Monday, July 26, 2021
HomeInterviewsMickey Morrison - how ANC-Halfords got to the Tour de France

Mickey Morrison – how ANC-Halfords got to the Tour de France

"Tony Capper - a guy who hadn’t even heard of professional cycling half an hour before - was telling me he’s going to put a team in the Tour de France!"


Mickey Morrison
Mickey Morrison in 1983.

It’s the stuff of cycling folklore; the year was 1987 and a British trade team lined up in Berlin for the start of the world’s biggest bike race.

ANC-Halfords was the name on the jersey; against such mighty opposition as Carrera, Del Tongo, Panasonic and Z-Peugeot.

A scarcely believable accomplishment which would take 23 years to repeat when Team Sky took to the start in Rotterdam in 2010.

The visionary/villain behind this adventure was an ex-policeman turned taxi driver turned parcels delivery entrepreneur – ANC stood for Associated National Couriers – called Tony Capper.

He’s sadly no longer with us – but what I’d give to have interviewed that man.

But how come a chain-smoking, grossly overweight man who hadn’t even heard of bike racing until a couple of years before could pull off such a feat?

And just as importantly, from which exotic flora did the seed of this gargantuan idea fall from?

Enter our man of the day, Mr. Michael Morrison, aka Mickey Morrison.

Morrison was a good amateur rider in the UK in the 70’s with a raft of wins and placings in UK races, an excellent climber he was King of the Mountains in the always hard fought and far from flat Girvan Three Day race, held over the Easter weekend, usually in grim weather conditions.

Morrison’s rides caught the eye of the British Cycling Federation selectors and he was short listed for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

But he didn’t ‘make the cut’ and that’s where our story begins of a man who brought major sponsors into UK cycling but who’s contribution is largely forgotten: 

“There were 15 riders on the short list for the Moscow Olympics but only six made the trip.

I did an interview with my local paper, the theme of which was that my Olympic dream was over and I was going to turn professional – the Olympics were a strictly amateur affair back then.

“The next thing I know, I’m contacted by a friend of my late father who had read the article and wanted to know what was involved with sponsoring a professional bike rider.

“He was a good guy, a chap called Michael How, a real ‘Potteries Man’ [the Staffordshire Potteries is an area of six towns, famous for ceramic production and work ethic. ed] who owned an air conditioning company called ‘Moducel.’

I explained that I would be like a representative for his company, traveling in a Moducel liveried car all over the UK and racing in the company livery with the media reporting on my performances if I did well.

I said I’d need a salary of £2,500, a car and whilst I could organise bike and clothing sponsorship, I’d need money for tyres and equipment.

“He sent me to meet his man, John Wilshaw, I sold myself and I was a pro for season 1980.”

Mickey Morrison performed well in the Moducel colours despite being a lone pro against small but strong teams like MAN-VW-Viking, Elswick-Falcon and Weinmann.

Over the 1980 and next three seasons, Morrison added to the roster – quality riders Dudley Hayton, Phil Corley and Steve Joughin all sported the red, white and blue of Moducel.

But as televised city centre races arrived in the UK and Morrison placed well in these he began to think that he was worth more than the £2,500 per annum salary he was drawing from Moducel.

He explains;

I reckoned I was worth £6,000 plus car and bikes. I approached a friend of mine, Malcolm Roche who had a garage and asked him if he’d be interested in sponsoring me.

He said ‘no’ but suggested that I speak to a guy he’d had in and had bought a number of vans for his parcel delivery company.

I contacted the guy, put together a portfolio with press cutting and videos and went to see him.

Halfway through the pitch he said; “OK, that’s enough, I’ll take you on at £6,000 salary, a car and bike – and I want you in two mornings each week to work with my marketing committee.”

As I was walking out he said to me; “what are the bike biggest events in the UK and in Europe?”

I explained about the The Sealink International, The Milk Race and Kellogg’s Tour of Britain; and then on the continent there were the Classics and Grand Tours, with the biggest being the Tour de France; but a British team hadn’t ridden there since 1968 – and that was a national team.

He replied; “right, we’ll win the Sealink, Kellogg’s race and that Milk Race in England, that won’t be too difficult; then get into those Classics in Europe, do well there and that’ll get us into the Tour de France.”

Here’s a guy who hadn’t even heard of professional cycling half an hour before telling me he’s going to put a team in the Tour de France!

I thought, ‘this guy’s on magic mushrooms!’

But Tony Capper had vision and he achieved all of those objectives – Joey McLoughlin won the Sealink and Kellogg’s Tour and Joey and then Malcolm Elliott won the Milk Race.

Malcolm was third in the Amstel Gold classic, Adrian Timmis won a stage in the Midi Libre, a Tour ‘preparation race’ and the team got the green light for the Tour…”

Mickey Morrison
Tony Capper and Joey McLaughlin at the 1983 Sealink International. Photo©Graham Watson.

