Glenn Murray, the plasterer who turned into a Premier League poacher

By George Carden

From being forced to play left-back to spending six-months in Carolina through a career that has seen him rise from the seventh tier of English football all the way to the glamour of the Premier League – Glenn Murray has experienced it all.

Glenn Murray left Carlisle United aged 16, after 12 years of progressing through the academy ranks. He left the club disenchanted by football after being forced to play left-back for his final few months. Murray dropped down to amateur side Netherhall every Saturday and played for Workington Reds under-18s on Sundays. He soon rose to Workington Reds first team and played there for two years.

The experience of non-league football for Workington Reds was instrumental in developing Glenn Murray into the player he is today. He recounts his experience of being a young striker in his BBC article:

Defenders see a skinny young lad doing well like I was then they are going to give him a good kick. That happened a lot.”

Murray worked as a plasterer’s labourer whilst playing for Workington Reds. When they had a Tuesday night game, he would go to work at 7am, finish at 5, eat some food and get to the game just in time, often without a warm-up.

Glenn Murray’s first lucky break as a footballer came when he got the opportunity to play in Carolina for Wilmington Hammerheads. Former Everton player David Irving, who was managing the United Soccer League (USL) club at the time, was recommended a 20-year-old Murray by his brother James, who knew Murray from his time at Netherhall.

The opportunity to play on the East-Coast of the US was an opportunity he could not turn down. Wilmington Hammerheads attracted crowds of over 3,000 and gave the Englishman a taste for life as a professional footballer under the scrutiny of a larger crowd. Glenn Murray shared an apartment with a few other English players who were also at the club:

“we looked after each other, trained early in the morning before it got hot and spent our afternoons on the beach.”

The pivotal moment in the young striker’s career came in the 2004/05 season when Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland visited the US for a pre-season tour. Murray played in a combined all-star side and scored twice which prompted McCarthy to invite Murray for a trial.

He was unsuccessful, but McCarthy helped him seal a move back to the club that released him four years previously, Carlisle United. Murray guided the Cumbrian-based club to successive promotions into League Two and then League One.

Carlisle United appeared to progress a bit too quickly for the 22-year old after back-to-back promotions. However, a subsequent move to Rochdale saw him return an impressive 26 goals in 60 games in League Two between 2006 and 2008.

This prompted the biggest move of his career to date – a £300,000 move to south coast Brighton in the summer of 2007. Despite the lack of infrastructure at the League One side, the ambition was clear to see. The club played at their ‘temporary’ home for over ten years in a converted athletics stadium and trained at the local university – however, plans were in place for the development of a 30,000 all-seater stadium.

Murray was a huge success at Brighton, scoring 54 goals in 118 games for the club. 22 of those came in his final season in 2010/11 as the Albion were crowned League One champions and prepared for life in their new home.

He was surrounded in controversy that summer as Gus Poyet failed to offer him a suitable contract as Brighton prepared for life in the Championship. Instead, the Uruguayan prioritised the signing of Craig Mackail-Smith from Peterborough as Murray left on a free transfer to arch rivals Crystal Palace.

His cult status dissipated quickly as he scored the third goal for Crystal Palace as they eased past Brighton for the Seagulls’ first league defeat at the American Express Community Stadium. The striker became a cult figure at Crystal Palace and scored 30 Championship goals in the 2012/13 season to book Palace a play-off place.

Murray sustained an injury in the home leg of Crystal Palace’s play-off tie against Brighton, however, Ian Holloway’s side still made it to the final and beat Watford at Wembley to seal promotion to the Premier League.

The following years were frustrating for Glenn Murray as he struggled with injuries and consistent chances in the Premier League with Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.

Eddie Howe decided a loan move was right for Murray due to the lack of game time he received at Bournemouth despite important goals such as his winner away at Stamford Bridge to secure a surprise victory over Chelsea.

It was time for him to return to the South-coast after a five-year absence as he returned initially on loan but eventually signed permanently for Brighton. It took some time to win a portion of the Brighton fanbase over. However, Murray was as prolific as he was when he helped secure promotion to the Championship six years earlier. He scored 23 goals as Brighton finished runners-up in the Championship and prepared for their first ever Premier League season.

Since then Murray has been a crucial figure for the Albion, scoring 20 Premier League goals so far in a season and a half of top-flight football. He currently has eight goals to his name this season, level with Sergio Agüero and above the likes of Anthony Martial.

With the ever-advancing training and medical support top-level footballers receive these days, it comes no surprise that Glenn Murray is scoring for fun against some of the best teams in the country.

However, from watching the talisman week in week out, what else is it about Glenn Murray that has allowed him to progress into a Premier League success well into his thirties?

The key to playing at a top level in your thirties as a footballer is knowing your strengths and your weaknesses. Glenn Murray has never been blessed with pace but his positioning, instinctive finishing and ability to get into opposition defenders’ heads has allowed him to perform in the Premier League.

Whilst Murray is not a dirty player, he still sits top of the Premier League table for fouls committed with 50. 20 more than Crystal Palace’s James McArthur who sits in second place. His non-league roots have taught him how to use his physicality to dominate defences and hold up the ball without risking too many yellow cards. He only has two this season.

Despite this being his best season in a Brighton shirt with eight goals in 14 starts, he has recorded his lowest shots per game ratio ever for the Seagulls with only 1.2 per game. He has scored 40% of his shots this season. However, this suggests how he has adapted his game to out-muscle defenders and get in more dangerous positions even if he gets less of those opportunities per game.

His ability to slip free of his man in the box and score the clear-cut opportunities he is given has been remarkable. The best example of this is when he got free of the inexperienced Victor Lindelof and slotted over David De Gea in Brighton’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United in August.

I would use the cliché and compare him to a fine wine getting better with age, but it does not suit his gritty hard-working style. When it comes balancing your dream and putting food on the table as a part-time footballer, I imagine it gives you a burning desire to reach that top level and adapt your play-style in any means necessary. Much like Rickie Lambert, Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin – Glenn Murray will go down in folklore as someone who achieved their dream against all odds.

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