“It's a sad day when anyone has to retire, even more so when it's a 29-year-old goalkeeper that in my opinion would have been one of the England regulars.” - Mick McCarthy
Football is a sport that produces so many nearly men, even when you neglect those who fall through the net in their teens at academy setups up and down the country. Yet the Premier League is littered with players who have not made quite as much of their potential as they could – and probably should- have done, whether it be through a lack of opportunity or application. Unfortunately for former Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray, opportunity and application were never the problem.
On 26th August 2010, during the half-time of Wolves’ Premier League derby-match with Aston Villa, Murray announced his retirement from professional football to the Molineux crowd, after an eight year struggle with injury. Revered by the Wolves faithful for his integral part in the 2002-2003 season, which saw the club achieve promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history, he topped off a fantastic break-through season with a brilliant display in the play-off final (which included a penalty save from Sheffield United’s Michael Brown). It was a sad day for the club, and Murray himself.
The first of Murray’s injuries came after playing a solitary Premier league game for Wolves in their debut Premier League season (2003-2004). Having fought his way back to fitness, following yet more setbacks, his next bout of regular football came in Wolves’ 2006-2007 Championship campaign, which saw the club qualify for the playoffs, only for Murray to break his shoulder on the eve of their semi-final clash with Midland rivals, West Bromwich Albion. This blow was particularly bitter after it had seemed he had finally put the injuries behind him and re-established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the division – something not lost on Wolves fans and those of the rest of the league as he was awarded the Wolves Player of the Year and PFA Fans Player of the Year.
The following pre-season saw Murray rupture the cruciate ligaments in his left knee and another campaign was lost. A loan spell to Hereford in November 2008 proved to be his next taste of first-team football; an impressive couple of games earned him rave reviews but he lasted only 23 minutes in the third, rupturing his patella tendon in his right knee. A year later Murray made his final appearance in a Wolves shirt, turning out for the reserves but only lasting 23 minutes before he was substituted after feeling some discomfort in his right knee.
Now an ambassador for the ‘Wolves in the Community’ scheme, after playing exactly 100 games for his boyhood club, Sport.co.uk got the chance to talk to the injury-plagued stopper...
Hi Matt, you established yourself in the Wolves side at the age of 21. As a goalkeeper that was a particularly impressive achievement.
It was brilliant; I had been here since I was 9, so I worked my way through the system and was on the cusp of the Wolves first team. I made my debut at 21, which was nice, and then to establish myself, play the whole season, get called up to the Under-21s and then to cap it all off with promotion was amazing – it was a bit of a whirlwind season! Obviously the injuries then came and stifled my career, but to play for a club likes Wolves and hold down a first-team place at a club of their stature is something that won’t ever be lost on me.
Who did you look up to when you were coming through the ranks at Molineux?
Well when I was younger it was Neville Southall, and then when I got older I used to love watching David James and Shaka Hislop. Obviously at Wolves Mike Stowell was the regular number 1 for years and years, and he was someone I really wanted to emulate if I ever got the chance to play for the first team. Then again we had loads of good pros in the dressing room; Don Goodman, Steve Bull, the late Dean Richards. You would look around the place and see all these great players that you admired and wanted to be like so it was a good place to be growing up.
It feels a bit insensitive - and obvious - to ask but being out for the season after playing just one game in the Premier League - as a youngster, what impact did it have on you mentally?
Yeah it was devastating. I hadn’t really had any serious injuries before I made it into the Wolves side and I had a good first full season in the side, keeping a goalkeeper of Michael Oakes’ ability out of the side. I knew that I would be playing on one of the biggest stages in the world and that it was an opportunity that would change my life forever. Unfortunately I was right, but for the worst reasons.