Mickey Morrison explains how the talented McLoughlin – who would go on to ride for Z-Peugeot but was a rider who never fully realised his huge potential, despite the wins noted above – came to be on the team.

Phil Thomas was on the ANC squad and he told Tony Capper about his brother-in-law was a talented young lad on the ‘up’ – Joey.

I had been promised a salary raise from £6,000 to £9,000 but Tony came to me and said; ‘I’ve used up all the salaries budget but if you would accept staying on £6,000 I could use the other £3,000 to take the McLoughlin lad on board.

I agreed and that’s how we got Joey on the team.

Morrison explains that the team also employed the services of a couple of Australian riders:

Shane Sutton has been in the news lately; he rode the Tour de France for us in 1987 but in ’84 when he rode for Ever Ready he approached me and told me there was another good Aussie who I should sign, Neil Stephens – it was us who gave Neil his first pro contract.”

Neil Stephens in ANCs 1984 colours. Photo©Philippe Huguenin

Stephens would go on to win the Australian road championship and a Tour de France stage as well as becoming a stalwart at Spanish ‘mega equipo’ ONCE.

One of the hurdles to clear for Capper to realise his ambitions was the six man limit imposed on UK team sizes by the Professional Cyclists Association.

Capper knew that he’d need a much bigger pool to draw upon to fulfil his continental dreams, the answer?

Start another team.

As usual, Mickey Morrison has the juice:

Tony and I had a friend who owned a vehicle hire company called Interent – that was where I got my ANC team car – and for 1986 we had a second team under that banner with me, Nigel Bloor, Tim Harris and Jon Wainwright.

But by now the organisational side was too much to handle and race so I had to say to Tony that I was giving myself over to the office and quitting racing, it was just too much to handle.”

Mickey Morrison
Tony Capper congratulates Joey McLoughlin at the 1985 Milk Race finish in London. Photo©Graham Watson

However, two teams still didn’t give Capper and his management team enough selection leeway, the answer was, yes, you’ve guessed, launch a third team…

I got this phone call from a lady at LYCRA Dupont, I mean, I didn’t know who ‘Dupont’ were – just one of the biggest corporations in the world!

“Anyway, she’d seen pictures of Malcolm Elliott, who was a good looking lad and they wanted him to do a photo shoot in London.

So Malcolm and I went down to London and at the shoot I met this Dupont guy who I knew from ‘back in the day,’ Peter Adcock who’d raced with Leicester Roads. We got to chatting and I told him about the plan for another team and two days later 30 grand was transferred direct to our bank account and we had the funding for our third team!”

The big year was 1987 and after riding the ASO early season races, the team had done enough to qualify as a ‘wild card’ for the greatest annual sporting event on earth.

Some say that the hard racing they put in to get to the Tour was where their Tour performances were left.

I asked Morrison if he wasn’t a bit peeved that he was stuck back in the ANC offices in the UK as the team battled it’s way around the hexagon of France?

No, not at all, I had too much to do on the media side.

And, of course we have to ask about the team ‘imploding’ during that race, with Capper leaving the race in the last week, never to be seen again, the four survivors stumbling in to Paris with nothing to show for it back in their bank accounts.

Yeah, it’s sad but true, Tony should at least have spoken to everyone about what was happening.

But the truth is that he’d gambled all on the ANC board (remember that he’d been bought out of the company) being  impressed by the team’s performance in the Tour and they would pump in more cash, or else he’d pull other sponsors in – but those things didn’t happen and he simply ran out of money.

The entry fee was £33,000 [we’ve seen it quoted elsewhere at £25,000 and £37,000, ed.] with £30,000 of that coming from Dupont who had their name on the Tour jerseys.

But even with that money, he still ran out of funds – the thing that pissed me off was the two ‘directors’ he appointed to ‘Action Sports,’ the management company which ran the team – they did nowt but made sure they got their money and there was 50K of our budget gone.”

It’s easy to say that the team’s Tour was a debacle but as Morrison points out:

Because they got a ride with ANC a lot of riders vaulted into pro careers with big squads, some did better than others; Malcolm Elliott went on to Fagor then Teka and Seur; Adrian Timmis and Joey McLoughlin signed for Z-Peugeot; Paul Watson got a ride with Hitachi.”

Mickey Morrison
Shane Sutton, boss Tony Capper, Adrian Timmis, Paul Watson and Guy Gallopin. Photo©SportivPhoto

Morrison went on to work with the British Professional Cycling Association and before he was finished with the sport brought in another big sponsor: Ambrosia, manufacturers of dessert foods such as the cyclists’ favourite, ‘creamed rice,’ – among those who rode for him were a certain Rod Ellingworth, instrumental in the construction of the Team Sky/Ineos machine and now with the difficult task of re-booting Mark Cavendish at Bahrain.

And Worlds individual and team pursuit medallist, Rob Hayles; not mention Mark McKay, who now runs the performance side of Scottish Cycling.

