Chelsea League Cup winner Bert Murray became Brighton’s People’s Player via St Andrew’s

1-jersey-posterOn holiday in Jersey this summer my eyes were drawn to a picture on a display in St Helier’s Fort Regent entertainment complex.

“That’s Bert Murray,” I declared to my bemused wife, and, let’s face it, who would have thought Brighton & Hove Albion’s combative former Chelsea and Birmingham City winger would still be on a public display 45 years after the picture was taken?

The display featured sports stars from Jersey who had gone on to make a name for themselves – and, ironically, the picture in which Bert appeared was about Geoff Vowden (born in Barnsley but raised in Jersey), then with Aston Villa, but a player who had been a teammate during Bert’s five years at St Andrew’s.

Versatile Murray – mainly a winger but equally adept at right back – wrote himself into the Albion’s history books when he was bought from Birmingham with funds raised by fans.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Murray started his football career with Chelsea in 1958 and scored in the first leg of their 1960 FA Youth Cup Final win against Preston as part of a team which spawned many future star players, such as Peter Bonetti, Terry Venables and Bobby Tambling.

Bert made his Chelsea first team debut in 1961 and in 1963 was part of the squad that won promotion from Division 2. His form for Chelsea attracted the England selectors and in the 1964-65 season he played in six of England under 23s’ seven games, scoring on his debut.

That was on 25 November 1964 in a 5-0 romp over Romania at Coventry’s old Highfield Road ground when Alan Ball, Mick Jones, Alan Hinton and Martin Chivers also scored.

Sadly for Bert, that was the only win he experienced as an England player: in the remaining games there were four 0-0 draws and a 1-0 defeat to West Germany. Other big name players who were part of the same team included Nobby Stiles, Norman Hunter and George Armstrong

Murray’s final international was in front of 70,000 fans in Austria on 2 June 1965 when his Chelsea colleague Bonetti had taken over in goal from Gordon West and Ball, who, like Stiles would become part of the following year’s England World Cup winning team, was sent off.

At least at club level in 1965 Murray won some silverware, playing alongside Bonetti, Venables, Eddie McCreadie, Barry Bridges and John Boyle as Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea won the League Cup in April via a narrow 3-2 aggregate win over Leicester.

In the same season, Chelsea were top of Division One for nearly the whole season, and were looking good for the domestic treble but lost 2-0 to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final.

The young team started to show signs of strain and slipped to third in the league. Murray and Bridges were amongst a group of eight players who defied a curfew when the team were staying in Blackpool prior to a game against Burnley and the manager sent them home – and the team Docherty put out capitulated 6-2.

According to ‘Bluebeard’ on the following nearly-but-not-quite season – fifth in the league, beaten FA Cup semi-finalists again and Fairs Cup semi-finalists – led to Docherty breaking up the team and selling Murray, Venables, Bridges and Graham.

So, in 1966, having scored 44 goals in 183 games, Murray was transferred to Birmingham for £25,000 and Bridges went too, as Birmingham’s new wealthy owner, Clifford Coombs, splashed the cash for manager Stan Cullis.

The pair were part of the side which in successive seasons got to the semi-final of the League Cup (in 1967) and FA Cup (in 1968) only to lose on both occasions. Because these things are important in the Midlands, remembers Murray as part of the 1968 Blues side who beat rivals Villa home and away. In five years, he played 132 games scoring 22 goals.

It was the Blues former Brighton manager Freddie Goodwin who loaned him to his old club in early 1971. The loan became a permanent move thanks to £10,000 raised through innovative manager Pat Saward’s famous Buy-a-Player scheme which saw fans respond to the club’s lack of cash to bring in new players by coming up with sponsored walks and suchlike to raise the necessary money to enable Saward to bring in new faces. Thus Murray was swiftly dubbed the People’s Player.

Saward brought in Willie Irvine on loan from Preston at the same time and the pair combined well on 10 March 1971 as high-flying Fulham were beaten 3-2. In Irvine’s 2005 book with Dave Thomas, Together Again, he recalls how the pair hit it off and began a friendship that endures.

