Six of the Best … Morton Award Winners

Six of the Best … Morton Award Winners
by Jonathan Mitchell

A memorable 2016/17 campaign saw Morton management and players come into the final reckoning for a number of national end-of-season awards.

Manager Jim Duffy was named as the Ladbrokes Championship Manager of the Season as well as being shortlisted for the PFA Scotland award.

Midfielder Ross Forbes was shortlisted for the PFA Championship Player of the Year as well as being named in the Championship Team of the Year alongside defender Thomas O’Ware.

The recognition received by the trio provided us with an ideal opportunity to revisit past Ton prize winners by reproducing a feature that appeared in our programme for the play-off quarter-final against Dundee United …

 

Six Of The Best … Morton Award Winners

By David Grant

 

1. Andy Ritchie (Scottish Football Writers Player of the Year 1978/79)

Playing in his first season in the Premier League, forward Andy Ritchie exceeded all expectations  by finishing as the division’s top scorer as the Ton finished in a creditable seventh position on their return to the top flight.

Ritchie had struck 22 goals in his debut season for Morton in 1976/77 after signing from Celtic and netted a further 26 goals as the Cappielow side clinched the First Division Championship at the end of 1977/78 season.

The Bellshill-born player quickly showed that the step up to the Premier League would have no adverse effect on his strike rate.

Indeed, Ritchie found the net in each of Morton’s first seven matches of the 1978-79 campaign in all competitions, and finished as the Premier League’s top scorer with 22 league goals.

Perhaps Ritchie’s finest performance of the season came against Jim McLean’s Dundee United at Cappielow when he struck an outrageous hat-trick in a 3-1 win, including a goal from the half-way line.

That took Ritchie’s total to 14 goals by mid-November and led to calls for Scotland manager Jock Stein to call up the forward to the national team.

Ultimately, Ritchie’s international involvement was limited to an Under-21 call-up as an over-aged player, and a Scottish League cap.

In total Ritchie hit 31 goals in all competitions during the course of the season, including two hat-tricks, a number of fantastic long-range strikes and spectacular set-pieces.

The entertainment provided by Ritchie had certainly caught the eye of the journalists making the trip to Cappielow as he was voted Player of the Year by Scottish Football Writers.

Frontman Ritchie was also to win the Shoot Magazine Readers’ Award for the Most Entertaining Player in Scotland in 1979.

 

2. Jim Duffy (PFA Premier Division Player of the Year 1984/85)

It seems inconceivable now that a defender playing for a team that was relegated from the Premier League having conceded 100 goals could win the Player of the Year award.

However, in 1985 Morton defender Jim Duffy achieved this remarkable feat, being voted for the award by his fellow professionals.

Willie McLean’s side endured a horrendous season and were relegated to the First Division after managing just five wins in all competitions.

The same team was rarely selected week to week, with only Duffy and left-back Jim Holmes playing consistently throughout the season.

Despite the turmoil and regularly playing alongside different centre-back partners, Duffy performed to a consistently high standard, making 37 appearances and scoring one goal – a penalty against Rangers.

He demonstrated that whilst he was a tough defender, he also possessed ability with the ball at his feet to build from the back.

Duffy was presented with his award towards the end of May 1985. He said: “When I heard I had won, I was gobsmacked but very proud.

“I treasure the award to this day and it is the only piece of memorabilia from my career which is on display in my house.

“Playing for Morton you always have to give that little bit extra, and I always gave 100 per cent. And I think my fellow pros recognised that.”

By that point, Duffy was the subject of transfer interest from both Hibernian and Dundee, with the defender opting for Dens Park, moving for a fee of around £65,000

 

3. Jim Holmes (PFA First Division Player of the Year 1986/87)

With over 500 appearances for Morton after joining the club from Partick Thistle in 1976, defender Jim Holmes could be considered one of the most consistent performers for the Cappielow side over the last 40 years.

A right-footed left-back, ‘Homer’ became a fans’ favourite during his 12 years with the club and is generally regarded as one of the best uncapped Scottish defenders.

Holmes had already won two First Division championship medals during his spell with the club and added a third when the Ton pipped Dunfermline Athletic to the title in May 1987.

Holmes formed part of a back five which changed very little over the course of the season, with David Wylie in goal and a back four of Alex O’Hara, Holmes, Jim Hunter and Martin Doak.

Holmes missed just three games during the course of the campaign and even chipped in with three goals – almost half of his career total at Cappielow.

His consistently high levels of performance were recognised by his peers as he was crowned First Division Player of the Year.

