Si­mon Mur­ray

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

Kick Off - - Inside -

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.”

Stu­dents’ am­bi­tion

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.

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