Basher’s tribute to John Morris

Asked to post a few words about my friend Copper I hesitate to do so whilst emotions are still raw. So what I do say is tinged with more than usual poignancy. Deep respect to Anne and the family -Richard, Paul, Sue and spouses and to Callum, Caitlin, Will and Thomas. Our thoughts today are very much with the family. Whatever is said about JFM, and believe me a lot will be said, first and foremost he was an immensely proud family man. Family came first for Copper Morris.
If you consider Lydney to be in the Forest, which to a Severnsider or a Forester may be controversial, JF Morris was the best sportsman in terms of all-round ability to ever come out of the Forest. Certainly, to come out of Lydney.
To me JFM ’s the epitome of a sporting icon whose life we who knew him must celebrate. So Lydney and the Forest has lost its best sportsman, a sad day for the whole sporting community. I will not be talking here about Copper’s rugby that is for others better qualified (but I do remember aficionados and leading rugby pressmen like John Reason saying he should play scrum-half for England, a call which never came. In my experience I saw far worse number nines wear the red rose shirt). I will focus instead on his five decades’ play for Lydney CC perhaps a longer span than anyone since William Jones the father of Lydney cricket.
Always, JFM was fit as a flea, vital, full of humour – kind of immortal. Younger than his years, larger than life. I cannot help thinking there were six of us on the Wilkins cover photograph of The Rich Wine Untold history of the club. Three are now gone before: James PJ, Tomkins TH, Morris JF. I was indeed privileged to play in such company. There is plenty of JFM in Rich Wine Untold (commercial plug – copies are still available) because Cop was no shrinking violet and always in the thick of it. We must celebrate the life of this gifted ballplayer who was blessed with good hands, good feet and a good mind. Only his calling was suspect like mine, not always allowing for the fact that the guy the other end was not as quick or quick-witted as he was.
The local grapevine has been humming. In addition to Paul and Chunk, contact has been made inside and outside the club for we are talking about an exceptional character here with long reach who invariably kept his tongue in his cheek. Indelible, a force of nature, honest as the day, outspoken and full of conviction, a very shrewd judge who never stopped loving and living sport. Lacing it all with wit and good humour. A very positive character, usually ahead of the game and always a team player. In other words, he was wonderful company, he stayed and kept you grounded but often had the last word on any topic! Especially strong on social justice, philosophically sound – a conversation with Copper was never one-dimensional.
Many individual matches spring to mind because I played with him at his best which to my mind was the 1970s. Some of the best stories in the club annals centre on Copper. One of the best returns in club history came against a County Club and Ground side captained by George Emmett in 1961, Copper taking his career-best 8 for 13. But Copper’s take on it amused me with Perc Clarke our unapologetic home umpire accounting for some of his wickets! Particularly sweet the memory of a rare 1974 win thanks to a Morris five-wicket haul against Hereford at the Racecourse after we’d been bowled out cheaply by KJEdwards. Then fast forward to Tetbury 1976…”Oh yeah! The Tetbury two-piecer!” cries Copper …remembering us inserting the opposition on the hottest day in a hot summer after their skipper threw me the match ball…not a quartered leather one but a real two-piece conker…in very little time Copper bowling them out. The top came off the wicket early in the heat, the hard ball exploding like a hand grenade from Copper’s end…their old umpire incredulous, “I was in the trenches in WWI and never saw ‘owt like that!” We won that match before tea thanks to a Jeremy Williams-led run chase. Another match against touring Middleton-on-Sea in1978 saw only five players turn up which included two boys and the scorer Geoff James for the start of the match. Copper captain for the day showed his leadership skills when they were really needed in an epic match (in which we did not muster a full team till Millsy and Hendy came off continental shift) which see-sawed in dramatic fashion. A rare occasion indeed, JFM did not bowl. Sarge guested and took eight wickets and appreciative Middleton wrote a letter saying how much they had enjoyed the game. Copper was the real hero in winning the toss, getting eleven on the field, eventually, staying at the crease when we literally had no-one else to bat and keeping Henderson and Sergeant on to bowl. With us triumphant by five runs rather than a more likely disaster against a team which had thrashed Cheltenham the day before by ten wickets. Against Tewkesbury on the Swilgate a very tolerant JFM “thanking” me – for taking him off after he had bowled five consecutive maidens and taken all the wickets to that point, to put myself on to win the match. And so I could go on, there are so many stories.
JFM was in “our best side” 1973, still playing in the 1990s and involved in the 1980s a golden era when the club flourished. We always gave good hospitality at Lydney, part of the club heritage. Copper was in his element with our Aussie visitors year on year and they had a ball. In 1984 Oz Mike Jones took Copper’s catching record for the season with 28 catches, rubbing it in by calling him “Warhorse”, one of the great nicknames. When Zaheer Abbas and Sadiq Mohammed guested in 1971 versus Charlie Griffiths’ Barbados League who else but Copper introduced them to betting on the horses. My favourite story best told by Hendy concerns him giving Copper the stake money to place on a bet, a hot tip no doubt. After the match at Frocester, or was it Stinchcombe, Copper had just bought a jug to celebrate his own five wickets and Hendy reminded him about the bet…” Oh sorry. I forgot to place the bet…how d’ you think I can afford a jug!?”
The anecdotes demonstrate JFM’s versatility with bat and ball. And his wit. Equally adept at leading you astray or getting you out of trouble, he would have got into the best sides in our circuit for his all-round skill. For me, it was his bowling I valued most. On the right wicket, he was devastating. Week in week out on good wickets having his accurate, utterly dependable bowling to call upon, especially in the lean years when our attack was anything but balanced, was invaluable. He shored up one end to give us a better chance. Copper the “senior professional” was there in the early 1970s to help the inexperienced club captain. With players like Blake, James and Morris around you learned quickly.
Today the Morris family tradition is well established and we hope John’s proud legacy will endure. In a short notice, it is not easy trying to do justice to his story. As you can tell I would not want JFM to get away without shouldering some of the blame for the way we all turned out! I think I speak for everyone in the club that JFM will be sadly missed. That he will also be remembered with much affection, respect and a great deal of humour I have no doubt. JFM so long. You set the very best standards in your family and sporting life – one of our own immortals. Thank you. Personally, I shall forever miss that ever-present member of the bench committee at the rugby club end…