Paul Murray - Patreon
Wednesday, 3rd Feb 2021 17:07 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon
Our latest Patreon deep dive interview is with former QPR midfielder Paul Murray who talks botched moves to Liverpool, 4-4 draws at Port Vale, an odd relationship with Gerry Francis, and whether he can still fit into a duffel bag.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 16 years and publishing them free-to-view. This year, in addition for the first time, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the full interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read an abridged version for free below…
Carlisle boy who started at Carlisle, how did you get spotted?
Yeh, born and bred in Carlisle. At 12 I couldn’t get in the school team, I was an August 31st birthday and that’s an anomaly among people who become footballers because you’re so skinny and scrawny in your year at school. I had to be a bit more nasty. I only got spotted at 14 which is pretty late when you consider how young kids get picked up by academies now. I made an impression, being aggressive and working hard, as you do when you’re scrawny. I joined Carlisle and did Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was a good work ethic that got me a career in professional football.
Carlisle had some ropey teams round then, the Jimmy Glass salvation goal of course, but the team you came into won the Third Division by a street in 94/95, how was it coming into that side?
I was 17/18 and we won the title that year by something like 20 points which you don’t see very often. There were some great characters, a mixture of youth and some good seniors. We had some great youth team players – Matt Jansen, Rory Delap, Lee Peacock. Over the two years of scholarships 12 made pro and went on to have careers which is unbelievable. We were all Cumbrians, I played in a Carlisle team in one game where all ten of the outfield players were Cumbrians. It was a fantastic time, great memories of that era, coming through and playing for the hometown team.
We had a manager Mick Wadsworth who believed in youth, and I went on and played at six clubs with him. We were tough Cumbrians with a desire to work hard. Man Utd had a lot of Mancs in their team but I don’t think they ever managed ten. We had a Brummy goal and ten outfield Cumbrians in a league game which I don’t think will ever be repeated in any league. It was a basic desire to do well.
Did Rory Delap already have his throw in?
He went to the school opposite to me, there were some dos at lunchtime as you do. At school he was discus champion, so we always knew. Anything like that, javelin, discus, shot putt, he was unbelievable at it and obviously went on to be known for his throw in and his son is coming through at Man City so it’s a sporty family.
We usually hear at this point in the interview about the intimidation factor of coming into an old school, lower league dressing room as a teenager, was it different with so many of you coming through together?
It was tough, there was a steep learning curve. All the stuff you’d expect like singing a song on your first away day, but believe me the punishments were slightly different to now. I used this story on Saturday actually, our youth team played at Preston on Saturday and a lad came on for the last 20 minutes and made a mistake and was crying his eyes out afterwards. When I was a kid I came on in a game where we could have won the championship with a win, Kevin Davies at that point was another young player like myself playing up front for Chesterfield and I tried a drag back in my box, he took it off me, scored, we drew 1-1 and did I get battered in that changing room afterwards. I was crying my eyes out because the lads totally went for me. I was a bit of a cheeky chappy, it was a learning curve, but I did do it again two weeks later and gave it the ‘there you go’. Learning curves like that with experienced people, you realise there are things at stake. It didn’t cost us the championship, we could have won it that night, but you realise coming into first teams there are things at stake.
At what point did you start getting watched? Were you aware?
I was always quite confident in my ability. I used to ask who was on the scout list prior to the game. It wasn’t until a bit later that Rory and Matt Jansen started coming into the team. I was one of the first to come into the team and I knew there were people watching. The chairman was Michael Knighton who obviously nearly bought Man Utd. There was one occasion where I knew everybody was coming to watch and as I was about to come out of the tunnel Michael Knighton pulled me in the tunnel and said ‘look, if you play well today, you’ve gone, Liverpool are here to see you, the chairman and Roy Evans are in the directors’ box, you’ll make you some money and me some money’. That was literally as I was stepping out onto the pitch. I never really got nervous but I got on the pitch, had a look up, and they were both sitting there. I had the worst game imaginable. I got 4/10 in the local paper, ‘Nightmare for Murray’ the headline along with a picture of Roy Evans in the directors’ box. Two weeks later they went and signed Danny Murphy from Crewe instead. I was a disappointed in myself, I looked up and saw them and went to pieces. I was only 18. As one door closes another opens, there was interest from Newcastle, Blackburn and Kenny Dalglish, QPR were the team that came in with the money up front and that’s how that move happened.
