BIG INTERVIEW: Craig Salmon talks to Morecambe’s veteran winger Kevin Ellison
Kevin Ellison usually holds the upper hand when it comes to dressing room banter.
The Morecambe winger’s bubbly Liverpudlian personality ensures he is never lost for a witty word or two whenever his team-mates attempt to have a joke at his expense.
The fact that Ellison can hold his own when the flak is flying around the Globe Arena is not just down to his Scouse roots.
The 35-year-old can also point to his list of footballing achievements to ‘shoot down’ any barb from his fellow Shrimps.
While former non-league outfit Morecambe operate in League Two – the bottom rung of the Football League – Ellison has played at the highest level.
The fact that his stint as a Premier League footballer lasted less than 15 minutes matters not a jot to Ellison when the verbal joshing begins amongst the Morecambe squad.
After entering into the professional game at the relative late age of 21 – when Leicester City signed him from non-league Altrincham – Ellison was amazingly handed his Premier League debut at Manchester United’s Old Trafford in 2001.
With 84 minutes on the clock and the scores level at 0-0, Foxes boss Peter Taylor turned to the previously untried winger as the man to conjure up a goal to steal all three points at the home of the then English champions.
Unfortunately, Ellison’s storybook start in the professional game did not quite have the fairytale finish.
Within four minutes of his introduction to the fray, United had broken the deadlock through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
And Ellison was deafened by the roar of 75,000 Mancunians once more two minutes later when Mikael Silvestre sealed the victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
It was to be the Shrimps star’s only appearance in the top flight as a change of manager at Leicester signalled his exit from the club soon after.
However, he will always be able to boast about his professional debut.
“The lads here at Morecambe, we will have chats in the dressing room about our Football League debuts,” Ellison said.
“Most of them will be like, ‘Oh yeah it was at Newport away or it was here or there.
“I can have a laugh with them and tell them that my league debut was only at Manchester United!
“The lads say, ‘Oh you only got six minutes’.
“I think, all in all, I was on the pitch at Old Trafford for about 12 minutes if you take into account injury time.
“At the end of the day, you dream about playing at the highest level and I have done that.
“Nobody can take that away from me.
“Whether it was only for six minutes plus injury time, I have been there and done it.
“I know a lot of lads will dream about what I have done.”
United were on their way to winning their third successive Premier League title at the time and Ellison admits he was in total shock when Taylor told him he was going on.
Walking up to the touchline to replace Dean Sturridge, his legs felt like jelly.
“Peter Taylor was the gaffer at Leicester and I think he had left quite a few regulars on the bench that day,” he said.
“Players like Steve Guppy who had played on the left wing for Leicester week in and week out, and Trevor Benjamin.
“But the gaffer turned around and said to me ‘Get ready’.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why aren’t all these other players going on – they are the senior pros.
“But luckily enough I got a chance to do what I had always dreamed of doing.
“I think United were champions at the time – you had players like Jaap Stam, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane...I think David Beckham sat out that day. You had Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
“They had some squad to be fair and I was sitting on the bench watching in awe.
“And it was nice to hear all the United fans singing, ‘Stand up if you hate Scousers’.
“I was sitting there as quiet as a little boy, but it was a great experience.”
Ellison’s appearance at United that day is the perfect rags to riches story.
He admits he thought his dream of becoming a professional had gone when he drifted into non-league as a young player.
He played for Southport, Chorley and Welsh outfit Conwy United before being signed by Altrincham in 1999.
He scored 14 goals in 36 appearances for the Robins and caught the attention of Leicester, who signed him for £50,000 two years later.
Ellison believes his grounding in non-league has helped him carve out a career in the game, which has seen him play in all four divisions of the English game.
His former clubs include Hull City, Rotherham and Bradford and 13 years after his debut at Old Trafford, Ellison is still going strong in his mid-30s for Morecambe.
“I think as you get older you think your chance has gone especially in this day and age.
“Clubs don’t seem to want to take a gamble any more,” the ex-Chester City and Stockport County star said.
“It was quite a lot of money at the time what Altrincham were asking for me.
“At the time, I was getting a bit disheartened but my family kept pushing me – they knew I could do it.
“I had played against people who were in the game and I know your mum and dad are always going to tell you that you are better than them.
