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INTERVIEW: We had an excellent group

Glenn Murray on his time at Brunton Park

10 June 2021

As we continue our look at striker Glenn Murray’s career, we pick up at a point where his desire to find a direction in life took him to the United States, and a 14-game stint with Wilmington Hammerheads in North Carolina which, following a series of coincidences, eventually led to his move to Carlisle United.

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“I was very much someone who enjoyed being at home,” he said. “I went over there, and it was a great experience, but I don’t think it was really what I wanted.

“Funnily enough we had a pre-season game against Sunderland, and I had a good game. Mick McCarthy was the manager and he invited me to go for a trial, they were in the Premier League at the time, but it didn’t quite work out.

“When he pulled me in the office to tell me that it wasn’t going to go any further he asked me if there was anybody he wanted me to call. Straight away I said yes, could you give Simmo a ring at Carlisle, and lo and behold he goes, ‘Simmo, yeah definitely, I know him well, let’s see what I can do for you.’

“I went home, heard nothing for about three weeks, and I pretty much decided that was it. The love I had for football was disappearing. I was at a point where I didn’t want to play, so I stopped training or even thinking about keeping fit.

“I probably had a few too many drinks as I wallowed in self-pity, let’s say, and then from out of the blue I got a call from the club telling me that there was a reserve game the following afternoon and Carlisle wanted me to play in it.

“That set me on a real high until I put the phone down and realised that I hadn’t done a thing for weeks. That was what it was, I couldn’t change it, so I went up there anyway. It’s a ground I knew so well because I’d stood in the Warwick as a fan loads of times, and it was unbelievable for me to think that I was getting this opportunity.

“I can’t remember how I did other than I managed to score a goal. So, as knackered as I definitely was, I do sometimes wonder that if I hadn’t scored that goal, would any of the rest of it ever have even happened. It was one of those small moments where I really needed to produce, and I did.”

“Simmo invited me in to train off the back of it, so I travelled through from Maryport every day,” he continued. “At that point I was with players who were obviously getting a wage for doing what they were doing, whereas I was just rocking up for a kickabout.

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“That went on for about three weeks, then Paul pulled me to one side and told me that he still wasn’t sure about me. I told him that I felt I was getting up to speed fitness wise, I was getting to know the lads and I was feeling really happy with how it was going.

“He then explained that he’d had Barrow on the phone, and he suggested that I joined them to actually get paid for what I was doing at the same time as coming to Carlisle to continue to train with them every day.

“I thought about it and I decided that if I did that, and it meant that I still had an opportunity with Carlisle, then it sounded brilliant.”

And the rejuvenated youngster found a spring in his step as he immediately set off on a scoring spree for the Bluebirds.

“It couldn’t have gone any better,” he told us. “I scored 10 goals in 10 games at the same time as being able to train with a professional outfit.

“About six weeks into my time with Barrow Simmo pulled me in again, and I remember how frustrated I’d been feeling when Barrow had a Tuesday game, because it meant I couldn’t train with Carlisle and that I wasn’t in his eyesight. I thought it was going to be about that.

“But when he sat me down he told me that I’d left him with no option but to offer me a deal. I signed in the December that year [2004] to the end of the season, and it was an amazing feeling.

“To be honest I still didn’t feel like I was a professional footballer, and technically I knew I wasn’t at the same level as some of the players we had at Brunton Park who I was now going to be playing with.

“I tried my best every time I played, sometimes that meant running around like a headless chicken, and in the end I think I just about caught them up ability wise.”

What must have been a frustrating period followed as he found himself used mostly from the bench, with some big-name signings jumping ahead in the pecking order as the Cumbrians looked to first get back into the Football League, and then continue their drive up the divisions.

“The majority of my appearances were from the bench, but it was perfect for me at that time,” he reflected. “I simply wasn’t ready to play regularly and Paul Simpson, frustratingly for me at the time, managed me perfectly.

“Obviously I was a young lad chomping at the bit, and I was constantly questioning why he wasn’t picking me, and asking why he would only maybe give me 20 minutes here or there. But what I did do for that 20 minutes was throw everything I had at it. He blooded me in perfectly.

“My time at Carlisle was amazing, it doesn’t get much better than playing for your local club on the pitch where you used to watch the team you supported. But I have to be honest and say that the club progressed too fast for me.

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“Within 18 months of me signing that contract we were in League One. The players who came in, the likes of Kev Gall and Michael Bridges, I just couldn’t live with them, they were just too good for me.

“I’d been in professional football for that relatively short period and I had two promotions on my CV – you just couldn’t have made it up. But the standard was so high that I struggled to maintain it all the time and it was clear, when I do look back objectively, that it was a club that was moving forward too fast for me at that point in my career.”

One of those promotions is possibly the most significant the club has ever had as they came back into the Football League at the first time of asking.

“This is how young and daft I was; we all knew it was huge, but I was just a young lad who was out to make my name and play the game, and I don’t think I ever really thought about the bigger picture properly,” he revealed. “That was for others. I understood how important it was to the city and the fans, because I was a fan, but for me it was about performing and doing well on the pitch.