Does Morrison have any regrets about his time in the King of Sports?’

No, I’m one of those people who makes a decision then lives or dies by it !

We thought not, with thanks to Mickey for a highly entertaining and informative interview.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Inga Thomson – “All I wanted to do was race my bike as hard as I could”

Inga Thompson started racing as a professional cyclist in 1984 and went on to ride the Los Angeles Olympics Road race the same year, where she finished 21st. She rode two more Olympics and has ten National Championships. Add three World championship silver medals and you have a full palmarès.

Adrian Timmis – Part One; Riding Le Tour with ANC

Adrian TImmis could do it all: track, stage races, criteriums, cyclo-cross and even MTB. A talented junior with a British championship to his name, he rode the 1984 Olympics, turned pro with the most glamorous professional team Britain had ever seen, won a stage in the Midi Libere, rode Le Tour with the now legendary ANC team, landed a contract with Z-Peugeot and then...

Steve Swart – Former Tour Rider and New Zealander of the Year

The ANC trail is still fresh, after Micky Morrison, Adrian Timmis and Paul Kilbourne all spoke to VeloVeritas, we tracked down another man who was there and just about made it to Paris in that now legendary 1987 ANC Tour de France adventure: Kiwi, Steve Swart.

Ben Swift – Milan-Sanremo Runner-up; “I can’t think what else I could have done”

Team Sky’s Ben Swift seems to have been with us a long time but the fact is he’s that he’s still only 28 years old, just coming into his prime as a rider. And if any of us thought his third place in the 2014 Milan-Sanremo was a fluke we had that notion debunked when the man from Rotherham stepped up one place on the podium to second spot behind controversial winner, Arnaud Démare (F des J & France) in this year’s race – Démare having been accused of taken pace from his team car on the Cipressa climb whilst coming back from a crash.

Yanto Barker – the Man Behind the Le Col Brand

The new Bahrain McLaren team colour scheme for the team’s jerseys and bikes is hard to miss; but it was the little ‘le col’ logo that interested us. ‘Le Col’ is the clothing company founded and run by British ex-pro, Yanto Barker. We found out more about outfitting a World Tour team and the man behind the brand.

Steve Jones – Pro in Belgium in the 80’s; “You had to sell a few races to make ends meet!”

Steve Jones is one of the ‘forgotten men’ of 70’s and 80’s cycling but he was British Junior 25 Mile Time Trial Champion - a Dutch Champion too, a serial winner as an amateur on the roads of Belgium and The Netherlands, an Olympian, winner of the amateur version of the Trofeo Baracchi, a team mate of some of the sport’s biggest names and a professional for a decade. Oh yes, and he rode for Mr. Capper’s ANC team.

At Random

Copenhagen Six Day 2018 – Nights Four, Five and Six; it’s Mørkøv and De Ketele!

In a classic Six Day finale points shoot-out with the result not confirmed until the finish line, classy Home Boy Michael Mørkøv paired with the current Capo of the Six Day boards, Belgium's Kenny De Ketele to land his seventh Copenhagen Six Day at midnight on Tuesday on the wide boards of the 250 metre Ballerup track.

Tour de Yorkshire 2018 – Stage 3 Wrap Up; A wall of sound for Maximillian Walscheid

A wall of sound greeted Maximillian Walscheid as he sprinted to victory on a sizzling third stage of the Tour de Yorkshire. The crescent-shaped slopes of Scarborough’s North Bay provided a perfect natural amphitheatre for the fourth year in succession and tens of thousands of fans bathed in temperatures hotter than Palma, Paris and Tenerife to watch another dramatic finish unfurl.

The VV View: End of Year Rant; Gabriel Evans, Froome, et al.

It’s a while since we had a decent VeloVeritas rant and the year end is always a good time to take stock; in this VV View edition we compare the Six Day men of then and now, Chris Froome's data, Cycling Weekly's change from specialist to generalist magazine, disc brakes and of course, sadly, doping.

Humbie Mountain Time Trial 2010

Stuart Moran (Perth United) made it a successful trip to East Lothian for the Humbie Mountain Time Trial 2010 today, taking the win over a hard two-lap circuit by 20 seconds.

Rotterdam Six Day 2018 – Kenny and Moreno win by four laps – but why?

Forgive me if all I do these days is moan about Six Day finales. But ... As Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis booms out of the PA the scoreboard tells me Kenny De Ketele and Moreno De Pauw are FOUR laps clear in the last chase at the Rotterdam Six Day 2018. It's a real cliff hanger ...

Trinidad & Tobago – Day Nine, Back to School

Tobago is hot, real hot, damn hot - it's just the strong breeze which is preventing certain parts of me from spontaneously combusting. We're staying in Viola's at Lowland, which is the flat coastal strip between the capital of Scarborough and where we are now - Pigeon Point at the south west tip of the island.