 

4. Derek McInnes (PFA Second Division Player of the Year 1994/95)

Having suffered a career-threatening knee injury in November 1993 in a match at Brechin City, there were concerns that midfielder Derek McInnes would be unable to replicate the form he had shown as a youngster.

When he finally returned to the Morton first-team in October 1994, such fears were quickly cast aside after McInnes was restored as captain and turned in a number of dominant midfield displays.

He made his return to the team in a 2-1 defeat at Berwick Rangers which left the Ton sat in seventh place in the Second Division.

Within a month, Morton had won four out of five matches to propel themselves up to second, with the midfield combination of McInnes and Janne Lindberg dominating matches and providing the team with a solid foundation.

The upturn in form would ultimately lead Morton to the Second Division title, skipper McInnes lifting the trophy on the last day of the season against Meadowbank Thistle.

By this point, McInnes had been crowned Player of the Year, pipping team-mates Marko Rajamaki and Derek Lilley, and Berwick Rangers striker Warren Hawke to the award.

McInnes made 29 appearances in total, netting three times, during the course of the season and a summer of transfer speculation would follow.

However, McInnes did sign a further year’s contract at Cappielow amid interest from clubs such as Queens Park Rangers and Dundee United before joining Rangers in November 1995 for £260,000.

 

5. Alex Williams (PFA Third Division Player of the Year 2002/03)

Signed from Stirling Albion in the summer of 2002, striker Alex Williams enjoyed a blistering debut season at Cappielow.

Having netted over 20 times for a struggling Binos side in season 2001/02, Morton were persuaded to shell out £50,000 to secure his services.

Williams was unveiled to the Cappielow crowd at half time during Derek Collins’ testimonial match and made his competitive debut at Gretna’s Raydale Park at the beginning of the 2002-03 campaign.

A natural finisher with the pace to run in behind defences, Williams was soon hitting the net with regularity, quickly establishing him as a real fans favourite.

He opened his account in a Challenge Cup tie against former club Stirling Albion in August 2002 and then scored another double against the Binos in the next league game.

By the end of January, Williams had hit an astonishing 24 goals in his first 24 appearances for the club, including two goals to knock First Division Ross County out of the Scottish Cup.

After a goal drought of 10 matches between February and April, Williams found form again at the right time, scoring doubles in victories over Gretna and Stirling to send Ton to the top of the table going into the final game.

Whilst Williams did not score in the crucial season finale against Peterhead, the frontman made a crucial contribution by providing the assist for Scott Bannerman’s winning goal to clinched the championship.

Having scored 35 per cent of all of Morton goals scored over the course of the season, it was no surprise when Williams was voted Player of the Year for the fourth tier.

 

6. Declan McManus (PFA League One Player of the Year 2014/15)

Signed on loan from Aberdeen on the eve of Morton’s opening league match of season 2014-15, Declan McManus had a quiet debut in a 1-0 defeat at Ayr United.

The pacy frontman did not have to wait long to make his mark in a Ton shirt, however, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Stranraer the following week.

McManus’ loan deal was initially due to run until January 2015 and the striker confessed that he had set himself a target of netting 10 goals in that period.

By the end of August he was more than halfway there after hitting a hat-trick against Berwick Rangers and stroking home against Forfar Athletic.

McManus returned to Aberdeen at the start of January having scored 12 goals. After becoming frustrated at a lack of first-team football at Pittodrie, he returned to Cappielow for a second loan spell on transfer deadline day.

Despite having new signings Peter MacDonald and Ross Caldwell as competition for a starting place, McManus soon forced his way back into the side and resumed his goalscoring exploits.

The Scotland Under-21 cap netted a number of crucial goals, none more so than his double at Stair Park in a 2-0 win over Stranraer to push Ton to top of the pile going into the last day of the season.

Fittingly, McManus was also on target in that final game as Morton defeated Peterhead 3-1 to lift the title and clinch promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking.

McManus finished the season with a total of 23 goals and was subsequently voted League One Player of the Year as well as earning an inclusion in the Team of the Year for the division alongside team-mate Mark Russell.

He left Aberdeen and signed for Fleetwood Town for season 2015/16, returning to Cappielow on loan for the second half of that season.

 

Our programme finished as Championship runners-up in the prestigious Programme Monthly annual awards. Be sure to pick up a copy of our matchday magazine next season for similar in-depth features next season. 

Back issues are available for the 2016/17 season and these can be purchased by visiting the office here at Cappielow or by contacting club secretary Antonia on: antonia@gmfc.net or 01475 723571 ext 22.

 

Image: Ross Cameron