Morgan Coxhead wants to be the first goalkeeper with cystic fibrosis to play professional football. He’s done the hard yards in life already.
Morgan Coxhead is a name that is not easily forgotten. By the beginning of the Second World War, the main profession of males synonymous with the surname “Coxhead” was gardening. It follows that the ancestry had some affinity with green fingers. The 18-yard box of football pitches is the next logical step…..
The 20-year-old has the gloves of the goalkeeping variety rather than the Monty Don kind. He also has challenges and goals that go well beyond the halfway line. Coxhead wants to be the first person with cystic fibrosis to play professional football. That deserves an ear which Goalkeeper.com was very happy to provide.
One look into the backstory shows that the St Austell lad has had to grow up very quickly. For the first seven years of his life, his abode overlooked Portsmouth’s Fratton Park before the family moved to the fresher climate of Cornwall’s air quality, so important to the general well-being of CF sufferers.
CF is a genetic lung disease that compromises both breathing and life span. Medical science has made great strides in the last three decades to raise the bar of life quality but it’s still an invasive condition.
“I think being a goalkeeper, you’ve got to have no fear. And growing up with a medical condition, like cystic fibrosis, really meant that I don’t fear anything. Therefore, I can do anything. So when you're in goal, you've got to be demanding and you've got to be brave coming out for one-on-ones and taking crosses.”
All of this makes perfect sense. Life’s difficulties are seen through a different prism when the daily battle of multiple medications, nebulisers and inhalers becomes normalised. A goalkeeper’s role is to multi-task and move the pieces. There’s your perfect candidate.
Coxhead says: “Ultimately what the mucus does is scar your lungs. Once your lungs are scarred it will decrease the capacity for taking in air therefore making it harder to breathe. And your lung capacity is lower, just making it a lot harder in general life.”
There’s the rub. Coxhead has to work “twice as hard” in training to keep parity with his teammates. Goalkeeping training sessions are intense, not just a knockabout set of random drills. It’s a demand that very much suits his character.
Jurgen Klopp once said of a young(er) Harvey Elliott “When you are old enough to drive a car you should be old enough to play football games! He is in the right place. He's a smart player.” Coxhead is all of these things. He’s also in the right space mentally.
He can take inspiration from other sporting heroes who have battled the condition like Australian rugby union star Nathan Charles. Charles played for Bath and represented his country on four occasions - much to the amazement of his national coach at the time: "If you look at the symptoms and classic outcomes of cystic fibrosis it's not a great scenario from a sporting point of view, but he seems to have defied science and defied logic,” mused Wallabies head coach Ewen McKenzie.
In the 1990s, the prognosis of cystic fibrosis carried with it a much shorter life expectancy, but Charles is now 31 years old and “in the best shape of my life”. Coxhead has cited Josh Llewellyn-Jones, the ultra-athlete and world record-holder, as an inspiration and a direct contact for warrior challenges. More of that later….
Goalkeeping runs in the family, something that appears to have a common theme for some of the most successful stoppers in the Premier League. It was Coxhead’s father who suggested such a move after seeing his son struggle outfield chasing a 13-goal deficit. He tried it and never looked back. His brothers also fill the space between the nets. There’s no getting away from it now. The circle is complete.
One of the most challenging periods of his life, let alone career, was during the COVID-19 pandemic when cystic fibrosis was listed as one of the more clinically extremely vulnerable categories. He wasn’t allowed to see anyone. The mental strain of lockdown added to his high-risk category.
Coxhead is not like most people and does not sit still. He tackled the issue in the most active way possible. “I was bored, so I threw the idea out to my Mum, I was like, ‘why don't I just do an Iron Man?’ Like how stupid does that sound? What if I just do it for charity, I could raise a bit of money, or just to inspire other people. We had a six-foot paddling pool in the garden where I did my swim, I ran in someone's (larger) back garden and set up a spin bike in the house.”
The results were more than impressive. The former Truro College student (a BTEC in sport with distinction, no less) managed to clock up a whole marathon’s worth of mileage around the spacious green patch of his neighbour allied to 126 miles on the indoor bicycle.
Jack Robinson, the England and Southampton stopper who revolutionised European attitudes to the art in the 1890s once said that a goalkeeper must be like a “compound of steel and gutta percha.” Coxhead has that in abundance no matter what his body tells him. It’s the Iron Man with a heart of gold.
Coxhead is innately connected to the CF movement, actively speaking about the condition and elevating awareness of the disorder. About six years ago, he was the recipient of a Make A Wish experience for children with debilitating conditions and met the Manchester City squad. Coxhead, ever the entrepreneurial goalkeeper, enjoyed the day so much that he was determined to raise the funds for a train like a pro day at the same venue. He would have to raise the funds himself without the Bank of Mum and Dad.
He recalls: “I decided to make dog treats in the shape of pasties. In Cornwall, everyone loves a pasty, and everyone's got dogs. I raised all the money that was necessary and gave the rest to my mum's charity, in which she helps [people] with cystic fibrosis in getting gym instructors and stuff like that.”
Meeting Joe Hart, a goalkeeping idol, can do a lot for motivation.
At the moment, Coxhead is excelling for Western Premier League Falmouth Town, members of Step 5 of the National League system. He has also played for Truro City, the highest-ranked side in Cornwall, helping their reserve team clinch promotion. Initially, he had trials with Plymouth Argyle’s youth set-up from the ages of 14 to 16 and under-18 academy.
He embraces the challenge of playing mainstream football without the safety net of modified rules. Falmouth’s crowds are bigger too. Clubs generally have been open to his talents without prejudice:” They were very welcoming and we basically said that I can manage it all by myself, so they don't have anything to worry about. So when I was up I was fit and healthy. I had my inhalers with me which was basically what I needed out there.”
The Cornish resident certainly has the attributes and the positive mindset to carry the weight of added burdens. The rough and tumble of goalkeeping is just another tough mudder.
FIFA published an article at the beginning of the Millennium which stated that “the goalkeeper is often subjected to direct trauma against the body, which increases the risk for contusions, abrasions, and other injuries.” Coxhead has already taken the knocks of life and has come out the other side.
“It's just not in my nature to worry about it. Obviously, it can be a concern if I can’t breathe or anything. But I just know that I can manage, that I'll be able to deal with it. I just think about me, that I'll be able to get over it, just be determined just to get through and to come out the other side fitter and stronger.”
He will continue to push the boundaries and aim for the sky. Coxhead has the cojones to deal with the ups and downs of his preferred trade. He’s had a lifetime fighting against the grain to get to this grade. Why stop now?
“Don't let anyone say that you can't do something because if you want it bad enough, you will go and do it. No matter what anyone says”. This young man is the living proof of that.