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Monday, 28 July 2014

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Peter Murphy: Still hopeful of finding a new Football League club

Legend for hire. Comes with 477 games’ experience, one international cap, a glittering club CV, the respect of an entire fanbase and a useful left foot. Any takers?

Peter Murphy photo
Peter Murphy warms up before facing Carlisle as a trialist for Kilmarnock

None, so far, but Peter Murphy is still hoping. After the unusual feeling of having to describe the defender as a former Carlisle player since late April, another term now jars even more: out-of-work footballer.

“It’s been going through my head all the time, what could I do if nothing comes up? I would basically be like a 16-year-old leaving school,” says Murphy, three weeks into a football season in which he has played no part.

“If it doesn’t happen, I know I’m still fit, so I would probably end up playing part-time football, then study and get a part-time job. At a time like this you throw every option into the hat.”

United’s record outfield appearance maker, who was released after 12 years with the club at the end of last season, is in the middle of the most unusual and frustrating time of his fine career.

He is training with Carlisle’s youth team in order to keep fit, until such time that his phone rings and another club makes him an offer. Murphy, 32, spent all of pre-season with Kilmarnock but the 11th-hour decision by the SPL club not to sign him has pitched him into a period of great uncertainty.

These are stark thoughts: that a professional with Murphy’s high reputation can be left so unsure of his fate at any stage along football’s ruthless journey. It seems wrong, somehow, to be asking him to describe this section of his life after so many years talking about goals and tackles, cup wins and weekly battles, all in the blue shirt.

“When I was at Kilmarnock, they told me on the Friday before the season started that they couldn’t afford to give me the contract that I’d already agreed with the chairman, earlier in the summer,” he says.

“That was a big let-down, because the new manager [Allan Johnston] knew his budget from day one. So it wasn’t ideal to be kept there for the whole of pre-season. Especially as an older pro you would like to be treated with a bit more honesty.

“But that’s the way it goes. It’s a manager’s prerogative to take his time with trialists. He has the upper hand. What I had agreed had been with the previous regime. It’s interesting that they still don’t have a centre-back – they’re playing a left-back there at the minute. They’re said if a couple of loan players don’t work out they could be giving me a ring in a month’s time. But that doesn’t help me right now.”

As a lower-league player, there is no big pile of cash for Murphy to flop back onto whilst waiting for his next move. The Dubliner does not crave sympathy from people, supporters, who would have loved a footballer’s wage for the past 12 years. It is also the case that he is only one of a giant cluster of players still seeking a new chance.

But his new predicament has still left him looking at life differently, at least for now. “It’s very, very frustrating. I haven’t been in this position before and it’s not nice when everything’s up in the air.

“It affects family and friends. Last week it was my brother’s little daughter’s christening. I couldn’t go to that because I’m waiting for a phonecall and also there is the cost of going over, taking [wife] Lisa and [son] Oscar. You go home [to Ireland], have a few drinks, eat out, and it all adds up when you’re not getting paid.

“Other things you get invited to, you can’t say yes because you don’t know where you’re going to be. Also, Lisa closed down her business because we thought we were moving to Kilmarnock. So now it’s case of being at home, and nothing happening.”

After Killie gave him the thumbs-down, Murphy came back to Carlisle. He filled the first empty Saturday of his career at the place he knows best: Brunton Park, watching his old team lose 5-1 to Leyton Orient.

It is suggested that this might have been the last place he wanted to be, so soon after his release. “Nah,” he says. “I’ve got my head around the fact I’m not there. I went to the [Coventry] game on Saturday as well. I’m a supporter, I like to see the team doing well. I know all the lads, it’s my home-town team. Oscar loves the football, loves seeing ‘Foxy’ [mascot Olga the Fox] walking around. It’s strange, I suppose, going back, but I like going to watch Carlisle. I had so many good times here.”

In other ways Murphy has not been able to leave the Blues behind. With Kilmarnock, he played against Greg Abbott’s team in a pre-season friendly. “People have asked me if that was strange – it wasn’t, not really. It wasn’t a competitive game and I’ve trained against those players for the last however many years.”

Now, he is checking in at Brunton Park most days – but only as a favour, he says. Murphy is quick to dismiss talk that the current arrangement might lead to a dramatic return to Abbott’s struggling team.

“I’ll just quash that straight away,” he says. “That’s not on the agenda at all. Carlisle have been kind enough to let me come back in and train with the kids, and Greg [Abbott] said I could use the facilities to keep ticking over.

“People can talk, but he has just been kind enough to let me come and train, and I appreciate that massively at the moment. I’m living out in Lanercost, there are no football pitches around there, and running on roads isn’t good for your body. So it helps that I can come in, train, use the gym and keep myself fit for that chance to go to another league team.”

So has there been any interest in a player who has a winning Wembley goal, two promotion-clinching strikes and any number of other top displays in his back catalogue?

“Well, this is the time you put your trust in an agent. I haven’t had an agent before now. There’s a couple of bits and pieces and he’s getting more calls now. People are ringing my agent asking about me, rather than him drumming up interest himself, which is a good thing.

“But it’s only enquiries at the minute, nothing concrete. Clubs have the transfer window to do their business in. By the end of that, I’m an out-of-contract player and I’m still available. It’s just a case of what do you do until that time? Because I’ve got a family to support, and it’s the realisation that I’m not doing the job that I love, not getting paid, where’s the money going to come from?”

Some have speculated, the longer Murphy goes clubless, that the money could even come from Celtic Nation, the aspiring ninth-tier club in Carlisle who are spending their way into the limelight.

Murphy says the Football League, not the Northern League, is where his ambition remains. But nor does he completely rule out what would be a remarkable step for both the former Gillford Park club and the man himself.

“[Steven] Skinner [the Celtic Nation chairman] rang me at the start of the summer, and said that it might not be something I look at doing now, but to keep it in mind. It’s not a possibility at the minute, but the longer things go on, you never know what could happen.

“Mick Wadsworth is a great coach and a great manager and I’m sure there are exciting times ahead for them. By all accounts it sounds good what they’re trying to achieve. A couple of my friends have played for the likes of Gillford Park and Harraby Catholic Club. It’s great to see a club like that getting the chance to turn into something hopefully big and positive.

“I’m still looking at playing at a certain level, in the [Football] League. But the longer it goes, it becomes a case of having to look after your family.”

Murphy did not wish to offer his opinions on the troubled state of United at present. Just now it is his only priority either to find a new chapter for his career, eventually, or think of an alternative path.

“It’s the summer holidays at the minute and I’m looking to get Oscar into the football down at the Neil Centre on Saturday mornings, and taking him swimming,” he says. “I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to spend plenty of time with my family, living in Carlisle.

“But Saturday mornings are strange. I was up at 7.30am the other day... usually I’d be preparing for a game. It’s a bit strange to be looking at the results and other stuff, when I’m not involved. Hopefully that doesn’t last too long.”

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