February 01, 2013

Murray's Mint


POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM on Paul Murray


Even though he'd been out of the first team picture for a while, I was shocked to hear that last season's Player Of The Year Paul Murray had left the club by mutual consent. Various theories abound as to how mutual the arrangement was and how this had come about, but it was definitely bad news.

When Mick Wadsworth signed Murray in the summer of 2010, he had been released by Shrewsbury, who were then still in League Two. Many Poolies questioned the decision to sign him, but he soon proved to be one of the best signings we've made in recent times. Despite not being the fastest, his reading of the game was second to none, and he provided sterling service in front of the back four in just shy of a hundred appearances for Pools.

He was never the sort of player to bomb forward and beat men for fun, but he did prevent the opposition doing so time and again. He seemed particularly suited to Wadsworth's style of play, especially away from home - keeping it tight, not letting the other side settle on the ball, and competing hard for everything. Despite being in his mid-thirties, he still completed an impressive amount of time on the pitch, and his presence was in many cases immediately missed in many of the games in which he was substituted.

"owway Paul man, we'll get battered unless you play", "but we've got nowt in midfield", "come on Paul, just the first half, eh?"My mate Andy Ramalamadingdong has quite a fertile imagination, and during lulls in games, often comes out with some great observations, particularly when it comes to picturing players in different situations. According to him, there's something about Andy Monkhouse's long limbs and gait which would make him an ideal Dickensian villain - all top hat and long coat tails, mooching about in the fog doing something dastardly like selling stolen goods or pimping.

The best one he's come out with so far is his construction of Murray as one of those blokes who doesn't really want to play footy any more, but is cajoled into it on a regular basis. I know exactly the type of bloke he is on about, having spent many hours on the Rec and Grayfields watching the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning pub league fixtures. The sort of teams where half the squad are still pissed up from the night before, and the other half haven't made it out of bed.

About five minutes before kick-off you'd observe a bloke purposefully strolling along carrying Asda bags containing shopping for his mam who can't get out to the shops very easily since her operation. Often he'd have a kid or two in tow, who were obedient to his word. One of the players from the side where 9 of them had managed to turn up would spot our hero, and shout him over. "Ow, Paul, get a strip on mate, we're short."

Paul would reply that he'd love to, but he'd promised his brother-in-law that he would swap his Orion's gearbox over. Despite this protest, the rest of the squad would join in: "owway Paul man, we'll get battered unless you play", "but we've got nowt in midfield", "come on Paul, just the first half, eh?"

Paul would then give a long sigh, put the bags of shopping down, tell the kids not to eat any of the Breakaways or Trios, then strip off and put on a spare shirt which would be either far too tight or ridiculously big. Either way, the shorts would always be voluminous, and torn up the seam on one side. Lack of shinpads wouldn't bother him, and chances are he'd have to play in his trainers rather than boots. Once suitably attired, he would spark up a Benson to get his lungs going, quickly sucking the life out of it and flicking the tab-end off the pitch just as the ref blew for kick-off.

After a few minutes it would be obvious why Paul had been persuaded into playing. Everything seemed to flow through him, turning defence into attack with a well-timed tackle followed by a swift pass, he was always on the spot where a loose ball dropped, won every header he challenged for, and kept everything really simple. Rarely venturing into the opposition half, he would offer strong words of encouragement to his hapless team-mates, keep them in the right position, and making sure their heads didn't drop when they inevitably conceded.

Two more Bensons at half time would keep the lungs going, and towards the end of the match he would show no signs of fatigue. A grafter with a proper engine. Invariably he would be on the losing side, but he would be able to hold his head up high, winning the admiration of the other team as well as his own.

He would quickly change into his civvies after the final whistle, pick up the bags of shopping, summon the kids, and he'd be off to deliver the shopping before heading round to his sister's house to sort out the gearbox on her husband's Orion.

I can't think of many Poolies who won't wish him all the best with Oldham, whom he's now signed for until the end of the season, and rest assured he will be remembered for many years as a truly quality player.