Glenn Murray a decade on

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It’s mad to think when Brighton and Hove Albion are splashing £14m on a player that as recently as 10 years ago, £300,000 seemed a huge amount to be spending on a striker from Rochdale.

That striker was 24-year-old Glenn Murray, a man who had netted 39 goals in 97 games in what had been a pretty nomadic career across the north of England, taking in Barrow, Carlisle United, Stockport County and Rochdale.

At the time, the fee paid made Murray one of the most expensive players in Albion history. Only in our top flight days of the 1980s had we spent more on the likes of Andy Ritchie, Jimmy Case and Gordon Smith.

It was remarkable given that we seemingly didn’t have a pot to piss in back then. The Albion squad at the time was an assortment of loan signings from Ipswich Town, youth team products, free transfers, Alex Revell and one player who actually cost more than a bag of magic beans, Nicky Forster. Little did we know at the time that there was a bloke behind Dick Knight in the background called Tony Bloom, willing to start funding signings such as Murray.

Murray had been on the Albion’s radar for a while before he arrived at Withdean. On the day he signed, posing with Dick Knight while signing a contract in a ridiculously oversized Albion shirt, Knight said, “We fixed our sights on Glenn a year ago and Barry Lloyd and our scouts have watched him regularly since.”

“Along with Steve Thomson (Steve Thomson!!!!!!!!), Glenn is of the quality we are determined to bring in. We have secured the services of an exciting young player with tremendous potential. This signing underlines the ambition of the Board for the Albion to get back to Championship as soon as possible.” Of course, that ambition saw the board sack Dean Wilkins for finishing seventh at the end of the season and reappoint Micky Adams, who they then had to sack nine months later with the club 20th

At the start of January 2008’s transfer window, Knight had made an extremely rash promise live on air on the BBC Southern Counties Radio Fans Phone In. We’d just lost 2-1 at home to a Mansfield side bottom of the entire Football League in the third round of the FA Cup and two of that seasons best performers had left the club, George O’Callaghan (George O’Callaghan!!!!!!!) not having hisloan not renewed and Bas Savage (Bas Savage!!!!!!!!!) seeing his contract run out.

In a parting shot at the Albion chairman, O’Callaghan was hugely critical of Knight, not only for his departure from the club, but for the fact that captain Dean Hammond’s contract had been allowed to run down to its final six months as well with players not knowing whether they were coming or going. Hammond was sold to Colchester United a few weeks later.

As a result of all this acrimony, after one disgruntled caller had aired his views, Knight guaranteed that he would sign five new players in the transfer window.

That led to some understandable concerns about whether each of these new arrivals were being signed to improve Wilkins’ squad or merely to try and keep Knight’s promise. The five players ended up being Murray, Thomson, Jonny Dixon, Matt Richards for a second loan spell and Shane McFaul. McFaul was signed just as the window shut and was clearly just there to make the numbers up.

Murray was clearly the best of these by not just a country mile, but a thousand country miles. But it would be rewriting history to suggest he was universally popular in his first spell at the club. He was nicknamed “The League One Berbatov” after Manchester United’s mercurial Bulgarian striker, a player supremely talented but who didn’t really put the effort in on the pitch as he felt he didn’t need to.

Elements of the Withdean crowd just never warmed to him as a result. There was the home game with The Leeds United when he was berated for not chasing back Fabian Delph when the midfielder ran from his own box to score one of the great goals seen as the Theatre of Trees, despite the fact Murray was playing through the pain barrier with a hernia at the time. Some fans wanted Capital Punishment reintroduced just for Murray after he had the nerve to not clap the away fans after a game at Brentford the following season.

Niggly little injuries didn’t help his cause either as over the course of the 2008-09 season and the 2009-10 season, he missed over a third of the Albion’s games, managing 65 appearances which bought 26 goals.

At the start of 2010-11, the constant talk was about how Gus Poyet needed to bring in a 30 goal striker if we were to have any chance of getting promoted from League One. Turned out he didn’t as Murray had the best season of his first spell at the club, netting 22 times in 50 games to fire the Albion to the title in one of the most enjoyable seasons we’ve ever had.

That belatedly earned the love of the Withdean crowd but not of Poyet, who decided that Murray wasn’t worth a couple of hundred extra quid a week. Despite the constant rumours that Murray was unhappy living in the south of England, he didn’t want to leave the area and with Brighton deeming him not value for money, that meant signing on a free transfer for, gulp, Crystal Palace.

Poyet’s inability to see how good Murray was is arguably the most costly mistake in Albion history. On the pitch, Murray fired Palace to promotion with 30 goals in his second season at Selhurst Park. Had we have kept him instead of spending the next six years dicking around trying to replace him with the likes of Billy Paynter, Sam Vokes, Leroy Lita, Jonathan Obika, David Rodriguez, Chris O’Grady, Adrian Colunga and Leon Best, we could have made the Premier League much sooner than 2017.

Off the pitch, we paid 10 times as much as Murray cost from Rochdale to initially replace him with Craig Mackail-Smith. It then cost a further 10 times his initial fee to re-sign him from AFC Bournemouth for £3m last January.

When Murray returned on loan from the Cherries in the summer of 2016, there were plenty of doubters still questioning why we were bringing him back, largely because of his spell with Palace. That was despite the fact that we were one goal short of automatic promotion the previous year. Even Stevie Wonder could see Murray would help us score more goals and collect more points to give us a better shot at promotion.

And so it proved as he hit 23 goals in 2016-17. He is on course this season to become Brighton’s highest ever scorer in a single top flight season and is now just 10 goals away from a century for the Albion having recently passed a certain Bobby Zamora in the all time list. Tommy Cook’s record stands at 123 and Murray doesn’t seem the type of player who is going to be too badly inhibited by age. Could he break it? If he hadn’t have spent five years away from the Albion, he surely would have done.

It’s taken a long time, but 10 years after his arrival at the Albion, Murray is finally getting the love and acclaim he deserves and he will rightly go down as one of the greatest goalscorers to pull on a Brighton shirt. For all the talk of new strikers, Murray is the man currently firing the Albion to safety and if he can do that while moving closer to Cook’s record, then he will have every right to be mentioned in the same breath as the best players to play for the club.

If you aren’t already walking in a Murray wonderland, then you bloody well should be.

(If you are like us and enjoy finding out what Albion players who were shit are up to these days, then you’ll probably be wondering what happened to the other members of Dick Knight’s January Five. Thomson left after one year for St Mirren and was last heard of playing for Dover; Richards is still playing but has transformed from a fully haired left back to a shiny bonced midfielder; McFaul went back to Ireland where he played for a further six clubs and Dixon retired from football to become a television and music producer while also dating Holly Valance. Lucky bastard.)

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