His endeavour and his 11 league goals have been a major factor in Alfreton Town’s impressive opening third to the season, and Amari Morgan-Smith isn’t content to stand still in the weeks and months to come. Billy Heath’s Reds are sitting in 5th place of the Vanarama National League North, with their former Luton Town man up top wanting to keep fit and firing, and striving towards a mutual climb up the pyramid.
The former Crewe Alexandra youngster blazed a trail at Ilkeston Town to eventually climb as high as the third tier with Oldham Athletic. At 30, he has learned plenty, and he has no plans to let his football quietly drift from here.
Favourite team and player growing up
Always been a Man United fan. My granddad got me into it from a young age; it was always ‘Red Devils, Old Trafford, Man United.’ At that time it was a good era of winning things under Sir Alex Ferguson. Player that stood out to me most…there was a lot that stood out in that time. I’ll go for Wayne Rooney, on the numbers, as well as starting off young and having the mentality of not being scared, then moving to one of the biggest clubs in the world and just taking it in his stride.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in and why?
I’ve played a lot of games…let me think now. I’ve had this question a lot actually and I can’t seem to answer it. Playing at Wembley probably, with York, and winning the FA Trophy. Obviously playing at the national stadium, a lot of world-class players have graced that pitch, so I think it’s an honour to have been there and around it. It was obviously a bit of a dampener, because we got relegated, but we just tried to go and make the most of the moment, and we did.
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
Definitely Steve Holland, assistant England coach now. I was playing two ages above when I was at Crewe, doing my YTS, and Steve threw me into the deep end. At the time, everyone was raving about how the youngsters got brought through at Crewe, and he basically had belief in me. I always remember his sessions as being very clear and structured, everything was technique-based and he made a lot of sense in them. I think a lot of players who worked with him would say that. The things that he taught always stick in my mind, and I try and pass it on to the younger players that I’ll be around.
At Alfreton now, what has Billy Heath been like to work with? What’s his approach?
I think he’s a people’s person. His man-management’s very good, he knows what he wants, he’s clear on what he wants. He knows this level like the back of his hand, so you can’t really argue. He was after me from the get-go after the season finished. I wasn’t sure with where I wanted to be but he sold that interest, and I think when a manager shows that constant interest you have to kind of take note really. I’ve hit the ground running and I’ve been trying to repay his faith really and see how far we can get in the league with Alfreton.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your time as a player (or give more than one example)
Funniest coach, probably Darren Caskey. Player, probably Jon Parkin. ‘The Beast,’ got to give him a little shout-out, because a lot of people have got good things to say about him. He’s a special person, special character, and he definitely brightens up your morning. There’s always something there, the stories are fantastic, and he just gets you drawn into them really.
Who are the big personalities at Alfreton who keep spirits high?
There’s quite a few. The assistant (Mark Carroll), we call him Bobby, he’s always in and around it and we bounce off him well. He’s always got a few stories to tell and I think it’s good that he keeps himself with it rather than keeping himself distant. Players, there’s (Ben) Tomlinson, there’s myself, Qualts (Ryan Qualter) has a little bit. I’ll give Bobby the nod at the minute.
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
I’m gonna go for Mark Davies, when I was at Wolves. Incredible, he played centre-midfield, he could do everything with the ball, he could dribble past people, play the ten, left to right foot. The game just looked so easy for him. I know he got hampered by injuries, but I always thought he would make it to being one of the best players in the Premier League. Gary Roberts at Crewe, who’s at Chester now, everyone knows about him. A few off-the-field problems, but yet again, on the field, how he played the game, it was so simple for him. I think if he had the mentality he’s got now, he definitely would be hitting the high peaks of the Premier League.
What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far?
