For the first time since January 2004, over four years ago, Mortonbug is back! And what a dramatic four years for Greenock Morton FC it has been. We'll get to what happened in those seasons since the site's absence later on, but perhaps it'd be better to go back to near the start of the decade, this current era for the Ton.
Five years ago, at the conclusion of season 2002/03, Morton completed their only campaign in the Bell's Scottish League Third Division as champions, after a thrilling final day 'all or nothing' match against Peterhead, which, thanks to a Scott Bannerman goal, saw Cappielow celebrating a 1-0 victory. A Premier step forward it was! That title decider on Saturday 10th May 2003 saw ex-pat fans from around the world in attendance, celebrating the beginning of the next chapter in Morton's 134 year history to date. A no doubt never to be matched Third Division record attendance of 8,500 packed into Cappielow. In terms of the old ground's highest attendances since the early 1990s, only a First Division promotion play-off decider against Dundee United in May 1996, a Coca-Cola League Cup match with Aberdeen in September 1996, and a Tennent's Scottish Cup match against Celtic in March 1999 have gained higher attendances in the last 15 years. Morton's essential championship victory at the first attempt followed a tumultuous period which saw them go in to administration following relegation from Division One, termination of the contracts of all the club's staff on and off the park, before facing closure in the summer of 2001.
As all fans will know, Greenock businessman and former board member Douglas Rae stepped forward, heading up a consortium which saved the club at the eleventh hour. With generations of fans in the Inverclyde area and beyond ready to get right behind the new line-up, it was hoped that they could bounce straight back up to the Bell's First Division. A new squad was hastily assembled under the guidance of former assistant manager Peter Cormack, who alongside the club's all-time record scorer and long serving manager Allan McGraw, came so close to guiding the Ton to a Premier Division play-off in 1996, just a year after winning the Second Division. This time, in August 2001, with Cormack in charge, ex-Rangers and Hearts player Dave McPherson came on board as the assistant-player manager. Perhaps inevitably, the disjointed squad which included many players reaching the end of their careers, was relegated to Scotland's basement division in April 2002. Two major positives to take from a difficult season, which saw the club's second consecutive relegation, included the return of defender Derek Collins, who had signed for Alex McLeish's Hibernian in 1997 after ten years at Morton. In fact Collins' debut in 1987 was made when the Ton were last in Scottish football's top division, it featured a memorable match where, as a second half substititute, he scored the winner in a 3-2 win over Rangers at Cappielow! The other positive being the return of midfielder/striker Warren Hawke, who had signed for Queen of the South in 1999 and had made 145 appearances in his previous spell at the club. Cormack resigned from his position with several games of that season remaining. His assistant, Dave McPherson, took over as caretaker manager before his appointment was made permanent ahead of the Third Division campaign. The club found out it had been consigned to the drop following the season's antepenultimate match against Stenhousemuir at Ochilview. This turned out to be McPherson's final match as a professional footballer and he scored the winner! On the final day of that season, which was finishing earlier than usual due to the forthcoming World Cup in Japan and South Korea, Morton played Second Division champions Queen of the South, who were celebrating winning the first piece of silverware in their history. In a show of loyalty and heartening confidence, a section of the Morton support were carrying a banner which read 'Morton FC, Third Division Champions 2003. So despite the 4-0 defeat, there was still room for optimism!
August 2002 saw Morton enjoying the honour of becoming the first side to face league newcomers Gretna FC, who had taken the place of the defunct Airdrieonians FC, that club had suffered the dreaded fate of going into liquidation. It is also worth noting that Morton's tenants at Cappielow the previous season, Clydebank FC, had had their identity and league place taken over by a consortium of businessmen who formed Airdrie United, they started off playing in Division Two. The Black and Whites, managed by Morton legend Rowan Alexander shocked Morton with a goal by Matt Henney after just 19 seconds at Raydale Park. It did, however, end 1-1 thanks to Warren Hawke bundling Derek Collins' ball into the net! A decidedly shaky start to that campaign saw McPherson lose his job only a few months into the season, Queens Park boss John McCormack took the reigns and a dramatic campaign also saw a cup shock, knocking First Division Ross County out at Dingwall in January 2003. However, with just six matches left, a 2-1 defeat to Albion Rovers at Cliftonhill, Ton's third at their hands that season, looked set to make winning the title and even promotion a tricky goal to attain. Who would have thought they would become a bogey team of Morton's? Never a team to make things easy for themselves, this meant having to win the last five games of the season to ensure success. Not only did Morton achieve that, they also scored 12 goals over those five victories and recorded five clean sheets, an extremely strong finish to the season that included a 5-0 battering of Gretna at Cappielow and a glorious 3-0 win over Stirling on the penultimate day of the season at Forthbank, seeing the side go top for the very first time with just a single match remaining! The most important of those victories leading up to the grand finale against Peterhead was without a doubt a 1-0 win against East Fife in Methil. Warren Hawke came on as a substitute and send the capacity full away support wild.
Many older Morton supporters, who enjoyed the Premier League years of the 1970s and early 80s, undoubtedly headier days for the club, talk about winning the Third Division that day in May 2003 as their favourite moment. It was without doubt a very special day for the club considering how close to the end it come.
COMING ON MONDAY 28TH APRIL 2008 - SEASON 2003/2004 - A MORTON SUPPORTER RUNNING THE LINE AGAINST AIRDRIE UNITED ON THE OPENING DAY.......A STUNNING 6-1 VICTORY AGAINST THE DIAMONDS.......A SEEMINGLY UNASSAILABLE CHRISTMAS LEAD AT THE TOP OF DIVISION TWO......THE BETTING SCANDAL OF SPRING 2004!