Michael Knighton was a bit nuts wasn’t he? UFOs and stuff like that?
Yeh I could tell you some stories. I signed my new deal on £80 a week with £30 appearance, so if I played I got £110. When I was playing more regularly I went to see him for some more basic, he said ‘no problem, I’ll sort it out’. I went in to sign it, three year deal, and it was £100 basic, no appearance, so it was less. He said ‘well you wanted more basic, you’ve got more basic’.
We had a player, Scott Dobie, went to West Brom, Millwall. He’d only signed a two-year contract to begin with because they weren’t sure about him. But he did well, and went in to sign a new two year contract, but it had a two-year option on the back. So, he signed the front of the contract thinking it was a two year deal, and there was another two years on the back of the piece of paper. He ended up staying at Carlisle for three and a half years, he held him to it.
How did the QPR move come about?
They’d been sending scouts, Chris Gieler came to watch me, Ray needed a midfielder, the bid came in and I was on my way to London. I was never going to turn that down. The chairman had me on two years with an option which was peanuts, he just wanted some money. It was £300,000 up front and then add ons, the last of which was a full England cap and I nearly got there, I got a B cap. It ended up at around £750,000 I believe. I lived in Penrith which was a little town, getting the train down to London for talks with Clive Berlin, it was an adventure. When I moved down I stayed with Stellar Football, a big agency in the game, one of the owners had an apartment in New Cavendish Street. I got quite accustomed to that lifestyle, living at the top of Oxford Street, wandering around Selfridges and having a coffee. I lived there for six months. I came down from Carlisle with quite long hair, there was a barbers downstairs so I popped in there one day for a trim and afterwards she tells me it’s 35 quid. It was at that point that I went to the shaved head and I’ve kept that ever since. I wasn’t prepared to pay that. It was a great lifestyle to start with, living in central London.
I gather you were there for the Eric Cantona goal that ruined my childhood?
I had a thigh injury at the time. I’d play a game, not train. The deal happened in January, but it was initially a loan with a deal to make it permanent as soon as I was fit. I remember that game, one of my first home games. I was sitting with my wife in South Africa Road and I remember Dich scoring, deflected off Dennis Irwin. It was a crucial moment in that season. Ninety seventh minute, Cantona scored, they blew the bloody whistle as soon as they put the ball down.
As the games were going along, I watched them at Villa, I remember being at the West Ham game, it was difficult. I’d joined, I knew where I wanted to go, I wanted to play Premier League football, so it was difficult knowing the direction it was going and it was devastating when it was finally confirmed. But I was hugely confident that the nucleus of that squad would get promoted back.
You made your debut on the last day of the season at Forest when we were already down, that must have been odd?
It was a sombre day. It was tough, going to play Forest when you’re already down. I played that day with Nigel Quashie. It was nice to make my debut and get a first game in the Premier League, but knowing we were relegated and then all the talk started about new ownership and restructuring. It was nice in one sense but difficult wondering what the future might hold.
How was Ray for you?
He was amazing for me. I played with some good players at Carlisle, journeymen who’d played at a high level and were dropping down at the end of their careers, but Ray was something else. I played with Ray and he was just so calm. We played at Wycombe pre-season, beat them 4-1, Mark Hateley scored I think, but whereas I felt under pressure with the ball Ray would receive it with four men around him and just know exactly what he was going to do. I’d obviously seen him on the television, but playing with him was incredible. I knew if I was under pressure I could give the ball to him and he’d be able to deal with it, which was great for me. There was such a difference in class, always so composed on the ball, two or three passes ahead of everybody else, like Paul Scholes, and a fantastic man as well.
One of the criticisms is he was still too focused on playing rather than managing and the team suffered.
It’s hard. If you want to stay in the Premier League you need your full thought process on managing the team so there is probably some truth in that. It was what it was, we got relegated. I was completely focused on getting the team back up, I wanted to be a driving force in that.
The switch from Wilkins to Stewart Houston occurred only a few games into the following season. How was that?
It was funny, when Stewart came in and brought Bruce Rioch as his assistant, a pure role reversal from Arsenal. Everybody was devastated Ray had gone, but things change, you crack on, you get friendly with the new manager and coaching staff and they’d been brought in to achieve what we all wanted to achieve which was a promotion.