I definitely enjoyed my time at Luton, even though I was hampered a lot by injury. Getting that move from Ilkeston, hitting the ground running and scoring a lot of goals, getting linked with clubs, that was my moment, I reckon, of hitting the big time. I think the club as a whole, the fans, you could always see they would get back to where they are. We were unlucky, I was there for two seasons and we missed out in the play-offs in two finals, so that’s how good we were at the time, and we just wanted to get back into the Football League. I always say Luton because it’s a good place to play football, and with the fans home and away, it just makes you feel that you’re in the game.
What kind of approach do you need from a manager and which one has understood that best?
Richard Money just edges it a little bit. The understanding of you and just giving you that extra 5 percent and making you feel like a better player. Not everyone responds the same way, and I think finding the different ways of how people respond is always good in managers, and not all managers know how to do that. I’m one who’s probably in between wanting to be left alone and being spoken to, because I think communication’s massive. I think you can’t go a week without speaking to your manager about something, along the lines of how you played, or how things are at home. I think managers take it a bit too far when they don’t speak to players, because you don’t get that in another job. You go in the office and you say ‘how was your weekend?’ or ‘how’s the family, how’s your little one?’ I think those little things are just massive, and if I was going into management, I definitely would tick that box and make sure the player is comfortable to come and speak to me about anything.
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
Now, to be honest, I’ve struggled really, because I’ve been full-time the majority of my career. I joined Telford and they were telling me that they were going to go full-time; that was probably one of the reasons why I did join them. I didn’t want to come out of full-time football, but it wasn’t to be, and last year was one of the first times I experienced getting up, not having a second job so going to the gym and trying to stay in the routine of being full-time and waiting for training in the evening. I was in that transition for a long time and I struggled with it a little bit, but now, I’ve made myself aware of it a bit better, got myself a little side job, but only temporary, because I’m trying to plan for the future with coaching badges and doing my personal training qualifications so I can step into that as soon as possible. Just been trying to stay as professional as I can really.
In terms of other interests, is there room for much else outside football?
I do like fashion. I haven’t looked into it, as such, but a lot of close friends of mine are doing a lot of fashion. I do like getting myself in the mode of cooking, but I wouldn’t call myself a chef of any standard. Probably working with youngsters is another one, and just seeing the progression of youngsters is one of the most incredible things that you can witness really.
One artist/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist? Assuming that you don’t run it already…
We have to put one tune on the playlist, and I chose AJ Tracey ‘Ladbroke Grove,’ so it was a newer one they’d know. Half the music is not my taste, but Tommo (Ben Tomlinson) tries to cater for all, rather than just doing the standard r&b playlist that every changing room has. I’d always try to put Drake in there somewhere along the lines, because he’s got the different avenues of music
What have you enjoyed most about the club during your time at Alfreton, and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t already?
I think we’re definitely going about our business nicely. When we’re lining up to play different teams, I like the fact that they know what they’re coming up against; they know that they’re gonna be up for a fight, if you like. I don’t see why we can’t draw even more attendances. We’re between Derby and Nottingham, so I would like to see a lot more youngsters come and see how the game’s played at a different level, not just always watching it on TV. We’re definitely not the biggest club in non-league, but we know what we’re aiming for. We’ll try and see where we are at Christmas time and take it from there. I think we’ve had a very good start, but we don’t wanna drop off. You always know you’ll have a difficult period in the season. We’ve had a few injuries at the minute, I’ve had one suspension, which isn’t good, but back at it now. Hereford on Saturday, so hopefully we can get three points and hit the ground running again.
Finally, what has this time in football taught you the most?
The way of trying to better yourself each day and not taking it for granted really. You could be a youngster playing for England and thinking you’re the best thing since sliced bread, or you’re 16/17 and given the nod to train with the first team, but just to keep trying and bettering your game, because there’s a lot of good talent coming up, and you’re a small fish in a big pond. You’ve got to keep making sure that you maintain your level of professionalism and I would always try and express that to any up-and-coming players. At 30 now, I’m still trying to better myself and try and still play at the highest level that I’m worthy of.
Interview by @chris_brookes