Shaun Murray, the unexpected

Some players are predicted to do better than others. Whether it be the club they came from, the price tag they carried, the league position City finished in last season, or even their mere physical presence – the simple fact is that the weight of expectation lays heavier on the shoulders of some players than others.

When Shaun Murray, who could generously be described as “diminutive” signed for an undisclosed (read: pennies) fee from Scarborough in the pre-season of 1994/95 (after the 6,000 or so that regularly turned up to VP had witnessed a finish three points outside the play-offs in the Third Division the previous term), it is fair to say that he was not viewed as a key signing.

Oh, expectation.

True, the maiden season for Murray was not a good one for the side: Lennie Lawrence steered the club to a mid-table finish, and left by November of 95/96. And, yes, some would cite his unwillingness to shoot and, true, it could be said that he’d have added to his tally of goals had he attempted to do more than pass it into the net once he’d reached the target. But, man, the route he took in reaching that target.

Murray possessed a relentlessness rarely seen before or since at VP when it came to getting the ball into the box. The only difference between his brand of route one and the route one of The Doc was that with Murray, the ball was stuck to his feet – and that’s not to say he was a greedy player: far from it. Murray wouldn’t stick to the wing and run, like, say, Daley. He would be in the middle, at full-back, seemingly devoid of the concept of energy conservation. Every passing triangle there was, Murray formed part of it.

You can imagine the opposition right-back turning up and stifling a snigger as they saw the tiny wee Geordie standing opposite them. By the end of the match, that smirk was well and truly wiped off their faces, as Murray would meander past them with guile and trickery that belied everything he should have been like.

After the 1994/95 season, and being the player of the season by quite some shout (at least in my own personal recollection of events), and the club pushing closer and closer (before making good on the threat) of making the play-offs, new manager Chris Kamara seemed to stop looking at what the player was like, and started to look at what he thought the player should be like. By Wembley in 1996, Murray was not in the team. He was not even on the bench.

In the season afterwards, we had the fun of Chris Waddle and that goal against Everton in the cup. We also had a very close scrape with relegation that was very much staring us in the face as the inevitable, not a mere threat. When Waddle left, the fans were crestfallen – the talisman had gone, and we were going to get relegated. Only João Pinto’s brother could save us now – except that the man from Portugal was finding that Bradford in March was not quite as alluring as his native Porto and, out of options, Murray found himself back in the side. Again, there was no expectation. We were going down, already – what would it matter that we played a bit-part player, most of the time playing on his wrong side?

Again, expectations were wrong.

In the end, City did stay up (on the final day), and Murray excelled in making the unthinkable achievable, again by bucking the trend of expectation. He had another season with City before the class of 1999 who took City up to the Premiership, but, make no bones about it, without Shaun Murray, Bradford City would not have been a Premiership club.

And who could have ever expected that?

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