Is it true Stewart would still call Bruce ‘gaffer’?
Yeh, that did happen on one occasion. They got on alright. It must have been difficult for Bruce, he was a strong character, but he knew his place and his role. Through it all, Stewart was still the manager, I wouldn’t have said people saw Bruce as the manager. There was respect from Bruce, it could easily have gone the other way with Bruce taking over. There were always going to be slip ups like that, when Iain Dowie came in as manager at Oldham I couldn’t stop calling him Downer because that’s what we’d called him at QPR. There was no doubt Stewart was the manager.
First full season went well personally.
It did go well personally. I loved it, I was playing well. We had Trevor on the right wing, Impey on the left, a really strong team. I played with Simon Barker, there was Alan McDonald, Karl Ready, Steve Yates, and Danny Maddix who I’m still friendly with. David Bardsley was still there. Rufus Brevett. We had a strong team with Dichio up top. Spenny was fantastic, he got 22 in 26. He stole Player of the Year off me, I was runner up. That was a strong team, it underachieved.
It’s getting to grips with the shock of coming out of the Premier League, getting used to being the favourites to go back up. I think there were people like Trevor, Imps, who still wanted to play in the Premier League, and weren’t happy playing the First Division. Trevor got a knee injury as well. I couldn’t pinpoint one particular thing. It was a shame. I was gutted. Absolutely gutted. I wanted to be champions.
We’ve got to go into the Port Vale game in some detail. What went wrong in the first half?
Everything. We were so sloppy, our whole game. We deserved to be 4-0 down. They actually had a few more chances, it could have been five or six. I think Matt Brazier and Mark Graham played that day with me, Danny Maddix and Macca were playing, Rufus scooped a fifth out from behind the line that was well over and not given. These are all learning curves, I’ve managed a bit and still do in the academy at Oldham. Bruce and Stewart just said ‘look, an inferior team has scored four goals past you, you’ve had an awful half, but you can still score four against them’. Obviously you’re sitting there thinking ‘that’s a big ask for any team, whoever you’re playing against’. But we thought ‘alright then, we’ve got Trevor Sinclair, Andy Impey came off the bench, we had John Spencer, Gavin Peacock, why not?’ We went out there and they scored the og first off. The second one was Impey…
But that Impey goal is so late, 85 minutes, belief must have waned?
If you keep plugging away and keep going, the thing about football is once there’s an element of doubt in the opposition you’ve got a chance. Even now, in the Premier League, with the really good teams, even when they’re having a purple patch, there’s just sometimes a little chink of light and if you take it there’s always an opportunity. I scored the third. I couldn’t tell you what time the first goal went in, was it really that late when Andy Impey scored? I’ve seen the footage a few times and it’s brilliant seeing Andy holding the four two up to the crowd. He’s obviously believing. Then I scored and I thought ‘bloody hell’. God it was brilliant, Dich putting that header in and then John Spencer there for the tap in. That was a moment. The elation in all of us. The fans were brilliant all game and gave us the momentum.
In terms of lessons to learn, I have come back in other games, not to that extent, but it is always possible. I’d love to find footage of this but a few months later they made a sort of gameshow out of it, Imps and me went up to Birmingham and faced off against two of their players with Sid Waddell as the host. I was a bit starstruck, I’d never done anything like that, Impey was swearing away, Sid Waddell didn’t seem to care, and we went through the goals with their lads. I’d love to see the footage.
Fun bus trip back?
Oh brilliant. I think we stopped at the Spar shop for that one. You can imagine, it was brilliant to come back like that. I didn’t realise it was 85 when Impey scored. Good times.
Lot of money spent the following year, Mike Sheron a record signing, but it doesn’t work out, why not?
It was a shame for Mike Sheron, he didn’t click. We’d spent a lot of money, given him a big contract, and the idea was he would score the goals to get us promoted and it didn’t happen for him. The transition to Ray Harford didn’t go particularly well. I remember Ray’s first game was Oxford away, and then he got sacked at Oxford away the year after. It was difficult with Ray, he wasn’t on the training ground enough, he let his assistant do most of that, he didn’t have enough input for me on the training ground and things didn’t go well.
