Obituary: Eric Murray, footballer

Football at Tynecastle - Hearts v Kilmarnock - Eric Murray puts the ball in the net - Offside
Football at Tynecastle - Hearts v Kilmarnock - Eric Murray puts the ball in the net - Offside
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Eric McIntyre Murray – former footballer. Born: Symington, Ayrshire: 12 December, 1941 .Died: Symington, Ayrshire: 07 November, 2016, aged 74

Eric Murray, who has died, aged 74, after a long battle against incapacity, caused by a stroke, was one of those quiet men you could pass in the street, or in the pub, and never realise he was a footballing great.

His escutcheon is not embellished by appearances for Scotland, but he is an immortal in Kilmarnock, as the right-half in the team which won Killie’s only Scottish League Championship with that unforgettable 2-0 win at Tynecastle, on 24 April, 1965.

Davie Sneddon and Brian McIlroy scored the goals, but, if Bobby Ferguson, Andy King, Matt Watson, Murray, Jackie McGrory and Frank Beattie not kept the back door secure, the title would have gone to Hearts and not Kilmarnock. Only Ferguson, of that heroic rearguard, now remains alive.

Symington-born Murray was one of the six Ayrshiremen in the league-winning XI. He lived in that village all his life. He played for the legendary Saxone Amateurs nursery, before joining Kilmarnock in 1960. He was farmed-out to Dreghorn Juniors, but was back at Rugby Park to make his first-team debut, against Hearts, in the League Cup on 16 August, 1961.

Willie Waddell, who was managing Kilmarnock at the time, saw Murray’s place being further back, converting him to a right-half, where, he had to see-off Pat O’Connor before making the number four shirt his own during the title-winning season. His versatility saw him as a valuable squad member prior to that, however. Indeed, one tale brought laughter at his funeral, with, as so-often in Murray’s career, an Edinburgh side involved. He was wearing the number nine shirt against Hibs, at Rugby Park in January, 1964, and the day was not going well. If Eric came short for the ball, Killie played it long. If he went long, the ball was played short, while he was winning nothing in the air against John McNamee and Morten Jensen. “I kicked the ball twice – to kick-off”, Eric would report.

However, with time running out and a 1-1 draw seeming inevitable, Davie Sneddon sclaffed a cross, the ball hit off Eric’s head and past the totally wrong-footed Ronnie Simpson to win the game for Killie.

Of course, both Murray and Sneddon always insisted – the cross was intended, the finish exemplary.

If the final day win at Tynecastle was the jewel in the crown of season 1964-65, Murray was also involved in the other memorable match of that campaign, the second-leg Inter-Cities Fairs Cup clash with Eintracht Frankfort. The Germans arrived at Rugby Park with a three-goal lead from the first-leg in Germany, then scored first to lead by four goals and seemingly with the tie won. Then Killie hit back, winning the leg 5-1 for a 5-4 aggregate win.

The following season he played in every one of Killie’s European Cup matches, including the memorable 2-2 Rugby Park draw with Real Madrid. Eric always claimed he had had immediate opponent Ferenc Puskas “in my pocket” during the game. However, after a Kilmarnock fan rescued the Scotsport highlights tape of the game from a skip outside the STV studios and arranged a showing for the surviving players – a reason for a get-together during one of goalkeeper Ferguson’s trips home from Australia – doubts were cast on Murray’s recollection of the game.

Commentator Bob Crampsey seemed to spend a lot of time mentioning Puskas, while Murray’s only name-check was for conceding a foul throw-in. At the end of the showing, one of the other players piped-up: “Hey Eric, what about you having Puskas in your pocket all game”.

“That was only 15 minutes – a game lasts 90 minutes”, was the unabashed Murray’s response.

He played on with Kilmarnock, making over 200 appearances, before being freed in 1968. He spent a couple of seasons with St Mirren, before winding down his playing career back in the Ayrshire Juniors with Cumnock.

In retirement from playing, he worked for a time as a newspaper circulation representative, before going into bookmaking with the legendary Ayrshire bookie Freddie Williams. However, his later years were compromised by the massive stroke he had in 2008 – he never really recovered from this blow, passing away at home earlier this month.

Eric Murray is survived by wife Anna and sons Eric Junior and Steven, whose burgeoning football career was ruined by a terrible injury. Only goalkeeper Ferguson, goal-scorer Sneddon and Tommy McLean of that championship-winning team now remain alive.

But, Eric Murray and the rest will never be forgotten down Rugby Park way.