Murray: The differences I see…
“It felt like it would be a nice opportunity.”
He has a heavy Scottish accent and has left opposition defenders with even heavier hearts in only a couple of months in South Africa – ladies and gentleman, Simon Murray is in town, and boy, does he mean business. Mzansi, or even Africa for that matter, is not a popular destination for players from Scotland, and you wouldn’t have betted on Bidvest Wits signing a player from that part of the world so soon, after things did not go well with Keaghan Jacobs, who seemed to struggle to acclimatise. Yet what matters now is that Murray is in Gavin Hunt’s roster and repaying the coach for drafting him into his starting XI almost immediately. Soccer Laduma’s Celine Abrahams had a chat with the 25-yearold striker to find out what makes him a cut above his peers.
Celine Abrahams: Simon, Bidvest Wits have earned a place in the Telkom Knockout semi-finals after beating Maritzburg United 2-1 last Saturday.
Simon Murray: Ah, obviously this is good for us. It was a tough game and we managed to walk away with a win at the end of the day. Now our focus is on the next one and we know that we have to make that one worthwhile against Baroka FC in a few weeks’ time. It is going to be an interesting one and we look forward to it.
CA: Bakgaga knocked out the mighty Mamelodi Sundowns to live up to their giant-slaying status. Won’t be an easy game for you…
SM: We know that it’s not going to be an easy one for us. It is going to be a tough game. They are looking to get a good result against us and they will be high on confidence, but we are going to play our normal game, plan for them and hopefully we get it right on the day.
CA: After 11 games in all competitions under your belt at Bidvest Wits, you’ve scored four goals. Quite impressive, lad!
SM: Ja, well, it has been good so far, you know. There were adjustments that I had to make, but it has been quite a smooth period for me. Obviously, coming in to a different country, a different league, it was going to take a lot for me to get used to, but I must say that I was happy to find people who were willing to help me settle in as fast as possible, you see? The club, the players and especially the backroom staff have really helped me and they all got me started. So, yeah, I am happy. South Africa has been good to me so far – it’s a really nice place to be in and there is a nice lifestyle here. Everyone has really made me comfortable.
CA: Before your move to Mzansi, you’d actually never played outside of Scotland. Why the sudden change?
SM: Err, just a different challenge, I suppose, yeah. It’s a different style of football here, a different mentality and requirements. I guess I was just looking for that different challenge and to see my career take a different route. It’s always nice to challenge yourself somewhere else and get out of your comfort zone a bit, yeah. All I can say is that it was just a different challenge that I was looking for, I suppose.
CA: You have bucked the trend of Scottish players preferring to go to England…
SM: An agent got in contact with me and explained that there was interest from a South African team and they wanted to sign me, so I was looking forward to it. I came here and met with the club. We spoke and it felt right at the time and it felt like it would be a nice opportunity to come and play in a different league, so that was it basically. I managed to get here and it has been wonderful so far.
CA: Apparently, you did not know much about the South African league before your arrival!
SM: (Laughs) How did you find out about that? That is true. But I did a bit of research before I landed here just so I could be familiar with how things were this side. I made sure to look at the teams and, as I said to the media before about knowing the two big teams Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, that was about it, ha, ha, ha. I guess it was all part of my journey to
learning about a new country and getting a new challenge. I didn’t know too much, but I’m sure I’ll get there soon. The first month that I was here, I had to learn a lot not only about the team that I was playing for, but also about the teams I was going to face. It took a lot of learning and working out how I was going to take on the challenges that were going to come my way. But, as I said, when I got here, everyone made it easier for me. The guys have been great and have helped me adjust, and the coach (Gavin Hunt) has been incredible and banging me into place. It’s good to have such support around me.
CA: One may be tempted to ask, coming to these shores, scoring goals and adapting in such a short space of time… what picture does that paint about the level of the local game? SM: Err, I really don’t think it paints anything bad, you know. I feel that different players adapt differently. Some local players might find themselves in a comfort zone and so they might not be giving more of themselves. But I think the league is very competitive and, for me, it has been a process of learning and trying to find my way through. Honestly, it might look like it is easier for us coming here and being able to score and do well, but it’s not that easy. It takes a lot of hard work and determination. Like, I really never had a pre-season with the guys; I had done my pre-season with my old club. When I came into the team, I think it was the last week of pre-season, so I never had that chance to be there with the guys. I think this was also the reason why the coach decided to ease me into the games when the league started. Then, once I trained for about a month, my time came.
CA: It must have been hard. SM: I would say it is a bit of a 50-50 when you look at it because, yes, it’s good for the rest of the team to get that chance to be together and plan for the season ahead, but on the other side, for a completely new player it could be more of a challenge. I need to learn about them, the style of the team and they also need to learn about me, about my movements. So it does put a lot of pressure on that new player to catch up with the rest of the team. That’s what really takes a bit of time to get used to and that was where I had to come in and learn from everyone as quickly as possible because I was gunning to play and the league was just about to start.
CA: Which meant that you didn’t have much time left to get yourself into the thick of things!
SM: That is very true and, when the league did start, I saw something that was fairly different from what I was used to. There was more passing in the game as compared to back home where the guys are more hard and physical. Here I see that those small touches get you into a bit of trouble, yeah. For me, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how different things were, but it’s football and it’s a universal language, to be honest. You just have to get used to a few things and adapt as fast as you can. I think what made it easier for me was that I was willing to learn and accept as much as I could from the guys around me, who were there to assist. I brought in my own style but I also made sure that I did what was required from me. I had to find a balance between the two to make life easier for me and for the team. It took a lot of planning and hard work. I am happy with the way that football is played here.
CA: Gavin mentioned after your performance against Cape Town City, where you scored a brace, that he enjoyed your old-school striker style and that he has been able to handle you in the right way. What exactly did he mean?
SM: I guess that he was just talking about the way he has been able to guide me and help me adapt to everything here. In that game against City we had a plan, which was to exploit them because we saw the way they played – they like to go forward a lot, which left a few spaces in their defence and that gave me the chance to get right in there. That was a good game for me and it really gave me a confidence boost.
CA: He also joked that sometimes he doesn’t understand you because of your Scottish accent…
SM: Ha, ha, ha, ah, well, at least we have a football understanding! We have been working well together and things are getting better day by day. I have been learning a lot from the coach and he is a hard man, but he knows exactly what he is doing. He is one that knows how to manage his players and what he needs to do to bring out the best in them. He is one of those coaches that are hard on their players, but genuinely a really nice guy. At the end of the day, that’s how any good coach in the world is. It’s not a personal thing when they are hard on you; it’s because they can see your potential and what you can offer the team.
CA: Simon, thank you very much for your time.
SM: Thank you, I appreciate it.