In all the period I was there, the lads were unbelievable. That era, Danny Maddix, Alan McDonald, Steve Yates, they were seriously down to earth people. It’s all changed now with the money and everything. It was a true family club back then, we’d go out around Shepherd’s Bush at Christmas. We were always out and about in the community, it’s a thing I really remember from that time at QPR, we cared about the club and what was going on around it. They were good people.
Tell me about Macca.
When I first got there I roomed with Macca. I’m lying in bed one night and smell smoke at two in the morning. I wake up with a bit of a start and it’s pitch black, all I can see is the end of the cigarette glowing in the window. I can still picture him sitting up there. I was like ‘oh my God is this what Premier League football is like?’ I remember playing at Villa, I’m on the bench, I nip into the toilets before heading out to warm up at half time, and Macca is in there having a cig at half time. I couldn’t believe it. That wouldn’t have happened at Carlisle. There was a book of rules and regs at the club that specifically said you weren’t allowed to smoke in the dressing rooms… unless the manager had given special approval – I was like, ‘oh my God there’s a line in the code of conduct that means Macca is allowed to smoke in the changing room’. That was bizarre for me coming in as a new kid. He obviously had a fantastic career.
He would tell some incredible stories, playing in Brazil for Northern Ireland and things like that, he’d had an amazing career. We did a warm up game in training where you would play tig in teams, in a square, and if you got Macca on your team you’d had it because he wasn’t catching anybody he was that slow. He used to do a little sprint and then make out like his hamstring had gone, he’d double up in pain clutching his hamstring, and one of the younger lads would always go over and make sure he was ok, find out what had happened, and he’d tig them and run off. He was brilliant. Trickster. People’s gear would go missing and it was always him.
Pre-1998 World Cup there are these weird England B internationals, against Russia at Loftus Road, and one at The Hawthorns against Chile that you and Nigel Quashie got picked for. That was massive for a First Division club.
It was a fantastic moment in my career. I’d played England U18s at Carlisle, I got in the U21s at QPR. I got my opportunity for the B team because, if you remember, Chris Sutton had refused to play for the B team, so I got a call up. I’d been a bit disappointed - I was always super competitive, I’d played a lot of the QPR games that season and Nigel hadn’t but he got in the squad first. I think I actually complained. I wasn’t upset that it was him, but I’d played all the games that season and was only on standby. I’d played four U21 games which I was really pleased with, and was then on standby. Anyway, I got called in when Chris Sutton pulled out. I was on the bench to begin with and it was absolutely brilliant, Glenn Hoddle came in beforehand and made it very clear there were places up for grabs in the squad for the summer. He said ‘there’s opportunity for you all here if you do well, places up for grabs, people potentially getting injured…’. I picked up and thought ‘bloody hell’. I came on for Ray Parlour, Frank Lampard came on after me and had to go right side of the midfield in a 4-4-2 so I couldn’t have done too badly in the centre. That was incredible, to have two QPR footballers from the Championship in that squad was fantastic for us and the club. A really proud moment.
England: Pressman; Matteo, Scimeca, Hall; Dyer (Guppy), Merson, Parlour (Murray), Quashie (Lampard), Wilcox (Carragher); Heskey, Huckerby
Some of the things Merson could do with the ball, the names involved. It was where I was at that time, I was playing well, I’d earned it. But you talk about highs and lows in football…
Yeh this was going to be my next question, literally the next game that Saturday at Norwich, you snapped your leg right in front of me…
It was hard to take, mentally. It was a particularly tasty game that one because they had Peter Grant in midfield. I was always a bit silly, I’d always go into something that was 70-30 against me thinking I could win it, that particular tackle was one I probably shouldn’t have gone in for. I ended up snapping my shin. It was a bad tackle, but it was something I shouldn’t have gone in for. That was how I was, if I’d ever thought about it I wouldn’t have done it.
That game, just before this, Keith Rowland had a nasty injury where the skin flapped back and there was like a 50p piece shaped hole in his leg with a flap of skin over the top of it. When I got taken in on a stretcher he was already in there, I said ‘I’ve broken my leg, I heard it go’. Our doctor is dealing with Keith and their doctor starts pulling my boot off without undoing the laces. I was like ‘what the hell you doing I’ve broken my bloody leg here’. He was wiggling it off. Oh my God. Eventually somebody cut it off. We went to Norwich Hospital with Keith in the same ambulance. I got on the gas and air and it was the first time I’d ever had this painkiller in an injection and I was well on my way after I’d had that. After the game the bus came to the hospital and all the lads came in to see how I was, they’d heard the news. I remember the ones that didn’t come off the bus let me say that…
Ooooh name names.
