Goalscorer? Yes. Role model? Yes. Club legend? Definitely.
A player isn’t generally branded a ‘legend’ until he hangs up his boots. A likely exception to that rule, however, is 41-year-old Kevin Ellison. The evergreen winger has spent the best part of the last 10 years representing the Shrimps, and has been wearing a Morecambe FC shirt for over half of his near-700 career appearances - 391 to be precise.
Throw in the 88 goals that he has also contributed to Morecambe’s history and you’d struggle to find anyone on the Lancashire coast that disagrees with his already acquired status.
Today, Morecambe celebrates its 100th birthday, meaning Ellison has been wearing the Morecambe badge for almost 10 per cent of the club’s existence. In a career that has so far spanned an incredible 24 seasons, the man himself takes us through his Morecambe years which, by his own admission, have been the best of his career.
“I didn’t think I’d be here this long, to be honest with you,” he says when asked about his time at Morecambe.
“But if you look at my football career, I’ve had some of my best and most successful times here, especially in terms of goals and appearances. It’s like most things; if I was no good, the club wouldn’t keep me, so I like to think that they’ve benefitted from having me as a player and that’s why I’m still playing for them.”
At 41 years of age, the formidable winger would be the oldest player in the EFL if it weren’t for the endurance of Crawley Town’s Dannie Bulman - who is a month Ellison’s senior, and not even Ellison himself could have predicted spending nine seasons with the Shrimps.
“I was in my early thirties when I first signed and, when you’re that age, people start to write you off as a footballer, they don’t expect your career to go on too much longer.
“I was offered a 12-month contract and I just thought 'if I can play for another year, I can pay a bit more of the mortgage off and provide for the family, then I’ll just see what happens next year.' But, here I am nine seasons later, still playing for Morecambe, and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it.”
Ellison grew up in Anfield and represented Liverpool schoolboys as a youngster, as well as playing for Liverpool’s Centre of Excellence alongside Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard. As teenagers around him were offered contracts to take their football careers to the next level, 15-year-old Ellison received the heart-breaking news that he was being let go, his future unknown.
“I remember receiving the letter from Liverpool,” he recalls. “It just said 'thanks for all your effort over the last seven years and good luck in the future.' It was heart-breaking, because my first thought was 'that’s it, I’m never going to make it as a footballer now.'”
But, as has been proven already through a memorable professional career in the game, Ellison is not one to quit.
“I knew I had the potential and was as good as some lads that did get a scholarship,” he continues. “My mum encouraged me and gave me the belief, but it was just a matter of digging deep and taking my chance when it came. It’s like most things in life; you only get out what you put in, and I never gave up when I was 15. That rejection spurred me on and made me want to prove to people that I was good enough to become a professional one day.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
After starting out at Southport, Ellison joined Leicester City in 2001, before spells with Stockport County, Hull City, Tranmere Rovers and Rotherham United followed. With 300 career appearances to his name, he found himself out of contract with the Millers. It wouldn’t have been a bad career given that 15 years earlier he was told he’d never have one, but the Liverpool-born winger had unfinished business on the football pitch and it was one Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2011 when former manager Jim Bentley - who had only been in the job a couple of hours - turned up on Ellison’s doorstep, hoping to make his first signing as Morecambe boss.
“I remember I’d been on my UEFA B coaching license all week,” Ellison explains. “I’d had a few calls about potential Clubs that were interested in signing me, a couple of which were from Jim Bentley at Morecambe, though I didn’t believe it was him at the time.
“Some of the lads I was mates with used to prank call me, offering me contracts, knowing I didn't have a club anymore, so when Jim rang me I think I put the phone down and gave a few verbals back!
“Then, that Saturday, he just turned up on my doorstep in Liverpool asking to have a chat. We talked and he convinced me that Morecambe would be the ideal move and perfect place for me to play my last couple of years of football.”
A 12-month contract was signed and the rest, as they say, is history. Given Ellison’s age, a few eyebrows were raised when he put pen to paper on a deal to move to Lancashire, leaving him with a point to prove, some might say. Nine years later, however, any doubters have certainly been silenced.
“Jim Bentley has been a huge influence and did a lot for me,” he continues. "He took a chance on me at the age that I was and I know a few people questioned it at the time. I like to think that I’ve changed their minds now when you look at what I’ve given back to the football club, however.
“I’m not big-headed, I’m generally a really modest person, but when I look back at my time with Morecambe, I do think I’ve done well for them and given a lot back.”
Ellison believes he has played some of his best football at Morecambe, almost all of which was during the Jim Bentley era, though they did not always see eye to eye. Both parties have admitted on separate occasions to not being on the friendliest of terms as players. By Ellison’s own admission, he and Bentley were ‘gobby and competitive’ as players, often leading to a clash when coming face-to-face with one another on the pitch.
