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Bobby Murdoch - A Throw-Back To A Wing Half Of The Thirties
lf a careers prospectus was made up for kids planning a career in football what would the identikit picture of the modern soccer star look like?

lf a careers prospectus was made up for kids planning a career in football what would the identikit picture of the modern soccer star look like? I expect many of the fans who fill the stadiums every week or watch their idols flit across the TV screens would give an answer with a description resembling a refugee from the chorus of ‘Hair’. If your son has not got a moustache, long hair or sideburns don’t put him into football would seem to be the message from the football fields of Britain.

It is the time in football when the world of pop and soccer have merged , when the screams of girl fans at an Ireland-England international when George Best touches the ball can rival any roars from the male section of the Belfast crowd. Fortunately Best produces his own inimitable brand of football magic, as well as fulfilling his role in his girl fans eyes of star swinger of the sixties.

But sometimes the long-haired look can help a player get his picture in the papers, even when his ability is not so high. So, if looking along a team group picture makes you itch to get your hands on a pair of barber’s scissors, relax.

Football ability alone can still count, and as witness for the defence I call Bobby Murdoch. He is the opposite of the image of today’s stars.

He is smartly dressed in well-tailored suits, he has a short styled hair-cut, with his solid bulk on the park he is almost a throw-back to a wing-half of the thirties.

And above all he can play football! He took

the Scottish Football Writers Association ‘Player of the Year’ trophy in 1969 with a runaway victory of more than half the votes, an unusually high percentage for any winner. His manager, Jock Stein, rarely given to either public praise or condemnation about his own players, sometimes forgets himself in any discussion when Murdoch’s name crops up... ‘He is the best player in Britain,’ he will say adding a look which defies any argument and with the authority of an accolade coming from Stein which most players would regard as equal to a call from Buckingham Palace. ' And it may be that Murdoch, still only 24, is standing only on the edge of football greatness. Now he is more assured, more ready to state his views on football, but always it is a professional outlook. At the official banquet after the World Cup international against West Germany -when his last-gasp equaliser had given Scotland a face-saving draw-a foreign journalist said to him: ‘Murdoch, you are one of the top ten stars in Europe.’ He smiled, thanked the journalist for his compliment and then had a lengthy discussion with him about the European football scene. But later he said to me: ‘You know, it’s nice when somebody says that to you, but I don’t see myself as one of the stars of Scotland, or for that matter Celtic.

‘That’s big Tam Gemmell, or wee Jimmy, or Yogi. I am a professional, I just want to get on with the game.’ Newspaperrnen have to listen to a lot of statements from people in football which you know are untrue even before they have finished the sentence. But I believe Murdoch.

And for someone whose views are not presented so very often in public he has some surprising and forthright opinions. ‘People said after we won the three domestic trophies, what a pity you missed the European Cup. ‘Well, so it was, the team were just as upset as the fans. But you know, I think it is impossible to have another clean sweep. ‘Everythjng is compared with 1967 when we won every trophy, but I don’t expect that will happen again in the same season.

‘I think we will win every one of the trophies again well, we’ve already done it with the domestic trophies and I believe we will do it again with the European Cup, but not all together. ‘The pressures become harder. The first year we were in the European Cup, we were the great unknowns. ‘I don’t mean that teams took it easy against us, but our style was still unknown to them. ‘Now they know all about us. Look at wee Jimmy Johnstone, he’s as famous on the continent as George Best. ‘Teams put a pack of defenders round him. We are up with Real Madrid, Benfica and Manchester United. We are ex-holders, so everyone wants to knock us out. ‘Of course, you balance that up with experience. You get used to playing with these pressures. A good team can overcome it, and I think we are a good team.’ Murdoch has forthright views on another controversial aspect of modern football . . . dirty play.

He is a player who as a teenager was robust, and in his early twenties it brought him two ordering-offs, although there was an element of bad luck about both of them. The first was against St. Mirren in a league game at Parkhead. He claims still it was a remark made to a linesman by another Celtic player, but to his own and the club’s credit they did not present it as a defence. The second ordering-off was against Dynamo Kiev in the European Cup in Russia, when Celtic’s short-lived reign ended with a firstround defeat. An over-fussy Italian referee Antonio Sbardella sent him off after having already cautioned him for throwing away the ball at freekicks. It was the blackest moment of his senior career, and although his action was an irritation which football could do without few referees would have matched the severe action of the Italian for the offence. ‘I listen sometimes to players, especially the Anglos at international get-togethers. The conversation is amazing. They are busy talking about players in the opposing teams their side had been detailed to kick out of a game. ‘I don’t believe that's football,’ he says forcibly. The influence of his manager comes through some of his talk. ‘I believe we should still try to entertain the crowd.

