The resolute rise of Glenn Murray, the underrated striker stifled by English football’s high brow

The resolute rise of Glenn Murray, the underrated striker stifled by English football’s high brow

Glenn Murray shouldn’t be anywhere near the England squad: that’s narrative of the everyday football fan on Twitter, Reddit and any other social media site you can find. However, those who disregard him couldn’t be more wrong.

Murray’s journey to the top began in 2000, when he was released by boyhood club Carlisle United at the age of 16. In the professional game, many young players are deemed surplus to requirements when their time in the academy comes to an end. Jamie Vardy and David Brooks were both released in their teens and still became Premier League stars.

However, it was the manner of Murray’s release that made it particularly damning. After spending his final few months at Carlisle filling in at left-back, the striker had been tossed out of one of the Football League’s worst performing sides. In both 1998/99 and 1999/2000, Carlisle finished 23rd in the fourth tier. Murray hadn’t just been rejected – he’d been completely discarded.

Notwithstanding his rebuff, Murray persevered. He agreed to play for Netherhall, his local side, on Saturdays, and Workington Reds Under-18s on Sundays. After reluctantly marking wingers at his hometown club, the teenager now had the chance to flourish up top. He subsequently scored lots of goals and, in time, was promoted to Workington’s first team. 

Financing his career through working as a plaster’s labourer, the striker quickly became the Unibond Premier League’s most prolific centre-forward. “I was just happy doing my thing,” Murray told BBC Sport in 2018. “I was thinking I would do as well as I could in the non-league scene and pick up a bit of extra money by playing.”

While a professional career was far from his mind, the striker soon received a big opportunity from an unlikely source. The brother of his former manager at Netherhall, James Irving, signed Murray for American side Wilmington Hammerheads. Though it wasn’t in the Football League, it was still an opportunity to play professionally in the USL; and as it manifested, it was a crucial turning point in his career.

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Murray’s performances Stateside caught the attention of Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy, who invited him for a trial at the Championship club. While he was unsuccessful in his bid to land a contact on Wearside, he received another trial shortly after – only this time, it came from the club that shattered his dreams four years beforehand.

Carlisle, now playing in the Conference under Paul Simpson, wanted to give Murray a second chance. But when his trial came to an end, Simpson was unconvinced. He told the striker to go to Barrow – a side in the division below – to prove himself. Determined to finally win a contact, Murray scored 10 goals in 10 games to leave Simpson with no choice. At long last, Glenn Murray was a Carlisle United professional.

However, the forward went on to endure a difficult 18 months with the Blues. Though Carlisle achieved back-to-back promotions, he found himself playing second fiddle to top scorer Karl Hawley. The situation got worse ahead of the 2006/07 campaign, as Neil McDonald, Simpson’s replacement, deemed him surplus to requirements. After spending years trying to earn a contact, Murray’s Carlisle career was over with just six goals to his name.

But, after leaving Brunton Park for a second time, things started to look up. Following a productive loan spell at League Two side Stockport County, Rochdale manager Steve Parkin signed the 23-year-old on a two-year deal. Murray went on to score 26 goals in 60 games at Spotland, before League One side Brighton & Hove Albion paid £300,000 for his services.

When he arrived at the Withdean, Murray picked up where he left off. After scoring 32 league goals in his first two-and-a-half years, his tally of 22 in 2010/11 helped Brighton gain promotion to the Championship. Murray, a player who was once pelted with eggs while warming up for Workington, was now adored by thousands on the south coast. However, their affinity didn’t last.

Following the 2010/11 season, Murray found himself out of contact, with clubs across England vying for his signature. After spending years plying his trade in the lower divisions, the 27-year-old striker was finally able to demand a big deal. Thus, he subsequently signed a three-year contract with one of the Championship’s biggest clubs. The problem? It was with Crystal Palace, Brighton’s rivals.

Making the transition was always going to be difficult, and the striker struggled to nail down a place in his first season at the club. However, the Englishman’s Palace career began to prosper following a trip to Manchester United in November 2011. With the League Cup quarter-final evenly poised at 1-1, manager Dougie Freeman sent on the striker.

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Eight minutes into extra-time, Palace received a free-kick just outside the 18. As one of the obvious targets in the box, this was Murray’s big moment. A decade on from playing in the Unibond Premier League, he now had a genuine chance to score a career-changing winner at Old Trafford. As Darren Ambrose whipped the ball in, Murray nodded home to send Palace through. In an instant, he became a Eagles hero.

Although the rest of 2011/12 remained a bit of a struggle, Murray got off to a flyer the following season. Hat-tricks against Cardiff and Ipswich  helped Palace reach the summit of the Championship by the beginning of December, and the target man continued to be prolific throughout the season. He scored 30 goals in 42 league games to help his side finish in the top six.

Ian Holloway, Freeman’s successor who had built a team around Murray in 2012/13, was central to his success. “The modern game is very speed based so as soon as managers see that you haven’t got that pace it can be tough,” Murray told Sky Sports in 2018. “But if you are given the opportunity with pace around you, like I had at Palace with Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie, then it works.” Holloway had found a way to get the best out of clinical striker.

Coinciding with Palace’s success, Brighton too were having a great season. Blessed with the talents of Ashley Barnes, Leonardo Ulloa and Wayne Bridge, Gustavo Poyet’s men also finished in the top six to set up a playoff semi-final clash against their south London adversaries. Once a Brighton star, Murray’s former side now stood in the way of him and a place at Wembley. 

