© John Peters

Football

Manchester United’s legendary kit man Albert Morgan talks to GQ

Albert Morgan on what it’s like to work behind the scenes at the Theatre Of Dreams

We’re here with Albert Morgan, Manchester United’s former kit manager to hear more about what it’s like to work behind the scenes at the Theatre Of Dreams – an experience fans can now also enjoy thanks to Marriott Bonvoy, the official hotel partner of Manchester United FC.

“People used to ask me what a kit man did and I’d say, ‘It’s like being a glorified baby-minder,’” laughs Mancunian Morgan, kit man from 1993-2013. “For a home game at 3pm on a Saturday, my real work would start at nine on a Friday morning, when I would go to Old Trafford and lay everything out. I did that because my predecessor, Norman Davies, who taught me everything I knew, did it. His motto was ‘Cover your arse’ and I stuck by it – you had to be prepared for the unexpected.

“But there were always incidents about to crop up and the manager wanted me on hand. That could be an ill player who he wanted sneaking out of the team hotel because he didn’t want the media to find out.

“Just nip to the hotel,” the boss would say. Rio Ferdinand had a bad back before a game against Liverpool. The boss didn’t want anyone to see that Rio wasn’t going to play, so I had to get him home. If he had been seen leaving the hotel then Liverpool could have organised their team accordingly. And we definitely didn’t want that. We have very, very few leaks.

© John Peters

“The dressing room itself is just like a big boys’ bedroom. Wherever the dirty kit fell, muggins here picked it up. The kit would be put in a van and taken to Carrington, where the washing girls would get to work. It was hard graft, but there was a real family atmosphere.

“Sometimes it had to be turned around quickly – especially if we were flying out for a European away game on the Monday. We’d take 15 containers to a Champions League game. When sports science started to be taken more seriously, there were more containers. I’ve no idea what was in those extra five containers and I thought sports science was a joke at first, but it’s obviously central these days. United are now world leaders in sport science.

“We didn’t just carry kits and whatever the sport science lads packed away. We bought special skips to take food to some of the away games: steaks, lamb chops, cheese. We covered for everything because we were going into the unknown. We went to Volgograd in Russia and I came home covered in bed bugs. My wife wasn’t happy; we had to buy a new mattress at home.

© Matthew Peters

“I only made a few mistakes. I still get slaughtered for one of them, after I put Mark Bosnich out in a yellow goalkeeper’s top in 2000. We were about to play Arsenal – who wore yellow. I ran to the Megastore but a security man tried to stop because he said Posh Spice was about to arrive. I wasn’t having that; we had a game to play. I flew past the security guard and legged it to the Megastore... which didn’t have one big enough for him. I went to the old laundry, which we’d stopped using a week before as we switched training grounds. The lights weren’t working so I used a lighter to search for a kit for Bozzy. I finally found one. It wasn’t the best night for me but we got away with it.

“I had the trust of the players and I’m very proud of that. I didn’t misplace that trust. Players would tell me about their girlfriends or trouble at home and I might say, ‘Get rid of her, son.’ But it was all private. Any dirt I’ve seen or heard will go to my grave with me. The trust the manager gave me means a lot to me and I’m proud of my friendship with him. We clicked. We’re a similar age and he’s a great guy... but he was a very, very bad loser in quizzes. I’ve seen the poor club photographer get all sorts of stick because he didn’t give the manager the answers he wanted, but those quizzes were good for morale. I was a mechanic before I started working at the club. There was a question about a car. I gave the right answer but it was interpreted wrongly. The manager threatened to sack me because I’d cost his quiz team points.

© John Peters

“The happiest dressing room I ever saw was in the Treble season. It was magical; there was something in the air. I sensed that something special was going to happen, that it was in the stars. I wore a pair of lucky underpants for the Treble run in – Mr Happy ones. I started wearing them after the win against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Peter Schmeichel walked in and shouted, ‘Come on, boys, there’s ten games to go.’ I wore the underpants from that moment. They made players laugh and the boss would say, ‘I hope you have the underpants on.’

“I took the three trophies from the Treble victory back to Old Trafford at the end of the night. I would have taken them home but it would have been my luck to get burgled.

“There were low points too. We lost to Leverkusen in the 2002 semifinal. The final would have been in Glasgow against Real Madrid. It’s only my opinion, but I think the boss was desperate to take his team to Glasgow. Leverkusen had lost the league, the German cup. We battered them but we couldn’t score. Everyone was gutted that they couldn’t do it for them.

“Another time was in 2012 and that Agüero goal. We thought we’d won the league. That was a quiet journey home – at least after the manager got on the bus and told everyone that them lot [Manchester City] wouldn’t be winning the league next year. And they didn’t.

© PAUL ELLIS

“The longer trips allowed me to see the world, but I loved trips to America and Brazil. The preseason trip is the hardest of the season. You’re away for so long, you take so much kit. I worked until 3am for one game in Malaysia, then fell asleep and missed the alarm clock. The chambermaid woke me up. I was starkers in bed. ‘Mr Morgan, the United party have all gone!’ she shouted. The team had left me behind and I needed to get to the airport. The hotel had a gold Rolls-Royce, which they used to give me a lift. The players burst out laughing when I drew up in it. They did the same when my mobile phone went off when we were invited to see Nelson Mandela on a preseason tour. Everyone switched their phones off but I forgot. My mate, the decorator, rang me to ask what colour I wanted the ceiling in my lounge. Not that I got to speak to him right then. The phone was in my blazer pocket and I felt like I had arthritis in my hand. I panicked and couldn’t turn it off. The boss wasn’t very happy at the time, but even he had to laugh about it later because my ring tone was the theme tune to The Great Escape.

“I needed a heart bypass a few years later. Brian McClair came to the training ground with different wood samples for my coffin in case I died. I was the brunt of a lot of the jokes, but it kept me young. I loved working with all these young people and having all those laughs. We had so many good young people at this football club and I can honestly say that there were only five or six players who I didn’t get on with – out of hundreds I worked with every day. I really missed the lads in the first 12 months after I retired, but I had an understanding wife. She had to be; I could be away for a long time with United. When I came home she’d pick me up from the station and I’d say that we had to be quick to get back for Match Of The Day. She quite rightly put me in my place and kept my feet on the ground in moments like that. Sir Alex’s wife is like that too. If I ring him and ask to speak to the boss, she says, ‘Speaking.’ Fantastic.”

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