… no no, I can’t tell you that, but I remember. Anyway 95% of the lads came in to say hello and wish me all the best anyway. It was such a tough moment. Being at the pinnacle, and then hitting rock bottom. I broke it right at the end of February and because it was that stage of the season I was always going to struggle to get back that season. I couldn’t manage to get back for some games at the end of the season, so I missed the rest of the season and then had another six weeks over the summer with no football. Mentally, I really struggled with it, it was a real struggle for me. I truly believe I was depressed at that point, because of what had happened. From where I thought I was and was going to be, to that so suddenly.
I’ve got a picture in my study, we played Tottenham in pre-season the season after and it’s me against Jose Dominguez wearing massive shin pads right the way down to my ankles. I’d always played with little tiny shin pads and I remember looking at that picture after the game and thinking it showed just how far I’d gone mentally, I’d never have worn shin pads like that. It was after that game and that picture that I was able to flip my mindset, statistically you’re very unlikely to break your leg again, if you do you do, I went back to my small shin pads.
I remember playing at Norwich again, Craig Bellamy was playing for them at this point, and Bruce Rioch (now Norwich manager) asked me if I was going to be ok going out there again. He said ‘you’ll never break your leg again in the same place at the same club, but are you going to be ok?’. It shows where I was mentally. That period, through February to maybe October I was really struggling.
Gerry Francis comes in, does well initially, and then it falls away again. A club legend, how was he for you?
Gerry was a funny one with me. It was strange because I was a midfielder, and I had a good association with the fans. It was the first time in my career that I was on the bench. There was definitely something personal between Gerry and myself. The lads knew I should be playing, were asking why I wasn’t playing, it’s not like we were particularly flying. I used to warm up, the fans would sing my song, and Gerry used to hate it, so I’d constantly be warming up. I don’t think Gerry wanted me. There were rumours circulating about me leaving, West Brom and Burnley were going to take me, it felt like he used to be a midfielder and wanted to show me. January rolled round and Mick Wadsworth was up at Newcastle as assistant to Bobby Robson and QPR had agreed to let me go, I was going to Newcastle to play for Sir Bobby on loan in the Premier League. It had all been done. Gerry had me in the office after it had all been agreed and started playing it down, talking about how difficult the Premier League was and things like this. Then he says ‘I don’t know if we’ve got enough midfielders to let you go’. It was like it was personal. The club had agreed to it, they didn’t want me in the building, I wanted to go. We played at West Brom, then on the Monday Gerry said the move was off because Gavin Peacock had pulled his hamstring. Gavin told me later he never had a hamstring injury, Gerry just used it to put the mockers on it.
You’re a rare example of somebody getting on with Houston and Rioch but not with Francis.
It wasn’t a clash of egos because I never had one. I don’t know. It was a funny one. It was disappointing. What I would say about Bruce and Stewart is that I was always a personality that just wanted to get on and do it, and I worked well under so-called sergeant major managers. With Mick Wadsworth it was always straightforward ‘can you do this?’ Yes I can. ‘Ok, do it.’ If you can’t do it he’d show you how, but you had to get it right. Get it right and you’d be playing. I’ve taken that into my own management, it worked for me. Clear lines, no blurring, this is what I want you to do, do it. I liked that with Bruce and Stewart.
You’re involved, albeit only for the last four minutes, in the 6-0 home win against Palace which kept us up.
That experience wasn’t very good for me, because it was a must win game and Gerry hadn’t picked me. George Kulscar played and scored…
Funny because my next question was going to be was it fixed? When George Kulscar, bless him, scores from 30 yards questions are asked.
Steve Coppell was the Palace manager. The rumours were that there were a few phone calls behind the scenes. He gave debuts out to a few kids. That was the conversation, we need a win here, can you help us out.
Personally to not be involved in a must win game was another dig at me. I only ever gave my all for the club, I was still playing well. I’d come through that difficult period and got my mindset right. In training I was playing well, I kept asking why I wasn’t playing, and there was never a firm answer.
