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Peter Murphy interview: Things move on, nobody died

Former Carlisle United defender Peter Murphy. It may take a while longer for that phrase not to jar. “I don’t really know how I feel at the minute,” said Murphy, whose release yesterday brought on some of the warmest tributes any Blues player can ever have received.

Peter Murphy photo
Peter Murphy

Related: Peter Murphy released by Carlisle United

Among seven players left to digest the news they are no longer on United’s payroll is this legend of 11 seasons, 477 appearances (the second-highest total in the club’s history) and several heroic moments, such as promotion-clinching and cup-winning goals.

Football can be a cold and clinical business. It emerges that one of the great Carlisle careers passed like hundreds of lesser ones: with a short chat and a handshake in the manager’s office.

“There were players in and out, so I didn’t really see any of the others,” Murphy said. “You have time slots. So I came in and had a chat with the gaffer. We talked about a couple of different things, obviously as the ice-breaker, then it was down to business.

“He said, ‘I’m not gonna be able to offer you a contract’. I wasn’t given any prior indication whatsoever but given my situation, with three centre-backs already signed up, and all the stuff coming out of the club about money, money, money, I was open to the possibility.

“I’m a grown man, I know that’s the way things happen – it’s football, it’s the business we’re in. I said to the gaffer, ‘Don’t worry about it’. He said, ‘No, no, I do worry about it’. He said a few nice things about me personally. That was nice to hear, even though ultimately I wasn’t getting good news. I actually felt sorry for the gaffer, because he was getting a bit upset himself. It can’t be a nice part of the job.

“It felt strange leaving, after that. Because I’ve been here so long, and loved it, it’s hard to take. It was hard seeing other people around the club, because they didn’t know what to say to me. At the moment it’s a bit fresh, so I’ll have to pop my head in to see a few people a bit later on. Today, I just wanted to get out of there, because it was a bit upsetting.

“The only other player I did see was Frank Simek. I feel for him. He’s got a baby due in July and he’s not getting offered a contract. It will be tough for him.”

Tough for them all, in different ways, but for Murphy the wrench will surely be hardest. The “sinking-in” period, as he put it, will take time. But in his first interview since he became clubless, the 32-year-old was just as keen to take any melodrama out of the situation. “Things move on. Nobody died,” he said.

The praise flowing his way from supporters will not, though, be stemmed quickly. Six other careers have just been diverted but the loss of a historic name, as Murphy is at United, dominates the immediate agenda.

The short-term, now, puts him in the same position as the many other footballers who are being discarded: onto the phone, around contacts, spreading the word, hoping for offers, only in his case stepping away from such a familiar place after all this time.

“Because I’ve lived here so long, the reality of going to another club, if I get one, will be strange,” said Murphy, who marries fiancée Lisa in June. “That’s probably when it will sink in. At the minute it just feels strange. I’ve got my stag do next weekend, which will probably be a good little getaway, I’ll see all my friends, have a drink and take my mind off it. It’s bit precarious, being out of a job. It will be a bit of a stressful time to get something sorted.

“Fortunately me and Lisa are in a position where we can go anywhere. It’s all new and strange. I’ve got my little boy Oscar, and moving him away from his family will be tough, but it’s a job I love doing and a sacrifice you have to make. Going to another club will be a new challenge. I’d be going somewhere else for what will probably be the last four or five years of my career. You just see where football takes you, what challenges it throws up.

“I’ve always believed in my own ability, but it’s a case of who’s out there, what they’re looking for. I’m fit, I’ve trained all the time, been available for pretty much all games, other than the two months this year when I had a double hernia operation. I can play in different positions and believe I can be an asset for another club, but it's whether your face fits.”

It seems apt that Murphy’s final Carlisle appearance was an important one; at Oldham, where he helped United win 2-1 and effectively secure their survival in League One. But being dropped for the following game, he said, was the time he started reading some of the writing on the wall.

In better times he scored one of United’s most important goals (the Conference play-off final winner against Stevenage at the Britannia Stadium in 2005) and one of their most enjoyable (the Wembley strike past Brentford in 2011’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final). Those feats, and the long service since his 2001 debut against Luton, have led some fans to complain that he wasn’t given a farewell, cameo outing by Abbott in Saturday’s final match of 2012/13 against Colchester, if this news was coming after all.

