With the sad passing of Colin Murphy last week, it’s been really nice to see the ex-players take to Twitter to pay tribute to him, players like Ryan France and Ben Burgess that had worked with him closely during the incredible days of 2003-6 as we rose through the leagues. I tweeted out a little something and I think that the key words were that we’re all in debt to him. Alongside Peter Taylor and Adam Pearson, they completely changed a culture that had been wrong for 15 years, the young ones who go to watch us now, would be most likely going to Crewe and Harrogate if it wasn’t for those men and the fantastic players who developed under them.
Anyway, I realised over the weekend that by pure chance I had a funny story about Murph, that was so outrageous I had to check it via the google machine. I now know it is indeed true, and although I might not nail every fact I thought it’s a fitting and brilliant tribute to the man, and would make you lot smile, so here goes.
I used to know Stuart Naylor, ex West Brom and Lincoln City keeper, via an ex (Stuart was married to her sister). He was keeper’s coach at Bristol City and later Bristol Rovers, and after a couple of beers he can tell a fantastic story. Anyway, one time he told me this about Colin.
Lincoln were doing really well in the old Division 3 in 1982 after they’d been promoted the year before and they were top at the start of October, despite selling their striker Tony Cunningham to Barnsley for 80k, which wasn’t exactly cheap in that era. Stuart in this time is part of a really small squad and I’m not even sure if he’s full time. He plays for the reserves and at 19 he’s developing under first team keeper David Felgate who was (as I remember) very good.
Now, Colin is non too happy about the lack of investment by the then chairman Gilbert Blades, and wants something like 25 grand to buy a forward. The purse strings are however being tightened and he’s not getting the money he wants. Murph knows that if they are to stay in the promotion chase that the fifteen man squad he has needs upgrading though and he’s determined to make his point.
They are about to play a decent Newport County team away (they have John Aldridge and Tommy Tynan) and Stuart gets a ring on the Friday telling him to be at the ground for 1pm. He presumes that David Felgate must have a knock and this is going to be his chance to get the start. However, when he walks in the changing room, there’s the number one goalkeeper and he’s clearly fine. Felgate is non too pleased and thinks Murph might be about to drop him, however it’s not even close to the truth.
Sure enough at 1.30pm. Murph strides in, and names the team that includes the 19 year old, reserve goalkeeper Stuart Naylor as centre forward. Stuart is speechless and doesn’t have a clue at what to do. Glenn Cockerill who was a very technically able player and goes up to the top leagues to play tries to help him out and encourage him a bit, without much success. Stuart says he hasn’t played on pitch since he was maybe 11 or 12. So when the teams run out, the travelling fans are as bemused as he is.
He says the next thirty minutes lasted a lifetime, as he tried and mainly failed to make a nuisance of himself in the “Target man” position. Lungs burning and legs like lead, the game is simply passing him by and the Lincoln fans are not happy campers. He kept looking to the bench hoping this experiment would end as each miss controlled pass and mistake only seemed to make things worse. Stuart was certain Murph would end the madness at half time, but at 0-0 he came in, said his piece and left and so the charade continued.
Tynan scored in the 64th minute for Newport and at 1-0 down, Nayls was now certain he’d be dragged, as Lincoln chased the game. However Colin used his only sub (those were the days!) bringing on David Beavon for Stuart Hibberd and Nayls knew he would have to finish the game. Incredibly they only lost the game 1-0 and stayed top of the league despite the loss. The fans let the team know their displeasure at the end and Nayls said he could hardly walk for a week.
Murph then popped to see the media and said with a threadbare squad and such little investment, he played who he thought was the best man for the job. The chairman quite rightly got an absolute set of pelters from the media and fan base and resigned later that season with a new board coming in. Point made by Murph and he was absolutely right, as injuries really damaged the small squad they fell off to 6th, with a bit more investment and his incredible eye for players there’s every reason to think they could have challenged for back to back promotions.
It’s almost Clough-esque behaviour from a man that I don’t think we have the likes of around in football now, and it’s a poorer place without him. Stuart like most players loved him although he thought he was crackers, he’d go on to get a big move to West Brom just a few years later.
I’m sure I speak for all City fans when I say that the loss of Murph is a sad, sad day and we should all take stock to recognise how alongside Peter Taylor he transformed the club. Rest easy Murph. Cheers.