Trevor Morgan, who’s 57, is regarded as one of the most successful foreign coaches in the history of Indian football. Between 2010 and 2013, he won eight trophies with East Bengal, and also reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup. As a player, he turned out for Bournemouth, Bristol Rovers, and Bolton Wanderers, among others, and also had spells in Australia, Ireland, and Hong Kong. Here, he talks about being famous in Calcutta, his role in the “IPL of football”, and what it’s like working for Phil Brown…

Sometimes, it was difficult going out in Calcutta. First, because I’m a six-foot-two white man, and I stood out anyway. And secondly, because I was sort-of-famous there. People would stop me in the street, and ask for autographs and photos. I’ve had people land at my feet. It was surreal at times.

It’s funny – in one place you can be so popular, and then I come back home (Morgan is based in Perth, Australia) and all I get is abuse from my wife and kids! I can’t explain to them how well-known I am over there. They’re not that interested anyway – they tell me to shut up! The affection shown to me by the East Bengal fans was really humbling. It’s something I’ll never forget.

In my three years at East Bengal, we were the most consistent team in India, without a doubt. We were ninth or tenth before I came, and we turned it round – I League runners-up twice (in 2011 and 2012) and then third place. We won eight trophies in three years, and we reached the quarter finals of the AFC Cup (roughly equivalent to the Europa League), going undefeated in the group stage. I know we didn’t win the I League, but we were consistent. We did everything we could to win it.

Before I went to India, I didn’t know much about the football there. So I went on YouTube and watched the derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, our biggest rivals, and there were 100,000 people there! When we played them, the atmosphere was fantastic. Packed stands, and believe me, the fans didn’t like each other. The boys would tell me about supporters who had no money, and so they’d go without food to buy a ticket for the game. That’s what it meant to them.

I first made contact with East Bengal five or six years before I got the job. It was 2004 or 2005, I was working in Singapore, and Steve Darby (a British coach who has worked across Asia) gave me an email address for someone at the club. We kept in touch – one or two emails a year – then in 2010 he emailed to say the manager’s position was available. I sent my CV, and ended up getting the job.

The managers – especially foreign managers – don’t last long in India. Steve Darby went to Mohun Bagan (in 2011) and lasted three games! For someone of his experience, that’s amazing. When I went to East Bengal, I signed a one-year contract. We had a good season, so I was offered a three-year deal, and I ended up doing two years of that. Towards the end, I just felt I was coming to the end of my time, so I resigned. My family were still based in Perth, and it wasn’t easy. My wife had come out to visit a couple of times, but she didn’t want to stay, which I understood.

Off the field, living in India was an eye-opener. You see people living under a tree, and they’re lucky – because some people don’t even have a tree. That’s the way life is over there – very, very harsh to some people, and very good to others. It’s horrible to say, but the longer you’re there, the more you become accustomed to it. I had a house, a driver, I was looked after. But my wife and three grown-up kids stayed in Australia. It’s difficult being on your own, but you have to make sacrifices.

In 2008/09, I spent a year as reserve team manager at Hull City. I knew Phil Brown (the Hull manager) from playing at Bolton – we were teammates, roomed together, and went out together. And he hasn’t really changed as a person. At Hull, maybe there were a couple of things he wouldn’t do again, but he’s doing well at Southend. We keep in touch, and we have a beer when I go back.

Being in the Premier League was an experience you couldn’t buy. I learned so much – everything you see, everything you take in. But at the end of the season, the club wanted to go in a different direction with the reserves. And again, I was living away from my family. After a year, I felt it was time to do something else, and Phil knew it was difficult for me, being away from home.

Would I move back to England? Well there’s nothing better than a game in England. But in India, we play in front of 80,000 crowds, and where would I get that in the UK? If I went back, I wouldn’t get a job in the Premier League or the Championship. It would be maybe League One or League Two. If India is second best, it isn’t a bad second best, playing in front of these crowds and being successful.

Indian football is definitely improving. When I first came, there were games – not being big-headed – where you knew you’d win. But as time went on, there were no guaranteed three points. The Indian players are improving, and the foreign players are better now. The problem for the Indian national team is the foreigners play in really important positions. Everyone has foreign strikers, centre backs, goalkeepers. The spine of the team is often foreign. So there are some fantastic Indian players, but they miss out on people who can put the ball in the net.

Earlier this year, I got an offer from a club in Kenya (AFC Leopards). But while I was over there, I was approached by a franchise in the new Indian Super League (a football version of cricket’s IPL, which will work alongside the existing I League). I had to tell the Kenyan people: “Look, I’m sorry to tell you this, but the Super League is something I’d like to get involved in.” The Kenyans gave me two weeks to decide, but after three or four days, I called them and said: “Sorry, I can’t take your job.”

I think the Super League is going to be very exciting. I’m looking forward to going back to full-time football, and working with big-name players (Robert Pires, Hernan Crespo, and Freddie Ljungberg have all reportedly signed-up to play in the league.) For Indian fans to see players who’ve played in World Cup finals, as well as other top quality foreign players, can only make the game better.

The games are due to be played in cricket stadiums, so there will be big crowds. I also think it will help the domestic players improve (like in the IPL, Super League franchises will have to sign a certain number of domestic players). They’ll get used to training with better players, having better facilities, and so on. When they go back to their main club, they’ll notice a huge difference.

I couldn’t see us moving back to England full-time, but I’m still a West Ham fan. You don’t ever change. We’re from there, and no-one in the area supports Arsenal or Tottenham, Chelsea or Man United, it’s all West Ham. My dad, uncle, friends – all West Ham. Should Big Sam stay? He has done everything he was supposed to. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but I’d rather win 1-0 badly, than lose 4-3.

I count my blessings every day. I left school at 15, didn’t turn pro until I was 23, and let me tell you, playing football is the best job in the world. To wake up, go to work, and do something you enjoy…well there’s not many people who can say that. And after playing, coaching is the second best.

Interview by @owenamos for

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