To only play the first game was bitterly disappointing; it was a poor first game and I then went away with the Under-21s and my back just did not feel right after a hernia operation. Then I came back and broke my foot and the rest is history. I was like every player – I wanted to play in the Premier League, against the best players in the world and bettering yourself. At the time I felt that I had time on my side, so I used that thought to push me through the rehabilitation process and reassure myself that I still had a lot to give, and that it was still very early in my career. I really was disappointed but it’s gone now and I can just enjoy watching Wolves in the Premier League, hopefully for a while.
In Wolves’ first season in the Premier League, both you and Joleon Lescott were out for the whole season. It’s safe to say that had you two been available for the entire campaign, Wolves would have had a much better chance of staying up.
Obviously the year before we played a big part in promotion; Joleon was awarded ‘Player of the Year’ and I got ‘Young Player of the Year’, so that says it all really. As far as my absence I wouldn’t say there was much difference between me and Michael Oakes or Paul Jones. But with regards to Joleon, you only need to look at what he has gone on to achieve to see what kind of an influence he would have been in that side. Everyone can see that he has gone on to become an established Premier League defender so it’s safe to say that he would have played an integral part in our first season if he was fit. It would have been interesting to see how things would have panned out that year.
So you’re still at Wolves.
Well I’m an ambassador for the Wolves Community Trust which is great, and they do a lot to put back into the community, which is what this club is about. I’m booked up for my coaching badges in the summer as well for goalkeeping and outfield, and then I can go on and do my UEFA A License. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to stay at the club and give something back in a coaching capacity.
So potentially management on the cards?
Yeah, never say never. I’m coming out of the game pretty young so I will have a few years of coaching experience on players around my age when they finish. At the moment it’s a long way away but it is something that I would definitely consider, but firstly I’ve got to get these badges out of the way!
There are plans in place for a Testimonial match to mark your time as a Wolves player. Any progress as to when this might take place?
Well it will happen in the International weekend in October, probably the Sunday 9th. That way it means that players involved in League 1 and 2 will be available for it.
We’re looking at options for who to play against; hopefully we’ll still be in the Premier League and it would be good to mark it with the players from the Play-Off final team from 2003 against a select XI. We’re not quite sure at the moment.
Speaking of internationals, Matt Jarvis is in the England squad. As a former Wolves player, how proud are you of his achievement?
It’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s great for Wolves; it’s only our third season in the Premier League, so it is great to see that one of our lads has already made it into the international setup. I’m still around the club a fair bit and I’ve seen a fair bit of him on the training field and he genuinely is a top lad, both on and off the field. He’s a great pro and conducts himself brilliant and has gone from strength to strength since he has come into the first team. His performances have warranted his place in the England squad and he definitely has the capabilities to build on this and feature in future squads. Perhaps this could open the door for players like Richard Stearman and Karl Henry to make the step up to the national side.
Wolves have been impressive this year, even if their results have not reflected as much. Do you feel the club has what it takes to stay-up for another year?
You’re always concerned when your club is in the bottom three – but it’s only on goal difference. Like you said, our performances have been impressive and we have shown some great fighting spirit, which is going to be needed at the business end of the season. We’ve done really well against some of the top 4 sides and have got a real monkey off our back and beaten the teams around us in the league; recently we beat Blackpool at home and have beaten Aston Villa away. Our remaining fixtures are against teams in and around us, so we need to make them count. We have the experience from last year, as well as a good squad with an excellent manager and the fans support has been unparalleled and that is exactly what you need at this stage of the season.
Last year people wrote of us and we ended up being safe with a few games to go. Hopefully it won’t go down to the last game of the season at Molineux against Blackburn, but I’ll stick back the boys. We’ve been prepared for this all year whereas some sides have looked safe and then been dragged into it. I’m confident and i believe in the boys; you can tell there is a positive atmosphere around the club and in the dressing room and players can look around the dressing room and see people that they trust to get the job done.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to Sport.co.uk, and best of luck with the coaching badges and the testimonial.
Cheers pal, thanks for the time.
Matt Murray was speaking at the Wolves Legends Experience in association with Multipower sports food. For sports nutrition tailored to your individual needs, visit www.multipoweruk.com