Your last year at QPR does sadly end in a relegation.
That pre-season I broke my foot. The club had agreed to sell me, but whoever it was that was interested hadn’t offered enough, £300,000 I think. The club wanted more money. I had a two-year option on my contract and it was decent money. They offered me a new contract, but it was one year instead of two years, and not as much money. We’d agreed my contract with a two-year option four years prior, I was quite happy to take the two year option, but they said they were struggling. What they were offering me for one year was peanuts compared to the two-year deal, so I didn’t want to sign it. We played at Brentford in pre-season and I broke my foot, a really bad break. I didn’t get it pinned, which I should have done. Came back in October, jumped up in the air in my first game, landed and broke it again. That was another eight or nine weeks, this time I did get it pinned, came back a second time, jumped in the air, landed, broke the pin. Unbelievable. I had to go and get the pin unscrewed. I think I managed six appearances that season, they got relegated, and I wasn’t able to help them. It was really disappointing. They asked me to stay at the end of the year but I didn’t want to stay on the one year deal so I went to Southampton on a free transfer.
Peter Crouch was around at this point, he tells a story on his podcast about you being chucked out of a bar on a team night out but sneaking back in a duffel bag and drinking through a straw. Case for the defence?
I did get asked to go down and do his live show but I was first team coach at Carlisle so I didn’t think it was appropriate to go down there and tell this story. There is some truth around it. You know what stories are like, he tells it well. The facts of the matter are, it was the end of the season, and a few of us were leaving - it was our last day. We did have a good Tuesday club at that point, with Wednesdays off, we had a good laugh, that’s what it was like in those days. We had a good crew and a right laugh. Anyway, end of the season, the full squad of 22 of us went down to the Irish club in Acton, some of us had been released, some were getting sold, some were staying. We were all very, very merry. Anyway, one of the players was shooting straight off afterwards and had brought his gear and his bags in. I’ve always been quite bendy, I was steaming, I said ‘I bet you I can get in that bag’. There was money flying around. Lo and behold, I got in this bag, I still don’t know how, it was some contortionist trick, but I managed to get in this bag, and they tipped it up and poked a straw through so I could continue my drink. It was a brilliant afternoon. That’s the story, I didn’t get thrown out, the guy had actually opened the club up especially for us on the afternoon.
Anyway, we’d all been drawing on each others’ faces with Sharpie markers, and me and Stu Wardley had done these pirate faces on each other with eye patches. The plan was supposed to be, later that night, meeting my missus over the other side of London for a do at Trevor Sinclair’s gaff, who was at West Ham by now. Me and Stuart Wardley, absolutely steaming, forgot all about these faces we’d drawn on each other and hopped on the tube across London in rushhour with everybody staring at us.
I hasten to add we weren’t celebrating, the club had got relegated, it was simply the lads were leaving, a good group of lads were breaking up. It was a good afternoon.
Can you still get in a duffel bag?
I probably could you know, my hamstrings are unbelievable.
Latter day Saint
I would have gone to Newcastle that summer. I went for a medical there, agreed the deal, but where I had my foot pinned there was still a gap in the fracture. There was a hole in my foot. The doctors at Newcastle said it would have to be re-broken, and then re-set. They couldn’t sign me, as I needed this operation. They were worried long term whether it would heal properly this time. I was gutted that broke down, they were Premier League. Mick Wadsworth was down at Southampton now with Stuart Gray and said come in, I signed there for a season.
The offer was always there from QPR and I would happily have stayed there, but because they wouldn’t honour the two-year option that we’d agreed four years ago, if you’re going to renege on something you agreed four years prior, and I’d given my all for the club in the interim… I did say to them make it a two year deal with less money, but it was a one year deal and that’s all you’re getting. I didn’t feel valued with what was being offered. I know the club stuck by me through injuries, but their whole idea was to sell me in pre-season. They’d wanted to sell me when I wanted to stay, play and push for promotion. It didn’t work out for either of us.
Were you sad to see the club decline as it did, or are you just focused game to game and injury recovery?
It is sad but as it’s going along, you’re a professional, so your only thought is playing your best for the club. They’re employing you, they’re paying you. I didn’t feel valued in the end, they wanted to get rid of me, there was an existing contract there, if they’d come back and offered two years on less money I’d have probably signed it, a one year deal on peanuts was a bit of a slap in the face.