Murray was an influential right winger who made and scored goals and he became a reliable penalty taker too, notably keeping a cool head from 12 yards in the 12-game unbeaten run in 1972 which culminated in promotion as runners up behind Aston Villa.

In the famous game televised by BBC’s Match of the Day at home to Villa in April 1972, Saward moved Murray to right back to replace previously ever-present Stewart Henderson.It wasn’t completely alien to him, though, because he’d slotted into that role on occasion at Birmingham.

The photographers were busy during that tightly-fought 2-1 win against Villa and several different shots of Bert’s tussle with Villa’s talented winger Willie Anderson appeared in the newspapers and magazines following the game.

While others might have been grabbing the bulk of the goals and the headlines, Murray’s consistent performances earned him the player of the season award.

The newly-promoted side struggled badly and Saward chopped and changed the line-up, bringing in a whole host of new faces – including Bert’s old Chelsea colleague Bridges – as he tried in vain to find the right formula to keep the Albion up. But Murray was one of the few who kept his place at the higher level, mainly back in midfield. He took over the captaincy from Ian Goodwin and contributed nine goals in 39 appearances.

Although eventually the side clicked in the final third of the season, the damage had been done early on and the recovery wasn’t enough to avoid an immediate return to Division 3.

Murray appeared in the front row of the 1973-74 team line-up but his time on the south coast was drawing to a close – along with manager Saward. Murray was involved in only two games as a substitute in October and after a total of 102 games and 25 goals he moved on to Peterborough United, initially on loan and then signing permanently.

Saward, with his own days at the Goldstone numbered and, without naming any names, wrote some cryptic programme notes for the 13 October home game against Halifax. “In deciding that a player can leave a club, the manager must consider the player’s contribution to the club and decide whether he fits into his plans for the future,” he wrote.

“When a manager decides it is time for the player and club to part he is not necessarily governed solely by the ability of the player but he has to look at his squad as a whole and assess whether there are younger players with longer futures waiting their chance to come through.

“A governing factor must be that the strongest possible team should be fielded at all times and the manager must decide when other players should take over from established favourites.”

In the programme for the 24 October game with Southport – by which time Saward himself had been sacked – there was a brief paragraph under the headline ‘Bert Murray Leaves’.

At 31, Bert still had plenty of football left in him and in three years with Posh he made 123 appearances and scored another 10 goals before retiring and going into the pub trade, in Market Deeping, nine miles north of Peterborough.

Many have been the occasions Albion fans following the team for games at London Road have taken a detour to pop in to see Bert and chat over old times over a pint.

Three years ago, in the year he had his 70th birthday, The Society of Independent Brewers did an article about his 20 years running Everards pub The Bull in Market Deeping with his wife Eileen. They had also spent 17 years at two other pubs in the town, The Winning Post and The White Horse.

“Everards have been good and seem happy with what we are doing here. So if they are happy, Eileen and I plan to keep on going for a few more years yet as we really enjoy running the pub,” he said.

In September 2013, Bert returned to Stamford Bridge for a 50th anniversary reunion with the Chelsea ‘class of ‘63’ – chatting over old times over dinner with Terry Venables, John Hollins, Peter Bonetti, Barry Bridges, Ken Shellito and Bobby Tambling.

Pictures from my scrapbook and other sources show:

  • Top, Murray is pictured challenging Jersey-raised Geoff Vowden.
  • Bert is ‘wearing’ the League Cup in celebration with (from left) Barry Bridges, Eddie McCreadie and Terry Venables (image discovered on The Shed End Chelsea fans website),
  • In action for Birmingham.
  • Pictured by the Evening Argus alongside fellow loan signing Willie Irvine before Albion’s 3-2 win over Fulham in March 1971.
  • Rising above Willie Anderson in the televised top of the table clash with Aston Villa in 1972.

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