BRIGHTON — Sipping on a cup of tea as he strolls around the Brighton & Hove Albion museum at the Amex Stadium on a hazy afternoon in southern England, Glenn Murray is taking a trip down memory lane.
He and Brighton have been through a heck of a lot. Most of it together.
The 35-year-old English striker didn’t play in the Premier League until he hit 30, spending most of his career in the lower leagues of England and North America, sniffing out goals and bullying defenses wherever he went. The long and winding road has led him from the far north of England to the far south, as he now has 107 goals for Brighton and is the second-highest goalscorer in club history.
Ahead of Brighton’s clash with Southampton this Saturday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com), Murray is aiming to continue his incredible return to the South Coast with the Seagulls.
“The period since I signed for the second time, it has just been a non-stop upwards curve. The progression of the club has just been phenomenal,” Murray said. “The club that I left in my first spell to the club I left in my second spell. Wow. I was away for five years, before I left we were training at a University campus. Getting changed in three separate dressing rooms. Playing second fiddle to the University teams if they wanted to use the fields. They had the say so. To be honest, the fields were rubbish. Going to play the games at the Withdean with the running track around… the away fans might as well have sat on the beach because they couldn’t see anything!
“To come back to this stadium, I always enjoyed playing here as a visiting player, sometimes you just get that feeling for places. You just enjoy playing there and somewhere you feel comfortable. To come back and score like I have is perfect. Behind that we have a state-of-the-art training facility, you couldn’t have dreamt it when we were back getting changed in those three dressing rooms. You would have just settled for one flat pitch!”
Murray is as laidback scoring goals in the Premier League against the big boys as he is sat on a sofa in sneakers on his off-day chatting about every facet of the game. It is clear soccer runs through his blood.
Growing up close to the Lake District in the far north west of England, he fell in love with the game. From the start.
“Everyone just plays football, don’t they? It is just part of life in England. Once I started I just totally got the bug and never lost it,” Murray smiled. “I can remember running around on my local green, the players I wanted to be were like [Eric] Cantona, [Georgi] Kinkladze, Uwe Rosler — I loved Rosler, he scored all the time — and from that time I started going to camps in my holidays and things like that. I supposed I was just blessed that I was quite good at it. And then it just went from strength to strength.”
He is now heralded as a throwback to the English center forwards of a bygone generation. But it hasn’t always been this way. The trajectory of Murray’s career has been remarkable.
It all began at Workington Reds, an amateur team, after he was released by Carlisle United as a youth team player. As a teenager, Murray was thrown in at the deep end and his physical style of play perhaps comes from the harsh lessons he learned in the small towns of northern England.
“We were in the seventh or eighth tier of English football then. As a young kid, that was rough. Really rough,” Murray smiled. “You are maybe dancing around a few older guys that didn’t like it, they would let you know about it… physically and mentally. Throughout my career it has just been brilliant. Every step I have taken something from it. I’ve enjoyed every step.”
A spell in the third-tier of North American soccer with the Wilmington Hammerheads (where he won a championship ring) was the springboard for Murray’s career, as he returned to the UK with a renewed love for the game. Even if others didn’t take a chance on him, Murray had faith in himself and scored goals for Carlisle, Rochdale and Stockport before he got his move to third-tier Brighton (for the first time) in 2007. His goals at their temporary home at the Withdean Stadium led Brighton to promotion to the second-tier, and joining the Seagulls was the catalyst to him reaching the top-flight.
Did he ever think he wouldn’t make it to the top after the first decade of his career was spent playing outside of the Premier League?
“Yeah, definitely. I felt around that 27, 28 age, the only way I was going to get to the Premier League was to be promoted into it. Thankfully that happened. I never really felt as though a team would put a large amount of money on the line for me,” Murray said. “I think there have always been question marks over me, throughout my career. Probably because I am quite an old-fashioned center forward and at every level people have said ‘he won’t do it at the next level, he won’t do it at the next.’ Given the opportunity I have managed to prove myself to people.”
Murray’s steely determination saw him do something many wouldn’t. Brighton’s fierce rivals are Crystal Palace, so when Murray left Brighton for Palace in 2011, just a few months after he led Brighton to promotion to the second-tier with 22 goals, there was huge controversy. That was just the start.
