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Colin Murphy: Football Manager/Bard

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To extemporise or not to extemporise; that is the issue we face today.
- Colin Murphy

When future generations look back upon the great literary achievements of this age, they will sing the praises of our authors and playwrights, our scriptwriters and comedians and maybe even our politicians. One profession you might not expect to feature prominently in that list, however, is that of the football manager.

But then maybe you've never encountered the unique talent of one Colin Murphy.

Murphy is what they call a 'journeyman'. An amateur player, he didn't make the grade in the professional game, but instead travelled the length and breadth of the UK, coaching and managing the smaller professional clubs, including Lincoln City1, Notts County and Southend United. He also managed the Irish club Shelbourne, taking them into Europe, as well as having a spell with the Vietnamese national side. Possibly his greatest footballing achievement was to coach the 1975 Football League champions, Derby County, but this is not altogether how he will be remembered.

Murphy's Lore

It may be hard to believe, but within every footballer there could be a Shaw, a Shelley or a Shakespeare struggling to release itself from the shackles of sport-speak, the turgid, minimalistic journalism which litters our back pages with jargon and cliché. Murphy simply wasn't content to feel 'as sick as a parrot', nor to describe the match as 'a game of two halves'. His match-day programme notes were hand-crafted in his own unique style.

Like Shakespeare, he coined his own words; what better way to describe the pitfalls of a hapless team than this?

...the trap of committing practical haplography2.

On the subject of professional standards, what great classical philosopher could match his depth of argument?

It is also a dangerous feeling to consider that where we are in the League is of acceptable standard, because standard is relevant to the standards we have set, which thereby may well indicate that we have not aspired to the standard which we set ourselves.

Which player, anxious for dressing room advice on how to unlock a tricky opposing defence, would not be reassured by this?

Of the keys on the ring at the moment, we should be selecting more correctly to unlock opposing mechanisms. However, there is not a lock that cannot be unlocked, so we shall continue to endeavour to unlock the lock, but in doing so we must not get locked out.

Could Rudyard Kipling have found a rival for describing those twin imposters of triumph and disaster?

I suppose that while accepting the pats on the back, we have to accept the hoots. However discombobulating we have been made to appear, we shall genuinely endeavour to discoidulate the cleavage.

He would always show due respect to his opponents. Consider this fine match-day programme tribute to the demeanour of Stockport County:

...Reminiscent of the eerie old haunted house that had been empty for years and was begging for life. No different to the dodo. How joyful for them not to have acrimoniated in the non-league. How delightful for them to be making a success of defeating extinction. Let us hope we are all able to be pulmonic!


So, where does it all come from? Quite simply, Murphy would drive long distances to matches, and he cites his major literary influence as none other than BBC Radio 4:

You can't help but pick up a few words. I'll think, 'Hang on - there's an analogy.' It's spontaneous. And I have always kept a dictionary in the loo to read while I am sitting there.

There were critics, of course. While managing Southend United, his club secretary described him as 'being to English what Genghis Khan was to peacemaking'. The Plain English Campaign also got in on the act, awarding him one of their anti-gobbledygook Golden Bull Awards.

Murphy was described as a man who waged guerrilla warfare on the English language. He was the Jackson Pollock of grammar; a walking, writing cult fictioner.
Sean Fitzpatrick - Shelbourne FC.

But if anything, Murphy has always been his own man:

Whilst it may therefore be argued that constant pressures, criticisms and barrages we are subject to wittingly or unwittingly manifest themselves be the development of irrational immunities and personal eccentricities, this is, however, better than listening or willing to people other than yourself or the rare, trusted competent aide. It is better than weakening to the less informed, those of devious motive or media buffoonery.

He wasn't the first, nor will he be the last footballer to intrigue us with his literary skills. Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie championed the word 'bouncebackability' in his program notes. Manchester United striker Eric Cantona once stunned the press with the enigmatic When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Legendary managers such as Brian Clough and Bill Shankly were never lost for a quotable phrase or wisecrack.

Get Well Soon

Colin Murphy is currently Development Director at Hull City, who at the time of writing are enjoying being a Premier League side for the first time in their history. Sadly, he suffered a stroke in 2007 and is recuperating. We wish him well.

You, me, we all of us have been forced to breakfast on travesty, lunch on objection and insult, dine on inflicted pressure. High tea we daren't sit still long enough to take and by supper we were still expected to have been victorious.
1Murphy took Lincoln City to Bradford City's Valley Parade ground in 1985, on the day a huge fire swept through the stand, killing 56 fans.2The word 'haplography' does actually exist. It describes the act of missing out one instance of a syllable or word when it is repeated in quick succession.

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