Well, I must say: the boy’s done good. It was a big ask coming here today and, with all that pressure on him, he’s turning in a committed performance that belies his tender years.
He’s showing good stamina and obviously has an excellent engine, but then we always knew that about Ian Murray. I’m talking about his son Lewis, not three until next month, who over the course of a good hour in an Edinburgh coffee-shop only tugs at his dad’s sleeve for two toilet-breaks, sitting contentedly the rest of time and making just the three requests for help fixing the dinosaurs in his sticker book.
Not yet three but how many times already, I’m wondering, has Lewis heard the story of his old man painting “1973” in his hair on the 30th anniversary of the greatest capital derby scoreline until last year’s Scottish Cup final? It comes up again today and Murray can’t believe his Toni+Guy special still gets discussed a decade on. How many times has Lewis heard his dad asked if he thinks Hibs fans have forgiven him for leaving them for Rangers? This comes up, too, and Murray says: “I’d like to think about 90 per cent have but I know the hardcore are still holding out!” And did someone mention last year’s Scottish Cup final? Lewis was at Hampden and I swear this trigger-word causes him to look up from his book with the beginnings of a trembling chin. Sorry, I got confused just there: that was me, yet again.
Wasn’t Murray worried he could have been reported to Childline, subjecting the kid to that dreadful day? He laughs. “That’s what everyone says but if he hadn’t been there and Hibs had won I’d never have forgiven myself.” For the sake of a balanced upbringing, though, Lewis has also witnessed football’s flipside. Away from glamour showpieces – and gargantuan failures – the lad’s been at the Bet Butler Stadium, home of Dumbarton, managed by Murray, saved from relegation by him.
Bottom of the First Division when he accepted his first job in management last November, the part-time team of scaffolders, welders and car-valeters clambered to safety with the help of some eye-catching wins against SPL hopefuls and eventually finished seventh. On a good day, the Sons of the Rock attract 1,200. Presumably, then, Murray gets to hear plenty of helpful hints for a young boss with just 27 games under his belt. “I do, although maybe not as many as my predecessors. The dugouts used to be on the same side of the pitch as our only stand but they got moved.” For a bit of peace, presumably. And what’s one of the most-asked questions for the ex-Hibee? “Oh it’s a cracker: ‘When am I going to sign Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor?’!”
Smart-but-casual for his daddy daycare while wife Julie is at work, the 32-year-old Murray had two spells with his boyhood heroes, amassing 253 appearances at centre-back, full-back and right across the midfield. His only Scottish Cup final was in 2001 against Celtic, this month’s opponents as Hibs prepare to head back to H*mpd*n. That was the Franck Sauzee-Russell Latapy team, although in the lead-up to the final 12 years ago the latter part of that improbably exotic double-act had got lost up a one-way street in the company of fellow Trinidad & Tobago star Dwight Yorke, letting in play-anywhere Murray.
“It was the Wednesday before when I found out. Alex McLeish said: ‘I’ve mucked you about all season and I’m afraid I’m going to do it again.’ That’s me on the bench, I thought. He said: ‘I’m putting you in at right wing-back.’ Although we lost 3-0 my memories of that day are mostly fantastic ones. It was gloriously sunny and there I was 19 years old playing in a final that as a boy I watched on the telly, for the club I’d always supported. There was no shame in being beaten by Celtic who had a great side back then and we played pretty well until Henrik Larsson took over [the super Swede scored the second and third goals]. Can Hibs do it this year? Of course they can. I mean, they’ve got to win the Scottish Cup sometime, haven’t they? ...” I leave his words hanging there, which only seems right.
Only 27 games into management, so Murray is drawing on what he’s learned from those who bossed him. He says: “Alex was quite a fiery manager and not slow to give you a rollicking when he thought necessary although you still wanted to go out and do your absolute best for him. That was a good trick and I guess it helped that he had such a big presence.” It was McLeish who would take Murray to Rangers.
“Tony Mowbray was a scientific manager, not the type to shout. That was a young Hibs side but he told us we were the best team and we believed it.” This was the Haircut 100 team including Riordan, O’Connor, Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Steven Fletcher and Steven Whittaker, with Murray almost counting as a senior member. But our man is also keen to give credit to Bobby Williamson, nothing like as well-loved by Hibbies. “Bobby had to follow Alex and Franck, for whom it hadn’t worked out. He’d inherited huge debt – some of the guys before had been on incredible money. He lost a final [2004 CIS Cup], which was unfortunate. Maybe his PR wasn’t great but he wasn’t the dour so-and-so he was painted and was honestly one of the funniest managers I had.” Ah, I see: his attempt to swap Riordan and Whittaker for Inverness’s Bobby Mann was actually a joke? “That would have a terrible deal! No offence to Bobby but thankfully it didn’t happen.”
Williamson got into arguments with Hibs fans, pointing out – doubtless accurately – that their management knowhow would have been limited to the pub leagues. These same fans might be surprised to hear ex-Hibee captain Murray enthuse about Colin Calderwood, too. “I liked the way Colin did things. He was like Tony in that he didn’t shout, and at Dumbarton I’m trying to be like them. If we lost on the Saturday under Alex he’d sometimes send us out running on the Monday, but my view is the game’s gone by then.”
