By Gareth Ewing
When Mr Morton himself, Allan McGraw, describes someone as “one of the best young players he has seen in 10 years” then you need to stand up and take notice.
And take notice the big boys did. At the tender age of 18, having pulled on the blue and white hoops on little more than a handful of occasions, Alan was courted by the likes of Rangers, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, and Chelsea.
It was Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest that made the £300,000 offer and Alan was on his way south to the City Ground.
An early injury played havoc with his career ambitions in Nottingham, though, and it wasn’t long before he was enticed back to Cappielow to continue a Morton career that prospered and burned bright.
I caught up with Alan and reminisced about his three seperate spells with the Ton in which he amassed almost 200 appearances in all competitons.
Alan, how did your association with Morton start?
I played boys’ club football alongside John Anderson. John’s dad, Jake, was the Morton scout at the time and he invited me to play a few games and I eventually signed schoolboy terms at 13.
What do you recall about the time when the big boys were chasing you?
I hadn’t actually been involved in many first-team games for Morton and I was only about 17. It was at a time when there was a lot of interest in Scottish football from English teams, so I was probably quite lucky. Right place, right time! There were a few bits and pieces I had heard via the newspapers and the television. It was quite surreal at the time, to be honest. It didn’t really affect me that much, though. I was young and probably a bit naive to it all. I just went out and played my normal game and didn’t really take on board all the hype. It really started when I was invited down to speak with Chelsea. But it didn’t quite feel right. Just a gut feeling. I also had a couple of days training with Liverpool. Then I had played against Motherwell in the cup quarter-final. The game was drawn and I actually got injured. I didn’t play in the replay but went down to Nottingham Forest with my mum and dad. I was due to speak with Rangers the next day but I just had a good feel about Forest. In general, whilst it was flattering for these teams to wanting me, I was just a wee boy wanting to play football. It was quite exciting for my family, mind you.
Tell us about your time at Forest?
When I signed, I was injured and getting treatment every day rather than training with my new team-mates. I, therefore, wasn’t getting the opportunity to build friendships with them and get to know them. I was just seeing them after training. That didn’t help when I was the new boy in a new environment. That was the March and it wasn’t until pre-season that I was fit and able to join in. The club tried to look after me, but it was a massive growing up period in my life. First time away from home, wet behind the ears – it was a big reality check. I didn’t really embrace it and was homesick. But again, I was just a young boy, away from home and my family. Brian Clough was manager and I went on tour to Sweden with him. Clough was a different animal to what I was used to with ‘the godfather’ Allan McGraw. I was just a number to him and, because I wasn’t in the first-team plans, he didn’t really take much notice. On my first introduction to Clough, he said: “So you are the Scotsman I have wasted all this money on!” which isn’t the greatest start, but that was just the way he was.
How did the return to Cappielow come about?
After a year at Forest, they approached me and said they could tell I wasn’t happy and it wasn’t really working. They contacted Morton and offered me to back to them. Other clubs were interested but it was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to return to Morton.
What memories do you have of your time at Cappielow?
I think the fact that I still keep in contact with a lot of boys from my time there, 20 years later, tells a story about my time at Morton. That is a big testament to the club. We would have fought for each other. Mind you, once on pre-season we actually fought each other! Players like McInnes and Lindberg, who I played with in midfield, really stick out for me as great players. But it would be wrong to pick out individuals. We were always a team. There were players that looked after me. McInnes being one of them. And he still does to be honest. It was the club. It was the Morton way, if you like.
What were your thoughts on the Argentina-style strip?
In the first game of season 95/96, we drew with Dundee United at Tannadice and I scored. That was our first time wearing it – and we loved it. When we came back in pre-season we were like wee boys. New boots, new training gear. And that strip. Yes, I loved it, as did my team-mates.
And finally, do you still follow the fortunes of the Ton?
Yes, very much so. I still keep in touch with Andy Bryan, get to as many games as I can, and obviously always look out for the scores.