“It’s only now when I can look back that you start to wonder what the club would be if we hadn’t got back up at the first stab. None of us will ever truly know the significance of us beating Stevenage that day because we can only second-guess the consequences if we hadn’t.”

On what he’d learned through that spell with the Blues, he said: “To be fair, I’d learned a lot in non-league already about the physicality of the game, and that’s carried me a long way. I was up and running when it came to that side of it.

“Finishing has always come naturally to me, to a certain extent, so I was always confident with that. A big thing was the way the lads at Carlisle acted in such a professional manner, every time they came in, and that goes up every level you step.

“I can’t stress enough how they were just on a different level to me, and I don’t mind admitting that at all. Their mentality and ability was noticeable and I knew it was up to me to catch them up. They were an excellent group, really tight-knit, and that’s why they won the two consecutive promotions.

“It got to a point with me not starting as much as I wanted to that something had to give. I had a really long chat with Simmo, even though we weren’t at the point where he wanted rid of me, but he was very honest in saying that he thought it would be best for me if I moved on.

“I really respected how he handled that and I’m still in contact with him until this day because of how he was with me. I know completely that he was doing what he was doing for the benefit of me. I wasn’t on much money so it wasn’t like he was freeing up a massive wage, or anything like that.

“He knew, like I had realised, that the club was moving away too fast for me. As it happens he took the Preston manager’s job that summer, so that left me wondering what the new manager would think about me.”

“Neil [McDonald] came in and he changed our style of play, but he came to the same conclusion as Simmo had come to with me,” he told us. “That was no surprise, to be fair, but one big thing that Neil did for me was that he sat me down to chat about the two clubs who were interested at that time.

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“I had Accrington and Rochdale asking questions, and the deal with both of them was identical, both personally and for the club. He asked me what I was going to do, and I told him I felt that Accrington would be the better move.

“When he asked why that was, I told him that they trained a little bit closer to home, around the Preston area, so the travel time suited me better. He sat quiet for a while then he said he had a valuable lesson to teach me, and that I could listen to it or not.

“He told me that if I wanted to be a professional footballer and make a career of it, then I needed to let go of where I lived now. He talked about how important it was that I needed to be able to move, and he felt that I was choosing Accrington for all the wrong reasons.

“I took that on board and it’s a bit of advice that has resonated with me throughout my career. From moving out I’ve never been back to the area where I did live. It was a really significant piece of advice that he gave me because later in life in particular it stopped me from thinking and acting like a young boy, who always had his parents to fall back on, and it changed me into somebody who had more of a football-minded temperament.”

“Properly thinking about it I’d been to America, and found that tough, and I wasn’t sure about cutting the ties to home at all,” he admitted. “I was comfortable, but Neil made me realise that being comfortable wasn’t necessarily the way forward, if I really was focussed on having a decent career.

“He insisted that Rochdale was the better move, he gave me a few reasons on the style of play that would suit me and players there who would complement my attributes, along with examples of players who had played under that manager and moved higher.

“It gave me real food for thought. I spoke to my parents that same night and we all agreed that he was right, so off to Rochdale I went.”

What a move that turned out to be for the 23-year-old who suddenly found himself as a real hot property, and a target for many a scout.

“It was a great move for me because it was where I started to score goals,” he stated. “It never really happened for me at Carlisle, but that was down to the fact that the opportunity was never there for me to get my teeth into starting a lot of games.

“I was never the main striker and, like I say, I don’t even think I should have been. Bridgey and Karl Hawley had that role, and you can’t argue with that. I understood completely that I was going to be a bit-part player and I made my role in the squad fit around that.

“I knew when I signed for Rochdale that things had changed, and this was my chance. Steve Parkin signed me, but he was sacked after about three weeks, but luckily Keith Hill took charge and he had actually highlighted me to Rochdale as a potential signing after he’d watched me in a reserve game for Carlisle a few months earlier.

“That’s another one of those strokes of good luck I talked about – a manager who already thinks I can do a job comes in to take over at the club I’ve just signed for. It’s little things like that going in your favour that end up shaping how your life works out.

“It was almost like I was Keith’s boy, he believed in me and he wanted me to succeed. Our interests were aligned from day one, he played me and I really grew as a footballer under him. I developed to the point where I was scoring on a regular basis and I knew he trusted me, which is massive for any player. I really did flourish under him.

“Again, looking back to my time with Carlisle I was still shy, very much about keeping myself to myself, and breaking through at your first club is all part of every young player’s journey. It was a very different world back then, with no social media, and I wasn’t one to really thrust myself forward.

“My focus was on Saturday afternoon’s and trying to be the best I could be so that I was going to be the main striker one day. All I ever wanted was to score goals, and that’s where you start to gain confidence. I was given the job of being one of the main forwards by Keith and I was determined to take it with both hands.”

Glenn talks about his time in the Premier League in the next segment of this interview.


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