the National League, would be where I would end up and I felt like I could step up.

League Two was a hopeful choice and when I heard about Forest Green, I wanted to take that chance.

I knew I wasn’t going to be playing every game but I wanted to come here and prove to myself and the club that I am good enough.

I have played a lot of minutes so far and long may that continue.

You’ve taken to it like a duck to water, did you expect your start to be quite as good as it has been at The New Lawn?

Not at all. I thought it would take a good few game and a few months to really establish myself in the team.

Starting the first few games of the season was a surprise, in a good way and I felt like it was through a lot of hard work and self-belief.

I have played a lot of games so far, which I am grateful to the manager for, and I only want to help the team get promoted and it is a great team to be part of.

When we spoke post-match a couple of weeks ago, we talked about you being described as the quarterback of the team. The fans have selected an NFL team for you, the Green Bay Packers, how do you feel about that?

That’s the first I have heard of them but I will do my research on them and I will take that as my team.

I’ve had to adapt my game and be a bit quicker on the ball and be a bit stronger on the ball and my strengths are to be on the ball and pass it on forward and to keep the game ticking over.

I’ve learnt to play quicker, know my next pass even quicker and it has been a really good challenge for me.

Religion and your Christian faith also plays a big role in your life, how does that translate over to football?

It translates in every part of it really. Every day I want to be my best as a human being and in my job, but ultimately I want to play for God because I believe he has done so much for me and I want to give that back.

Every gym session, every match, I want to be the best example I can and it has changed my life and I am grateful for the opportunity from God for where I am at the moment.