Jamie Murphy almost gave up. After a difficult first few months at Sheffield United, hampered by injury and struggling to hold down a starting place, the striker came close to returning to Motherwell. Fir Park offered Murphy something of a sanctuary, yet his perseverance – and perhaps stubbornness – saw him stay in England. That decision paid off.
“I wasn’t enjoying things at Sheffield United and I had the chance to go back on loan,” the 26-year-old admits, also revealing Hibernian’s interest in him at that time. “But I stuck it out and things turned around very quickly.” Indeed, they did. Just over two years have passed since Murphy considered a sheepish homecoming, and now he has the Premier League in his sights.
You have to give yourself at least six months to get used to the English game.Players need a bit of perseveranceJamie Murphy
Now at Brighton and Hove Albion, after joining from Sheffield United for a reported £1.5 million in the summer, Murphy finds himself following the upward arc of a flourishing club. Now more of a left-winger than the striker he was when he left Scotland, Murphy might not boast the goal tally he did at Motherwell, but he has become a driving force behind the Seagulls’ promotion push.
“Everything is in place here,” Murphy says. “The club is building towards the Premier League and it feels ready for that level now. Everyone is hoping that this year is the year, but it’s a tough league and there are maybe eight or nine teams who all feel they can realistically finish top.” Of those eight or nine teams, though, Brighton – currently joint-top with Hull City – are among the best-placed. They have come close in recent years, but their chances of finally reaching the top flight look better than ever.
Murphy’s outlook hasn’t always been so bright, however. At Sheffield United there were times when it was in fact rather bleak, particularly upon finding himself out of favour with then manager David Weir, taking at least a year to find his full fitness at Bramall Lane. “Originally it was rather overwhelming, with the number of games and the intensity of each game,” he says. “That can be tiring, as you’re never more than just a few days away from a big match. I struggled with that at first.”
Once accustomed to the physicality and demands of the English game, success soon followed. He scored 12 goals – including one at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final – last season. “I’ve worked hard since I left Motherwell, and you have to work hard to not just get the chance but to keep getting the chances,” says Murphy.
“There’s that much of a difference between the Scottish and English leagues that you have to give yourself at least six months to get used to it, or else you don’t get used to it at all. Players need to have a bit of perseverance, especially early on after making the move down here. Those who have moved down here, if they can see out that initial six months things normally turn the other way.”
Compromise was made, though, with Murphy now a fully-converted left winger. Manager Chris Hughton favours Bobby Zamora and Tommer Hemed as an orthodox front two at Brighton, and Murphy is the one charged with creating chances for them. It’s a change that required mental, as well as tactical, adjustment. “I obviously want to score goals, that will always be in my nature and I’m still no different even though I’m now playing out wide,” says Murphy. “I still have that urge to get in the box and score. That doesn’t go away.”
Should Brighton clinch promotion this season, Murphy would become only the third Scottish “striker” currently playing at Premier League level, alongside Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher. Scotland manager Gordon Strachan’s scouting jaunts might require a trip to the south coast. A key member of Scotland’s Under-19 and Under-21 teams, Murphy was long regarded as the vanguard of the country’s next generation. A scoring run of five goals, taking Billy Stark’s side to the play-offs of the European Under-21 Championships, prompted calls for his senior team induction. Five years on, Murphy is still to make his Scotland debut.
That’s not to say that he necessarily warrants one, but Murphy’s failure to make the progression into the national team adds to the pertinent discussion about the productivity of Scotland’s youth ranks.
Murphy is just another young prospect yet to fulfil his national team promise – and he doesn’t seem to hold much hope of a call-up either. Even promotion to the Premier League “wouldn’t make me an automatic pick”, as he puts it.
Regardless of whether Scotland recognition comes or not, Murphy credits Motherwell with making him the player he is today, and also offers advice for younger players looking to make an impression in the game. Of Scot Gemmil’s 19-man Under-19 squad named for the friendly match against Bulgaria earlier this month only six players were sourced from non-Old Firm or English clubs.
“When you’re younger it’s hard to turn down Rangers, Celtic or big English teams,” he says. “I know personally, for me, playing with a club like Motherwell, where I got game-time, definitely helped me as a player.
“I think if I had been sitting on the bench until I was 20 or 21, I wouldn’t be the same player I am today. I was playing first-team football week-in, week-out as a teenager and that wouldn’t have happened at Rangers or Celtic.”