Murphy’s view? “If I was the manager, I don’t think I would have done that. Where would I have gone – up front, to get a clap? It’s still a business of results. I can understand the fans wanting it, and I would have liked it myself, but from a boss’s point of view, it’s not a part of the game.

“If the game was between two teams who didn’t have anything to play for, then maybe. But Colchester and Scunthorpe had everything on that game. Plus the manager is good friends with Brian Laws [the Scunthorpe manager]. It wouldn’t have been right to do that to another team in that situation.”

Is this Murphy thinking like a manager with the future in mind? A player-coach role, proposed by some supporters as he neared the end of his contract, appears never to have been on the cards. But could this extremely popular figure one day return as Carlisle’s boss himself?

“Who knows,” he said. “Football changes from week to week. I love Carlisle, love the people, love the city. The people are friendly and it’s a nice place to live, a nice place to be. I would love to come back at some point but who knows what capacity that would be?

“I would love to do the management side but I believe it’s getting harder and harder for managers, because of restrictions, budgets and stuff. You might see in the next few years more cases like Lee Johnson at Oldham, because younger managers can be the cheaper option. But that makes it a lot harder for those managers too. You might have the aspiration to be a manager but the reality is that it’s a very tough job indeed.”

At this time of doubt and fan disillusionment at Brunton Park, and Murphy’s new professional uncertainty, do the great times now come more readily to mind? The headers and volleys that thousands of people will never forget? Is nostalgia not highly tempting, as he gathers his thoughts?

“I don’t really look back – that’s probably for when I finish,” he said. “At the minute this isn’t a good time for me. I’m more looking at what’s going to happen in the future, and looking after my family.

“The seasons do pass very quickly. It’s another way of saying time flies when you’re having fun. I’ve been lucky enough to do a job I love day-in, day-out. It’s been a pleasure to work at Carlisle, with great people at the club and having the fans behind me.”

The last sentiment is especially heartfelt. Over his decade at the club Murphy claims the love of the people have helped him through not just basic professional battles, such as losing the captaincy, his place in the team and a little face when he handballed against Southampton at Wembley in 2010, but also the deeply personal trauma of the death of his girlfriend, Kelly Gourlay, in 2008.

This was touched upon in a Facebook message Murphy posted yesterday and also when we spoke. “I want to thank the fans for everything, really,” he said. “It’s not been hard to have that rapport with them, because they have been so good, always had nice things to say.

“Carlisle and Cumbria, it’s a nice area, with nice people. I’ve been through some tough times and the fans have been through that with me. We’ve also had great times together. The way they have supported the club and me personally, it’s a lovely thing, an extra bit special. I’ve also got some good friends from Carlisle that are fans. I’ve spent most of my adult life here.

“I’m not on Twitter and all that, so it’s nice to hear that people are saying nice things. It’s nice to be remembered for the good things you have done. But football moves on and life moves on.”

Indeed it does, but memories do not shift. Among the tributes yesterday one theme was uppermost: of Murphy as a professional who was worthy of that word; a man who respected the job and the shirt, put in as much as he took out, and who cared profoundly for the club he has now left. Not all who have passed through Brunton Park can make that claim.

With that in mind, at this dramatic time of upheaval and increasing hardship at Brunton Park, one more question felt necessary, and the reply both revealing and troubling. On and off the pitch, does Peter Murphy see a great deal of hope for Carlisle United, in the short-term ahead?

After a decent pause: “I don’t really want to answer that one.”

Have your say

Peter has been such a loyal player,And I am sure many fans expected him to join the coaching staff, As a way of respecting that loyalty.I am sure Peter will find another Club, He has maintained a fantastic level of fitness for a 32 year old. I am sure we have not heard the last from him, there are many clubs who would like to use his talents, And who knows he may even get back to Wembley one day.

Posted by Simon Entwistle on 3 May 2013 at 14:24

How sad to see Murphy move on, but time catches up with us all. Still we can all look back on the goal against Stevenage and those classy dribbles out of defence.
Also how sad to read people taking the opportunity to knock Greg Abbott. Look at the players we have lost to better payers over the last two to three years; hard to replace you must agree. Gregg hasn't always signed great replacements, but we have to remember the budget. One year in the doldrums doesn't make us a bad club.

Posted by Alan Sinclair on 1 May 2013 at 22:09

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