“But I think deep down, I knew I was and so it was just a matter of time before I got my chance and luckily I got that at Leicester.
“I like to think I have done an apprenticeship where I was working and playing part-time football.
“You see some of these young lads who have come from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United or Everton and they come to a club in League Two and it’s like, ‘Where the hell have I come to’.
“But I know what it’s all about having had to work and play part-time.
“Now I can appreciate what I have got and that’s why I am going to try to keep hold of it as long as I can.
“My missus’ dad says he’s got a spade with my name on ready for when I finish playing, but I am hoping I don’t have to go down that route just yet.”
Morecambe are Ellison’s 10th club of his 13-year professional career.
The Shrimps are the only club he has made more than 100 appearances for and he admits he has found contentment working under fellow Liverpudlian Jim Bentley.
Since arriving at the Globe Arena in 2011, Ellison has scored 47 goals in 146 appearances and is hoping to extend his time with the club beyond this season.
He added: “I was talking to somebody the other day and they were saying that my time here is probably the longest I’ve been at one club.
“I’ve had a few clubs, but I have been here three years and I am really happy here.
“I am playing and scoring goals and when I am doing that, I at my happiest.
“Fitness wise, I feel as strong as ever.
“Obviously I look after myself a bit more than I used to with my cool downs and my recovery sessions.
“The manager and the physio here look after me.
“There are days when they will tell me I am working too hard.
“On those days I feel like I can work hard but they will tell me, because of the age I am at now, that I am doing too much.
“They are looking after me and I still feel there’s a couple more years left in me at this level.”
Renowned for scoring some spectacular goals during his career – including several for Morecambe – Ellison has notched seven times so far this season in 19 appearances.
After beginning the season with four straight league victories, Morecambe have suffered a slight downturn in results and currently occupy a midtable position in League Two.
But the team is still only four points outside the play-offs and despite being one of the smaller clubs in the division, Ellison believes Morecambe can continue to punch above their weight.
“I think if you look at some of the clubs at this level, there are a lot of big clubs, he said.
“Clubs like Portsmouth should be running away with the league when you look at the amounts of money they are paying to players and the players that they can attract.
“If you look at Morecambe, we get 1,500 crowds –sometimes 1,700.
“We are not going to be able to challenge player wise or money wise with the rest in this division, but on the pitch we are competing with them.
“As a team we started the season off really well.
“We won our first four league games and the team was flying, but then we had a few results which did not go our way.
“We had a few little 1-0 defeats where we should have tightened up at the back.
“But we know what we have got in the dressing room.
“People give us the underdog tag and it probably does take a bit of pressure off us.
“But we know that we have players who can play in most other teams in this division.
“It’s not like we are just little old Morecambe with players who are not any good.
“We have got good players, who I know other clubs have been watching in recent weeks.
“We are miles stronger than last year and we will be looking to do our best and try to get to the play-offs.”
Morecambe are without a game today after they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Dover Athletic in the first round.
It means all eyes at the club turn to next weekend’s home fixture against Luton Town.
Ellison will almost certainly return to the Morecambe squad for the visit of the Hatters after missing last weekend’s trip to Stevenage through suspension.
His all-action style and chirpy nature means he regularly falls foul of referees and picks up bookings, not to mention a few red cards.
Ellison has tried to curb his style to keep on the right side of the match officials, but believes his reputation often unfairly goes before him.
“I feel like I do get targeted by referees,” Ellison said.
“Before some games this season and last, I have been in the tunnel and the referee has come up to me in front of the opposing players and said, ‘Are young going to be good today?’
“I don’t think that’s the right way to go about things because as soon as I make a tackle, my opponents are all rolling around.
“The referee is then straight away against me.
“I do get quite a few bookings, but I have tried to take bits and bobs out of my game. I spoke to the manager and he said I needed to cut the bookings out. I have tried to cut stuff out of my game, but I do think it affects my overall game.”
The only good thing to come out of his suspension last weekend was that his house is now perfectly decorated for the forthcoming festive period.
“My missus had me putting the Christmas tree up and sorting the house out,Ellison revealed.
“That was my weekend and if I’m being honest, it wasn’t the best weekend that I have had. I don’t like watching football at the best of times, but to be at home – I know it’s Christmas and people like to spend this time of the year with the family – but I would much rather be out on the pitch with the lads.”