His 30 goals in the 2012-13 season led Palace to promotion to the Premier League, just to rub extra salt in the wounds of Brighton’s fans. But then, a horrible moment arrived. Murray snapped his ACL playing for Palace against Brighton in the Championship playoff semifinal back in 2013 and he was out for 10 months. The irony of injuring himself against the Seagulls isn’t lost on Murray, and he admitted he has thought on several occasions that his career was over.
But he keeps bouncing back.
“I’ve thought ‘this is the end’ on a number of occasions. That being one. Definitely,” Murray said. “Some people, their bodies can withstand it. I had to change not so much my game, but my lifestyle. The work I do off the field, it is now like 300 percent more. Diet comes in to it as I’ve got older. I work on stabilizing my knees, my ankles, the ACL knee obviously. I continue to do leg weights. Touch wood, I’ve never had any more problems with it.”
After Palace short stops at Bournemouth, in the Premier League, and Reading followed, but Murray jumped at the chance to return to Brighton in 2016.
The Seagulls were in the second-tier but Murray returned, initially on loan in 2016-17, and scored 26 goals to lead them to promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history.
“That stupid saying went through my mind over and over. ‘You should never go back’ and all of that. Obviously I had great times here before I left. Everything just seemed perfect to come back. I always felt like I had unfinished business with the club. Got promoted out of League One. Top goalscorer. Brand new stadium. I left,” Murray said. “And, I always felt I wanted to test myself in the Amex Stadium and wanted to play at the Championship level or higher for the club. It always felt right to come back. The year before I came back I watched Brighton a lot because they were on TV a lot and pushing for promotion. I watched their players and studied them. Anthony Knockaert, Jiri Skalak and Solly March, all very, very good wingers I felt I could work with and would help me score goals.
“I sat and went over this in my mind. It was a big help that my family lived here. My kids were at school. But there is always that nagging doubt that you come back and it doesn’t work out. Your kids can get a hard time at school, saying ‘your dad is rubbish!’ and things like that. No kid should have to deal with that. But that is how big football is here. All of these nagging doubts ate away at me. I sat down and weighed up the pros and cons and said let’s do it and make it a success. I couldn’t have wished for it to be any better.”
Murray admitted he took a financial gamble to leave PL side Bournemouth to return to Brighton, but it was more of “an educated gamble” as he felt they could make it to the promised land of the Premier League.
Murray has scored 23 goals in 64 PL appearances over the past two seasons, which has led to many saying Gareth Southgate should call him up for the England national team.
“I have never heard anything. It would have been nice. You never know, I suppose,” Murray said about a potential call-up. “Gareth Southgate has gone in to England with his philosophy and nobody can deny he is working a wonder. It is enjoyable to watch our national team again. I for one sat down in the summer and enjoyed every minute of it [the 2018 World Cup]. It is what it is. I am just enjoying seeing the boys doing well.”
Asked if he is a better natural replacement for England captain and goalscoring sensation Kane than any other strikers in the current Three Lions player pool, Murray chuckles and dishes out another self-deprecating barb.
“I’m just 40 percent less than him on every count!” Murray laughed. “He [Kane] is phenomenal. He has shown that season after season. I don’t think Southgate has got anybody like-for-like, or similar shall we say, but I don’t think there is a like-for-like out there on the planet, at a similar age. I don’t think you have anybody in the squad who has similar attributes to Kane in the squad. Southgate knows what he is doing. You just never know in football. I’ve learned that over a long career in football. It may come. It may never come. You just don’t know.”
Taking a glance at the varnished wooden board in the museum which has a list of every Brighton player to ever play on the international stage while at the club, Murray lists through the names of those who have come before him. Both Ireland and Scotland previously enquired about Murray’s eligibility to play for them, but it wasn’t possible.
What he has proved is that the impossible is possible.
From Workington Reds to Carlisle United. Rochdale to Brighton via Stockport. Crystal Palace to Reading and Bournemouth. And, of course, back to Brighton. His journey epitomizes what is possible when you have belief in your own ability and never, ever, give up.
“I just always wanted to prove myself. I always wanted my peers to respect me and to enjoy playing with me and wanting to play with me. And any doubters out there, just prove them wrong,” Murray said. “It is just all about that hunger really, of wanting to succeed. For me, wanting to scoring goals. That has never changed, and for me it will never diminish.”
That hunger, and those goals, mean a section in Brighton & Hove Albion’s museum will be dedicated to Murray. He’s not in there yet, but there’s a nice blank section right in the center waiting for him.