As the years went on, Ellison became a role model; someone for the rest squad to look up to and, more importantly, a figure for Bentley to rely on in the dressing room. Despite having disagreements along the way, as players and managers often do, one thing that never changed was their desire for the football club to succeed.
“Me and Jim had a really good relationship,” he reflects. “We bounced off each other, but I was also someone he relied on when he needed someone in the dressing room. I’d always make sure the lads were okay and I was his go to person for that.
“Players and managers sometimes have disagreements, but we were always able to sweep it under the carpet and carry on because, ultimately, we both just wanted the best for the football club. We had some brilliant times and one thing that will never change is my respect for Jim Bentley as a manager.”
And it sounds like the feeling is mutual.
“He was my first signing and he’s been my best, and probably always will be. When you need someone to rely on, there’s been no better than Kevin Ellison.” Those were the words of Jim Bentley speaking in an interview back in October 2019 - shortly before he left for AFC Fylde.
“I get goosebumps hearing that being said,” Ellison admits, after hearing Bentley’s words read back to him over the phone.
“He used to tell me that, but you take it with a pinch of salt,” he continues. "To hear someone else say that he’s said that about me is a wonderful feeling. He signed some great players over the years, so to hear that said about me proves that I’ve repaid the faith he showed in me at the beginning.”
He may have had some of his best times at Morecambe, but that’s not to say it's always been an easy ride. No training ground, no transfer budget, and having the smallest average attendance in the EFL can be a challenge, but the Morecambe way is one that Ellison speaks of with pride: hard work, determination and good old team spirit.
“It’s different at Morecambe, for sure,” he says. “Every year the papers tip 'little old Morecambe' to be the club that gets relegated out of the EFL. We don’t sign many players and we lose players each year to bigger Clubs. People use those as reasons why we’re going to get relegated.
“In Jim’s first couple of seasons at the club, those were the things he used to write on the board in the dressing room. We’ve always had a good squad and a good group of lads here. It’s become about proving people wrong and I think we’ve done that pretty much every season.
“Morecambe is a friendly and family club. As players, we’ve got relationships with the fans, it’s got a special place in the local community and everyone will tell you that it has a really nice feel to it.
"Everyone pulls in the same direction which makes it the club it is and part of what makes it so special.”
On any given matchday, Ellison is often subject to torment from the away fans; "one of the most hated players in the League" were his exact words. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s always spurred me on, to be honest,” he says, laughing. “I remember reading years ago that the bad players never get booed, so I take it as a bit of a compliment that I’m doing something right. I don’t mind getting a hard time on the pitch."
After an 18-year association with Morecambe, Bentley left his position as manager in October 2019. With the Shrimps in need of leadership, it is testament to Ellison and his character that he should take over in the dugout alongside Barry Roche until a successor was named. Quickly making the switch from player to manager, Ellison selflessly took himself out of the team and stepped in to steady the ship, getting their first home win of the season on the way.
“I felt responsible for taking over,” he reveals. “For me to have been at the club as long as I have, it just felt like the right thing to do. There was nobody else there to do it and lads encouraged me and Baz [Barry Roche], which showed that they respected us, so for me it was a no-brainer.
“It was hard making the transition so quickly. I had to leave the team WhatsApp group and change how I got to training as I used to share with a couple of the lads. I also had to tell some of the lads when they weren’t playing, which wasn’t easy given 48 hours earlier those lads were my team-mates, that was hard.
“But to get our first home win of the season while me and Baz were in charge of the club was an unbelievable feeling. Some of the messages I had that came in afterwards will live with me forever, some people were saying it was one of the best performances they’ve seen at the Globe Arena in years and it’s made them want to come back again. No-one will ever be able to take that away from me.”
Having completed his UEFA B license coaching course, and due to start his UEFA A course once football returns, coaching is clearly on the horizon for the 41-year-old but, what is clear from speaking to him at length, is that he’s not ready to hang up his boots any time soon. His passion and desire for the game of football is as prominent as it has ever been.
“I’ll let my secret out when I finish playing!” he jokes.
“My recovery is more important than ever. I might not play every single Saturday and Tuesday but I manage myself well and listen to my body, which I’ll continue to do until I can’t physically run anymore.
“I love football. I’ve still got that passion, desire and hunger to play regularly and I still believe I’ve got something to offer at League Two level. I can still hold my own and influence games when I need to, and that’s what keeps me going."
Admired, respected and an example to many in the footballing world, Kevin Ellison is a true model professional and one that Morecambe would definitely not be the same without.