I don't believe in a game where there are no tackles, but i don’t accept the theory that you have to half-kill opponents.’ It was one of Jock Stein's most significant moves when he rejoined Celtic to push Murdoch back from the inside-forward position, where he tended to toil a bit, to the right-half spot. He had only played at wing-half a few times since his first-team debut as a 17 year old away back in August 1962. Murdoch was another of the apparently endless stream of bright youngsters Celtic discovered, but could not blend into a winning formation.

And he had the added impact of having been discovered by no less a person than the club chairman, Bob Kelly, himself. He served an apprenticeship with his team-mates which too often had a bitter taste about it. As they march up now to the rostrum at Hampden for their winners’ medals I imagine they must still glance down at the losers waiting below, a position where they themselves stood for so long. Murdoch was in two finals beaten by Rangers, the League Cup and the Scottish Cup, but even at that time a rival on the Ibrox side, Jim Baxter, could mark him down as a player with special promise.

The trouble with most of the Celtic babes of his era was that they were given too spectacular a time-table to become a success. When Bobby made his bow Pat Crerand, the man whose position he eventually took over, predicted . . . ‘In six months he will be a wonder player, and a Scottish international.’ The forecast did come true, but everyone was so desperate for success that every new boy was hailed as the player who would lead them to the end of the honours famine. It was after Stein moved him back that the true football style of Murdoch really flourished.

His sweeping passes out of defence - he must be one of the most accurate movers of a ball in the game - are one of the great sights of football today. But perhaps because goals are the end product of it all it is his scoring efforts which have won him most fame. The tally is 91 goals, and I once heard an opponent say almost wistfully: ‘He never scores a soft goal.’ They scream into goal. Full-blooded shots racing past the ’keeper to bullet the back of the net. Goals to be run over time and again in the play-back of one’s memories. I remember two against Wales in 1965, two against Dynamo Kiev in 1966, one against Hibs in the game after the Russian team had defeated Celtic two seasons later, one against Red Star last season, and the West German equaliser.

The one he picks out was the second goal of a 2-0 victory for Celtic against Rangers in a league game at Parkhead in 1966. ‘I got the ball in the centre of the defence, saw a gap in the Ibrox line-up and managed to hit it over all their heads and ’keeper Billy Ritchie as he came out ... I don’t think Murdoch picked it because it was against Rangers - although the feeling of jubilation in either team when they score against the other has a special tang to it... However he does not seem to share the same intense feeling which sometimes wraps itself around Celtic that every newspaperman is either an open or a secret Rangers fan. What about the problem which sometimes perturbs the terracing and press juries . . . is he putting on too much weight? Certainly he can look pretty bulky in his green-and-white hooped strip, but Murdoch himself denies he has a weight problem.

‘I have not put on much weight, and I watch what I eat,’ he says. Still, for someone who is so solidly built it’s obviously a factor which will have to be guarded as he gets older. Perhaps part of the apparent slowness last season came because he played for most of the season with the legacy of an ankle injury. He damaged his ankle ligaments playing for the Scottish League against the League of Ireland in Dublin, and when he came back it sometimes meant disguising the injury during matches. Murdoch typically dismisses it. ‘I got over it.’ But his manager told me after the season was over . . . ‘It was only in the last month of the season that he was really one hundred per cent fit. It was a great effort by him.’

Stein believes that Murdoch would be an even better player if he played only once a week, something not possible in the tightly crammed British fixture lists, because of his energy-sapping role in the very heart of the team. His standard is so high that I heard one commentator say after the international against Wales at Wrexharn . . . ‘He’ll need to watch, he’s slowing up a bit.’ Yet it was obviously completely ignoring the fact that it was Murdoch’s fourth game in a week, including the nervous tension of a Scottish Cup F inal, and was the reason for fairly quiet games by him and his opposite number in the Rangers team, John Greig, who also had played four games, in the international side. When Cesare Maldini, the assistant coach for A.C.

Milan was praising Murdoch, the Celtic boss told him: ‘Yes, and what a player in your match set-up of one game a week.’ F ortunately, despite a bid from Boca Juniors, the Argentine team, Murdoch, who is vice-captain of the club, is happy to stay in Scotland. Celtic’s success march can never be pinpointed to one player, but I imagine in a poll of opposition managers he is the one player in the Parkhead squad they would like to see sitting on the sidelines. After Dunfermline had drawn 1-1 with Slovan Bratislava in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup their manager George Farm was conducting the after match press conference... There was a slightly dismal air about it, for everyone had hoped for a first-leg lead from the match.

One journalist remarked to Farm: ‘You could have done with a Bobby Murdoch in the middle of the field.’ Farm looked at him, and then quelled him with the instant reply: ‘Yes, and so could seventeen other clubs in the First Division.’

ohn Hughes - Let Me Take You Back To 1960

From Playing for Celtic no 1

By Rodger Baillie

Submitted By Lizardking Randalstown Hoops


Posted by voc1967 on Saturday 19 October 2019 - 20:31:44 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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