With more than 23,000 packed into Selhurst Park for the first leg, all eyes were glued on Palace’s goal machine. After a tense hour, the game remained deadlocked at 0-0. Holloway and the rest of Palace’s faithful were praying for some Murray magic; but what they got was the complete opposite. As the forward turned to shoot, his knee gave way. The dreaded ACL had been torn – and so had Murray’s Wembley dreams.

Palace, thanks to Zaha, went on to win the playoffs. But when Murray returned from his nine-month lay-off, he found himself way down the pecking order as the club had signed Dwight Gayle, Stephen Dobbie and Marouane Chamakh. Additionally, Holloway, the manager who got the best out of him, was gone. Despite being a crucial part of Palace’s promotion campaign, it seemed he was no longer wanted.

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While Murray did end up playing some games towards the end of 2013/14, new manager Neil Warnock chose not to retain him ahead of the following season. He was sent out on loan to Reading until January, but in typical Murray fashion, he once again proved the doubters wrong. Eight goals in 18 games, including two against Brighton, had saved Reading’s season and his Premier League career.

When he returned to Selhurst Park, he duly fired Palace – now under the management of Alan Pardew – to safety with seven goals in 17 league games. More importantly, though, he had proven that he could hack it in the big league. Despite showing his worth, Murray was, once again, discarded. Irrespective of his form, he’d been flogged to newly promoted Bournemouth for just £4m.

Although he was still a Premier League player, Murray was never given a chance under Eddie Howe. He initially struggled to get ahead of first-choice striker Callum Wilson, and when Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban were both signed in January, his season was effectively over. Despite showing resilience and determination throughout his career, Murray still couldn’t catch a break in the big time. 

“It just wasn’t the right fit at Bournemouth. I wasn’t suited to their style,” Murray told The Guardian in 2017. “I think he’d [Howe] signed me as a second or third-choice option, but I want to play. Sure, I need a good supply-line. I’m never going to be one of these players who dribbles past three and bends it into the top corner from 25 yards. That’s not me.”

At 33, it looked like his Premier League dreams were over. However, there was one manager who still believed in him. Chris Hughton signed Murray for Brighton and tasked him with the job of firing them into the top flight. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what he did. His 23 league goals that campaign helped the club finish second. Once again, he was a Seagulls hero.

In yesteryears, managers lacking belief in Murray’s Premier League capabilities would have signed younger and quicker players. But Houghton decided to build his team around the centre-forward. In came Jose Izquierdo, Jürgen Locadia and Davy Pröpper to help complement Murray’s game. The Brighton manager had, quite cleverly, decided to copy Holloway’s blueprint.

Over the last 15 months, Houghton’s plan has worked perfectly. Murray’s 12 league goals in 2017/18 helped Brighton ease to safety, while this campaign, he has played a central role in all four of the club’s wins. At the age of 35, it seems that only now – thanks to Houghton and Holloway – we are rightly recognising Glenn Murray as a Premier League number nine.

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Despite this, question marks remain over Murray’s future. Has he reached his limit? Or is there still so much more to come from the man from Cumbria? If we look at history, it tells us that we’d be foolish to write-off the Brighton marksman. In 2016, 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz was selected in the Spain squad for Euro 2016, while 15 years earlier, Teddy Sheringham – then the same age – lifted his third straight Premier League title with Manchester United. 

There have also been similar occurrences in Italy. In 2002, Dario Hübner – aged the same as those aforementioned – scored 24 goals to win the Capocannoniere. Thirteen years later, 38-year-old Luca Toni – a player who had written off by most pundits – won the same award ahead of the likes of Carlos Tevez, Álvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala. 

Therefore, there is simply no evidence to suggest that Murray’s purple patch will stop anytime soon; and for that matter, there is no reason why he can’t go ahead and become an England international. When you learn about how he’s overcome constant rejection and serious injury to become a prolific top-flight forward, it’s obvious that he has the ability, resilience and determination to play at international level. 

Also, with Jamie Vardy out of the picture, what’s the alternative? The goalscoring records of his contemporaries – Danny Welbeck, Callum Wilson, Marcus Rashford and Daniel Sturridge (in recent years) – all fail to compare to Murray’s impressive CV. Perhaps the only active Englishman, who doesn’t go by the name of Harry Kane, to have an equivalent record to him is Troy Deeney, but he too is constantly dismissed. 

For those of you still not convinced, you just need to look at Olivier Giroud. The Chelsea striker, also in his 30s, is a similar type of player to Murray with a comparable record. In the summer, he – picked ahead of the more glamorous Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette – was part of France’s World Cup-winning squad; presenting how there is still a demand for this type of footballer.

Surely, irrespective of Gareth Southgate’s desire to promote youth, it’s time for him to take a leaf out of Didier Deschamps’ book and call-up Murray. If he continues in his current form, then perhaps the Three Lions boss may not have a choice; just like Simpson, the current England Under-20 manager, didn’t all those years ago. 

Looking back on his career, it seems like there’s nothing that can stop Glenn Murray. Rejection, injury, age – he’s defied all the odds to become a Premier League star at 35. Becoming an England striker may seem like a step too far for many fans and pundits, but he’s conquered bigger challenges in his career.

By Tom Blow @blowsive

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