My first year at QPR, it’s a good quiz question this one, I played in all four divisions in 12 months. I’d been promoted from Three to Two with Carlisle and played in both divisions, then been relegated from the Premier League to the First with QPR and played in both divisions there. Never been done before or since.
There’s a couple of Oldham games I want to talk to you about. You play against QPR in the play-off semi-final which is remembered as one of the great nights at Loftus Road. Not for you I take it?
It was difficult. The first leg I’d missed a really good chance from ten yards. The lads were giving me stick saying I’d done it on purpose. We had a really good team and so did QPR at that stage. I got brought off in the second leg after 70 minutes and then Furlong went through, got past Fitz Hall, and finished and that was it. It was a bit gutting.
It didn’t matter who I was playing against, I scored at QPR the year after and gave it a bit, pointing to my name. Look, I had a good relationship with the fans at QPR, but there’s no loyalty in football, I’m playing for another club now there’s no way I’m not going to celebrate. I see all these players now not celebrating out of respect for a former club - give over. You’re scoring a goal, which is an unbelievable achievement and great feeling, I gave it a bit of a point, remember me? That’s how it should be, not all this head down. Alan Shearer, wins the Premier League with Blackburn, unbelievable for them, goes to Newcastle and gets called Judas and booed. He won you the Premier League. That’s the way it is. I’ll never be one of those who doesn’t celebrate at a former club. Nobody’s going to come for you in the street. It must be one of the hardest things to resist celebrating.
You end up in Portugal, Beira Mar, bit random?
I had a couple of fantastic seasons at Oldham. In the January Preston, where I was living, wanted to sign me. Iain Dowie left to go to Palace and I could have gone there, or to Preston. In the end I got in the car, drove down to London and told Iain face to face that I wasn’t going to come, I was going to take a chance and go to Portugal. Palace actually ended up getting promoted to the Premier League that season but Mick Wadsworth had gone out to Portugal and said he wanted me to come. I had a club in Preston on my doorstep but I was a bit blindly loyal and said yeh I’d come. I went back to Oldham, they didn’t get the £50,000 for me but I scored seven in the last nine games and helped keep them up. I think I’ve got a job there now as academy manager on the back of that season.
I moved to Portgual with Mick just after the Euros, they had all the fantastic stadiums, infrastructure, wages were good. I had some brilliant memories, we beat Porto in Porto when they hadn’t lost at home for five years, Mourinho had just left to go to Chelsea. We beat Benfica 2-0 in the Stadium of Light and I got an assist. It was unbelievable, a full house, to play in things like that was fantastic. Sadly, in the sixteenth game, my knee crumbled. The bone in my knee literally crumbled. I thought I was finished there at 27. The surgeons in England wouldn’t even do the surgery, they said it was too risky, they wanted me to rehab for six months before they’d consider it but that was still just going to be bone crumbling against bone. In the end I went to the surgeon Mourinho had used at Porto.
I had a bone graft taken from the inside of my knee to the outside of my knee to stabilise it. It worked, fortunately. I went back to Carlisle after that, which was nice to go back. I had fantastic times at Shrewsbury and Hartlepool. I went back to Carlisle, rehabbed, got to full fitness, played four games, I scored ten years to the day since I was last there on the opening day against Doncaster and won 1-0. Four games in I had a hamstring problem, to do with the mechanics side of the knee. They’d offered me a new deal and I didn’t want to sign it. I spent the whole season out, Mick turned up at Gretna.
And Gretna, during their one year in the SPL before going bust.
An amazing time. We played at Motherwell because the ground wasn’t good enough. We used to train at Gretna, great lads, and travel up. I played 28 times. We were 1-0 up against Celtic at home into injury time and they scored two in injury time. Imagine Gretna beating them. We went into admin, I’d signed a two-year deal at Shrewsbury, fantastic League Two club. I was just keeping going, the knee was an issue. I got to the play-off final at Shrewsbury and lost to Gillingham in the last minute. To get to Wembley, play most games that season, it was really good for me in terms of mindset. Great club, absolutely loved it. The second season didn’t go so well, I got released, and Mick had gone in at Hartlepool so I went there.
