Morse: I love everything about this club
With five trophies, almost 200 appearances and bags of experience under his belt at South Shields, it’s easy to overlook the fact Dillon Morse is still just 26.
He has developed from a baby-faced, raw talent into an increasingly confident, mature and consistent performer during his impressive time at the club to date. The baby face may remain, but some of those raw edges do not.
By the time the contract extension he signed on Friday comes to an end in 2024, the defender will have been a Shields player for eight years and if his development continues at its current pace, there is little doubt he will become a club great – if he is not classed as such already.
Morse, though, is too modest to acknowledge that himself, despite the fact he has been part of two title-winning campaigns, scored at Wembley in the biggest game of the club’s modern history and established himself as a firm fans’ favourite who is now looked up to by some of the younger members of the squad.
When asked whether the prospect of being one day known as a club legend ever enters his mind, the former Blyth Spartans, Gateshead and Carlisle United man is unequivocal.
“I don’t think like that,” Morse said. “That’s for other people to talk about and if the fans ever say that about me, of course it would be an honour.
“All I can do is keep my head down and play to the best of my ability in every game.
“That’s something I’ve done throughout my time here and it’s strange to think I’ve been here for five years, because in many ways it feels like only two minutes since I signed.
“When I joined I was probably the youngest player in the squad and now I might be one of the older ones, even if I still feel young at 26!
“I like the responsibility that brings.
“I’ve played alongside lots of more experienced players over the last five years and they’ve helped me along the way, which is what I want to do with some of the younger lads now while I’m still learning myself.”
Morse has made 197 appearances for the Mariners and his presence on the pitch has grown considerably over the last five years.
His longevity has been as impressive as anything else, with Shields having operated at three different levels of the pyramid during his spell at the club, but he has risen to meet every challenge and is in no doubt as to why he feels so at home with the Mariners.
He said: “This is a family club and I love everything about it, on and off the pitch.
“The players, staff and everyone who works behind the scenes are such a tight-knit group and the fans are brilliant too.
“We’re all pulling in the same direction and that makes it extra-special when you achieve success.
“I had been to a few clubs before I came here but I’ve never been at a club which has had this sort of connection and this sort of tight-knit group.
“Everyone who comes into the club always gets that same bug straightaway and feels the difference.”
Search through the archives and you may stumble across quotes from Morse five years ago during which he expressed his ambition to one day become a full-time player with the Mariners.
In 2021-22, that dream will come true as Shields progress from the hybrid model they operated in last season to a full-time structure, training every weekday.
Morse is in no doubt as to how much that will benefit the squad, adding: “Back when I signed, it was just a dream to be able to go full-time with South Shields.
“I could see the ambition of the club and they painted the picture when I first started talking to them.
“They’ve been as good as their word and it’s fantastic to see how much the club has progressed in that time.
“The hybrid model was a great step forward last season and personally, I really felt the benefit of those extra training sessions.
“At the same time, it was tough because we had two day-time sessions and two night-time sessions a week, so the turnaround between them was sometimes very quick.
“Now we will get more recovery time and that should help us feel sharper in the games.”
Shields are preparing for another season in the Pitching In Northern Premier League, having been denied the chance to fight for promotion in each of the last two curtailed campaigns.
As with most players, Morse has found the long lay-off tough to handle but with excitement around the club high with off-pitch developments taking shape, his anticipation is growing.
He said: “It has been a very strange period which none of us had ever experienced before.
“I’d never been away from football for that length of time previously and it was a major challenge.
“I’ve always liked to keep myself fit so I was regularly out running and lifting some weights.
“If I had just sat and thought about things and the amount of time I’d gone without playing football, it would have done my head in.
“I turned into a runner basically!
“Now it’s time to get back to football though and we can’t wait for the new season to kick off to get those competitive juices flowing again.
“I’m sure all of the other teams will be desperate to beat us as they always are, but that will give us even more determination to go and win the league.
“We really want to earn our place in National League North, which is where we’ve always wanted to be, and then push from there.”
Morse has packed plenty of highlights into his five years at 1st Cloud Arena, but let’s finish by probing him as to what he considers his three greatest moments as a Shields player.
There were plenty to choose from, but these are his selections…
- “The FA Vase final win over Cleethorpes Town at Wembley in 2017. It was the best day of my life.”
- “When we won all four trophies in the 2016-17 season and went on that 32-game winning run, breaking lots of records. That was an incredible campaign to be a part of and the sense of achievement was indescribable.”
- “The FA Cup run of 2017-18, when we took out some really big clubs, including Darlington and York City. Everyone was just starting to take notice of South Shields at that stage and we played in front of some massive crowds, so that was another experience I’m so glad I was part of.”