Bidvest Wits went all the way to Scotland to recruit striker Simon Murray ahead of the current campaign as they looked for new options to bolster their frontline. KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo met the jovial Scot, who describes how he ended up halfway across t
The former plumber-turned-striker reveals how he landed up in South Africa as he compares football played in Scotland to that of the PSL following his first half-season at Bidvest Wits.
An unmistakeable figure on the Sturrock Park training ground, Bidvest Wits striker Simon Murray speaks at a machine gun pace in his Dundonian accent which is, for most, really difficult to understand. Luckily, he is also a jovial fellow with a great sense of humour who is instantly identifiable with his ginger hair and tattoo, stretching from his groin all the way down his left leg to his ankles. Though he is Scottish, Murray won’t be seen popularising kilts, tartans and bagpipes, but rather proving his credentials as a striker in front of goal, with his effectiveness put to the test as he seeks to get into double figures in his debut PSL season. While Gavin Hunt was guarded in initially introducing the Scotsman, the 26-year-old didn’t shy away from showing glimpses of his predatory instincts with a return of five goals in eight starts and seven substitute appearances by mid-December. “It is getting very hot here, so maybe when we play afternoon games I might have to ask the coach to keep me on the bench for those games,” he jokes as he fires away in his distinct accent on a blistering summer’s day in Johannesburg. Murray penned a four-year deal after completing a R2.6 million move at the beginning of the season, but just how did a Dundonian end up playing his football in Johannesburg? “The agent contacted the last club I was at [Hibernian, in Scotland] and obviously Bidvest were interested,” the player explains. “For me it was an opportunity to try something different in a different league with a different style of football. I had never given my club any hint of leaving, but I then spoke to my coach [Neil Lennon] when the opportunity came up. He didn’t want me to leave, but he knew this was a nice opportunity for me to go out. “The agent [Ryan Hartslief ] had watched me playing and liked the way I played, so he felt I could do a good job in South Africa. So that is how the opportunity came about. “I had never been to Africa, let alone South Africa,” the player continues. “Basically, I thought this seemed to be a nice club, so I thought why not. So far it has worked out well.” Murray admits a negative picture had been painted in his mind about South Africa and the continent being crime-infested, corrupt and povertystricken, but says his experiences since landing in the country have been far from these damaging outlooks. “Some people think that way because that is how it is presented in the news, but having been here myself, I think it is a lot different to what people think,” he says. “It is actually a very nice place with friendly people and I have enjoyed it all so far.”
“MAYBE WHEN WE PLAY AFTERNOON GAMES I MIGHT HAVE TO ASK THE COACH TO KEEP ME ON THE BENCH.”
The fact that Murray has turned out for Montrose, Downfield, Tayport, Dundee Violet, Arbroath and Dundee United twice, Dundee FC and then Hibernian twice naturally poses the next question about his nomadic career so far. “I like travelling and taking the odd risk which I think is a good thing,” he says in his defence. “With Wits, I just looked at the club and then met [CEO] Jose Ferreira in Portugal and after he explained everything to me, I was in. He told me about their ambitions and how much they wanted to win things. I told him I wanted to win things as a player as well.” So far so good, though expecting Murray to be prolific would be throwing banana peels in his path, considering the perennial scoring problem prevalent in the PSL. While he is a striker who presses energetically and helps the team in setting the tempo from the front, that work rate doesn’t guarantee goals in this league.
"YOU DEFINITELY WANT OT GET INTO DOUBLE FIGURES AS A STRIKER EVERY SEASON."
He hasn’t clouded his mind with goal targets just yet, but is well aware that, to be taken seriously, reaching double figures should be the standard for any striker in any league in the world. “The football here is based on passing, and there are many areas which are different to the Scottish League because we are more physical and have bigger guys,” he notes. “The football here is exciting because there are plenty trophies to be won plus the league, and I feel I can score goals in this league which is good for me. My priority is to contribute to the success of the team as much as I can. I don’t like to be stressing about personal targets when the team is not doing well. Let the team do well, and then we can talk about targets. “You definitely want to get into double figures as a striker every season and then take it from there. If I end this season with five goals, I will be very disappointed because my job is to score goals. There are also other areas to contribute around the team, even though I must still score goals.” With the PSL being notorious for goal-shy forwards which led to Bernard Parker taking home the league’s top scorer gong with a paltry 10 goals five years ago, Murray gives his verdict as to what a respectable tally come May should be. “You need to get at least 15, which I think is a good target,” he says. “I just need to keep concentrating and hope to get there. Scoring goals is about getting a mixture of things right. I think getting the delivery right is one, as well as creating more chances as a team, and hopefully the goals will come thereafter.”
" PEOPLE THINK EUROPE IS ALL THAT BECUASE THEY SEE THE TOP LEAGUES ON TELEVISION, BUT NOT EVERY LEAGUE IS THE SAME ALL OVER EUROPE."
From plumbing to football
A leaking pipe watering the nearby training grounds suddenly brings up the subject of plumbing. Murray smiles, recalling his days as a plumber through his late teens after completing school. “I used to work in a plumbing family business straight after I left school at 16, and I did it for four years,” he says before quickly adding that his gloves and tools have long-since been exchanged for football boots and shin guards. “This was the time before I turned professional, but luckily I got there in the end. I can fix any plumbing issues,” he boasts. The subject then returns to football in the blink of an eye, as he discusses the relationship he has with his teammates that will hopefully lead to a frequent contribution of goals. “You need to create your own luck and grab the opportunities when they come,” he grins. “If you keep your head down and keep working, then you should be able to come good. I think we are all hungry for the same thing which is to win matches. Creating that team unit comes with games and getting to know each other at training, and I feel we are getting there. Sometimes the supply isn’t always what you want, but we are working on that every day at training so that it doesn’t happen in matches. We have been creating chances and I feel we can create a lot more, so I am sure it will all come.” Brought in to plug the hole left by Eleazar Rodgers, James Keene and Amr Gamal, Murray is well aware of the demands and expectations from Clever Boys coach Hunt. “He just wants me work hard and do what he knows I can do, which is to score goals that will help the team, as well as hold the ball up which will hopefully bring other players into the game,” he says. “I like the way he coaches because it suits me.” A perennial question posed to PSL imports, especially when arriving from Europe, is whether or not their arrival in South Africa is a step back, considering just how much locally-based players dream of moving in the opposite direction. “Not really,” Murray replies without hesitation. “People think Europe is all that because they see the top leagues on television, but not every league is the same all over Europe. Me coming here is still an opportunity, because if you do well here, you can still move on. This is life experience and I still feel I made a decision that was right for me. I have come to a nice country where they play nice football and hopefully I will take advantage of this. “I feel this is a more competitive league because more teams can win the league here unlike in Scotland, where it is either Celtic or Rangers. There are more chances to win trophies here, which is great,” he points out, before sharing his thoughts on the difference in financial reward between the Scottish and South African league. “It is probably the same, with the money similar. If you are winning things here, the rewards will obviously get better. Obviously you want to be financially well-off, but that is not everything in life. The experience is just as good. In Scotland it is mostly Celtic that pays the best, then Rangers, Hibs and Hearts, but then good luck to them. I am here now.” There is a natural sense of thrill upon the mention of his pregnant partner, who is due at the beginning of April, which makes South Africa an even more memorable destination in Murray’s expanding career. “We are expecting a baby on the first of April and he will be South African, so that will be great,” he beams.