Matt Murray… What If?

26 08 2010

Today, August 26th 2010, Wolves’ goalkeeper Matt Murray has announced his decision to retire from professional football.

In football, there are always those players that leave you wondering: What If? What if they had not had such attitude problems.. What if they had made better career choices.. Or, as in Matt Murray’s case, what if they hadn’t struggled with injuries..

For me, Matt Murray is both the best and worst example of this. The best example because it is hard to think of a single player in the history of the game who battled on for so long with such chronic injury problems – he has retired at the age of 29 despite efectively playing just 2 seasons of professional football. The worst example because, for anyone who saw him play, there isn’t really a question to answer – Matt Murray would have played for England.

Murray’s reputation as a formidable young keeper was well established even before he made his first team debut. He had major injury troubles in these formative years, suffering a cruciate knee injury on loan at Kingstonian, but was eventually able to make his debut in August 2002 at Selhurst Park in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Wimbledon. Things were to improve  quickly, however, and the season was to end in triumph for both Murray and Wolves as the club were promoted to the top flight for the first time in nearly 20 years and Murray was awarded the Young Player of the Year award.

Wolves fans understandably have fond memories of Matt Murray in that campaign. For a 21 year old goalkeeper to come into the side and be so comanding is rare. The lofted corners, free-kicks and long throws that are such regular features of football in the Championship were rendered virtually redundant up against a man with exceptional agility, height and handling skills. Even at such a young age his only real weakness was his kicking but the impact of this was lessened by his powerful throws from the back that could spark a counter-attack in a matter of seconds.

Matt Murray’s finest hour arguably came in the Play-Off final – Wolves 3-0 Sheff Utd, May 2003. Murray was voted man of the match for his efforts in saving Michael Brown’s penalty early in the 2nd half and subsequently pulling off a string of high-class saves to prevent the Blades getting back into the match. He was voted Wolves’ Young Player of the Year that season and – having established himself as the successor to Paul Robinson as England U21 keeper ahead of Chris Kirkland and Robert Green – there were high hopes that a Premiership campaign would bring full England recognition.

Sadly, Murray was to embark on a scarcely believable run of injuries. He was restricted to just 1 Premiership match and 2 appearances in total in the 2003-04 campaign after suffering a fractured foot. Wolves were relegated as even a respected keeper like Paul Jones had the fans mumbling ‘if only Matt was in goal’ throughout much of that top flight campaign. The following season was to be little better – a solitary league game and an FA cup appearance was all Murray had to show for his efforts as his foot problems continued. In 2005-06, he did managed to fight his way back to fitness, making 2 appearances on loan at Tranmere before returning to make 1 appearance for Wolves at the back end of that campaign. It seemed his troubles were finally over.

The 2006-07 season was the Second Coming of Matt Murray and not a moment too soon. Glenn Hoddle had abandoned the club in pre-season and the playing staff was reduced to a dozen as Mick McCarthy took over. A ragtag bunch of free transfer signings were assembled, many of whom now find themselves playing in League One and below… and yet incredibly the side was able to make the Play-Offs, largely thanks to the heroics of Murray in the Wolves goal. He was voted Wolves’ Player of the Year, the PFA Championship Fans’ Player of the Year and, of course, was in the Championship Team of the Year. Ray Clemence was asked about the player’s chances of a full England call-up: “We’ve had Matt Murray watched since he has come back from injury and he has done very well. The game at Birmingham was the first time I’ve seen him this season and his goalkeeping was exceptional. He played for the Under-21s two or three years ago and did well there and looked to show lots of potential. Can he challenge for England? It’s not for me to say at this moment in time but, yes, he is playing well”. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury in training before the Play-Off semi-final. As it turned out, Murray had played his last competitive game for Wolves. He had just celebrated his 26th birthday.

Murray was now on the slippery slope. His shoulder injury was followed by another cruciate knee injury to his left leg in pre-season and he missed the whole of the 2007-08 campaign. Then, in November 2008, Murray earned rave reviews in his first 2 games on loan at Hereford and hopes were high that he was finally on the comeback trail. In the third game, Murray collapsed in a heap having ruptured the patella tendon, this time in his right knee. 21 months later, following several more abortive attempts, Matt Murray had reached the end of the road and announced his retirement at just 29.

It is always a sad time when a player so young retires from the game through injury. However, Matt Murray’s retirement is more difficult to take than most simply because his talents never received the audience they deserved. The announcement today will cause barely a ripple in the sports world and this won’t just be because it was on the cards but will more likely be down to the fact that many have not even heard of the player. Martin Swain, chief football writer of the Express & Star, has been good enough to note that Murray stands alongside Mark Bosnich as the finest keeper he has seen on the West Midlands patch in 20 years of covering the region. However, Fabio Capello certainly has little reason to be aware of his existence. And yet if Murray had been able to maintain his fitness for any length of time it seems a fair bet to say he could have made a difference to England’s fortunes at this summer’s World Cup. If that has us wondering ‘what if?’ then one can only imagine how Murray himself must be feeling today.




One response

27 08 2010
chris waddle

brings a tear to the eye.

“there’s only one matt murray… one matt muuuuuurrraayy.”

hopefully they will give him a testimonial. maybe it could be against the blades to mark the play off final with few of his old mates coming back… lescott, keane.

i reckon it would fill the golden palace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s