I say this to players all the time, I’d gone from Shrewsbury where we were knocking on the play-offs, to Hartlepool a league above and end up playing 100-odd games in three years, I went there at 34. We were on the cusp of it for two years. It shows you what can happen, you think you’re dead and buried, but I was like a phoenix. I went to League One and hung around the play-offs for two years. I got Player of the Year there at 35.
You had a brief stint, six weeks, as manager at Hartlepool when things didn’t go so well.
It was tough. For me, I was assistant manager at Oldham and we were doing well. It came out of the blue, I only went for an interview, and they said here’s the contract. They were selling the club, there was a lot going on, but it didn’t bother me because how many people get an opportunity to manage a league club? I know managers change all the time but for me it was a proud moment to say I’ve managed a league club. You need to get results, and we had some indifferent ones. I had £150 a week budget to try and sign players on, that was the way it was. We had numerous loan players. The lad who plays for Sheff Utd, McBurnie, I was signing him from Bradford on £100 a week at 18, that’s where I was and it fell through because the chairman wouldn’t do it until the week after to save money on loans. That’s what I was dealing with, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the pressure of it. I just didn’t get enough wins, probably not enough time but they got taken over and the new owners gave it to Ronnie Moore. I loved it. It was tough, you’re on your own, but I loved it, the pressure of it. I took a bit of time out after that, I helped my mate out at Barrow for a couple of months which wasn’t for me, then I went in at Sheff Wed and did the U18s.
You’re the academy manager at Oldham now, is this you, Paul Murray academy coach, or are there first team ambitions?
Well, I went from Sheff Utd and did the U23s at Fleetwood and a lot of those players are playing league now. I helped Jon Sheridan up at Carlisle with first team coaching. I took some time out and had my knee redone. Then a phone call came in from Oldham and asked me to be academy manager. It’s an esteemed job academy manager, I’m still coaching a bit though not as much as I’d like, but I’m still leading which I enjoy doing - leading people. I’ve been in the job two years, we’ve sold a lot of talent, sold a lad at 15 to Brighton for a lot of money. I miss bits, I’ve always been that sort of character who when I fail I want to come back strong and do well, so I of course harbour that ambition to go and do well as a first team manager because I truly believe I would do well. But I’m in a good job, I’m learning a hell of a lot. Who knows in the future. I’m learning how to work upwards, deal with people, stakeholders, deal with budgets and so on. I’ve done every job in football now, first team coach, assistant, manager, academy manager, U18s manager, U23s manager. It’ll stand me in good stead. Who knows what happens in the future? I’m happy with what I’m doing.
Doesn’t EPPP make it impossible to run an academy at that level – get any half decent kid and they get pinched?
That is the difficult side of it. But that is why the Premier League give you the grant money. They’re giving you that money to produce players. The best ones, if you can keep hold of them until they get in the team, for example we had Zak (Emmerson) who was 15 went to Brighton for £220k, because he’d been involved in the first team and I made him an offer for a pro deal when he turned 16 that’s when you can change the boundaries. If you’ve put five years into someone, you know they’re going to be first team and a top player, and you only get £100k for them, that’s difficult. But you have to understand the Premier League fund the academies, a good chunk of money comes from them.
Who was your favourite manager?
It has to be Mick. The first few times I played for Carlisle I played both full backs. I learned how to defend. In the latter stage of my career when I went to defensive midfield I knew the defensive side of the game, because at the start I’d played half a dozen games right back, half a dozen games left back and that was me. I learned to defend one v one. He was very knowledgeable at the time. In my career it’s simply been a case of the phone would go, it’s Mick, can you come and do this, yes that’s fine. He knew what I could deliver, I knew what he would ask. Dowie was good as well.
Yes, tell me, he came to QPR won eight of 15 games and got sacked.
Happiest QPR memory?
That era when we had Maddix, Rufus, they were great people. Really good people. Down there in Shepherd’s Bush, walking through the high-rise buildings, we had a real community club there. We integrated with the fans. When you go there now and it’s all the W12 Club and flash. I used to know all the stewards down there, nowadays they don’t even say hello. Back then you got to know everybody, they knew you were just a down to earth lad, it didn’t matter you were a footballer. I speak to Danny Maddix now, just a good human being. We had a lot like that, Stu Wardley, Crouchy was a great lad. They all had time for other people.
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
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