At Dumbarton, it should be said, Murray doesn’t get to see his players on Mondays. Training is Tuesday and Thursday nights in Glasgow, with the half-pitch that’s available to the team reducing to quarter-size by the second session. He’s hopeful new training facilities close to the Bet Butler will be opening soon but meantime he’s hugely impressed with the dedication of his part-timers. “Guys like Garry Fleming who’s the car valeter are working until 12.30 on Saturdays before coming across for games. Gaz tends to tire quickly because he came from the Juniors but he’s doing really well for us.”
So’s Murray himself and he better watch out: they’ll be sizing him up for the Hibs job before too long. “I’d had a bit of that already,” he says. I didn’t expect him to want to discuss this – when the post isn’t vacant, managers generally don’t – but he adds: “As a fan, it’s your dream job but it’s not a gimme that I’ll be offered it, ever, or that I’d take it if I was.” Does the high turnover at Easter Road concern him? “To be honest, yes. Look at what happened to Mixu [Paatelainen]. He achieved sixth place on a very limited budget and still it wasn’t enough.”
Paatelainen – a team-mate of Murray’s in that 2001 final – signed off with draws against both of the Old Firm and a 1-0 win at Tynecastle achieved with a drastically patched-up side superbly marshalled by our man, the penalty winner being struck with such nonchalance by Riordan that one Jambo felt compelled to rush onto the park to offer the warmest congratulations, before the polis intervened.
So with Murray well-placed to judge, who was the more talented in green-and-white – Latapy or Riordan? “Well, Russell shouldn’t have been playing for Hibs – he was too good. Billy Brown admitted to me when he was at Easter Road: ‘We could never handle him in the derbies.’ But Deek with the ball at his feet was just the most fluid footballer. Shooting with either foot, from distance, he was exceptional. He loved scoring through a guy’s legs, when that was the only route to the net. You’d hear a shout of ‘Fluke!’ but with him it wasn’t.
“Unfortunately when we talk about Deek now, and Gaz [O’Connor] too, it’s of careers that have stalled. Gaz was a great hold-up man and an incredible finisher in the box and they both had chances to be top-class players for a long time and didn’t take them. Gaz had injuries, it’s true, but maybe in both cases they didn’t have the right people round them and made bad choices. They’ll probably say they enjoyed every minute, as players always do. They’ll have made a lot of money but that dries up. I know Deek still thinks he can play in the SPL. Will he get the chance? I don’t think so, which is a real shame.”
The SFL and Dumbarton? Murray smiles. “The baggage that comes with my old pals would put a lot of managers off. Folk say to me: ‘Aye but you’d know how to handle them.’ The bottom line is we can’t afford to carry anyone in our team. I’ve no doubt Deek would get me ten wonder goals a season but I think I’m going to have to go with the guy who’ll get six and do the dirty work as well.” Then he laughs. “That’s not to say both of them wouldn’t be fantastic box-office!”
Hibs, of course, have the new Deek – Leigh Griffiths. “I don’t think he’s quite at Deek’s level yet, being massively left-peg, but that performance at Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup [a hat-trick in the quarter-final victory] showed me he’s gone up a level since I played with him last season.” Tomorrow, of course, brings the last Edinburgh derby of the season. I say “of course” but as a potential decider for tenth spot it might just be the most inconsequential capital spat of recent times. As a doughty derby competitor, Murray loved the fixture. “I wouldn’t give any of them away – not when Hibs were leading 4-2 and Hearts scored two injury-time goals to level it [2003, the year of the 7-0 barnet commemoration] and not even the Mark de Vries 5-1 game  because I scored our goal and it was my only one against them.” But while he’d like to see Hibs win tomorrow, if he was manager he’d probably not select Griffiths, given his importance to the cup final. “I don’t think anyone in the Hearts side would consciously go out and try to injure him, but neither are they going to stand back and admire his fine shooting.”
Maybe Pat Fenlon wouldn’t take too kindly to this advice. After all, he didn’t appreciate Dundee manager John Brown’s recent criticism of Hibs for appearing to be saving themselves for H*mpd*n. With that jibe coming right after a Brown comment on the latest turmoil at Rangers, Fenlon did produce the funniest quote of his Easter Road tenure – that he didn’t know how Bomber could manage three clubs when he found one quite enough – which suggested that Bobby Williamson could yet have a rival in the jokes department. But Murray cannot help contributing to the Hibs debate, something he does as a fan.
Suggest to him that a fully-fit Ian Murray might have meant a different scoreline last May – maybe not a Hibs victory but a defeat that was more honorable – and he shakes his head. “Hearts had the better team – not just by one or two players but seven or eight. I could have stomached Hearts beating us in that final – in the way some Jambos couldn’t have done if we’d won because for them that would have been their lives over – but that was 5-1 going on seven, eight, nine and I was really fearful.”
He stops short of accusing some of the Hibs loan players of not trying but adds: “I don’t think they realised the importance of that final, which is incredible, really.” If he was manager – maybe stop reading now, Pat – he’d have gone for a different build-up. “I thought what we did, getting out of Edinburgh and everything, was too low-key. I’d have made it massive, opened up training to the fans with a gala night at Easter Road on the Thursday night and on the day of the final got the team to leave from the ground so the players would see the punters on the street-corners and be in no doubt who and what they were playing for.”
Great idea, Ian, but maybe it’s a bit too Ally MacLeod, 1978, pre-World Cup victory parade. “Aye you could be right, although Hibs must have tried every which way to win that cup and none of them has worked.” Pause. “But they’ve got to do it sometime, haven’t they? ... ” He scoops up Lewis and says goodbye and I bet his fond hope is still hanging there now.