Dundee is a small city to have two senior football teams. So it should not be treated as surprising if a local boy ends up playing for the rivals against the side he grew up favouring.
Even in larger cities such as Liverpool, it is not uncommon. Revered Liverpool striker Ian Rush did so, as did Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler – all Evertonians. More recently in Edinburgh, Jason Cummings has experienced the surreal feeling of playing for the enemy, having switched from boyhood heroes Hearts to Hibs.
Now it is Simon Murray’s turn to cross a great divide. The flame-haired Dundee United striker placed himself in the pre-derby spotlight by scoring his first goal for the club on Saturday against Motherwell, comically tripping over in the process of celebrating the decisive strike in United’s 2-0 win.
He was receiving pelters from his team-mates for that yesterday at the Dundee United training base in St Andrews. But this is nothing compared to what he expects to face from the visiting fans this evening as he steps out for Dundee United against Dundee. The spotlight is on Murray in any case after his debut goal. He was also picked out by his manager, Jackie McNamara, as one to watch this season on the back page of local paper the Evening Telegraph yesterday, where the headline was: “United gaffer predicting big things from Simon”.
Aged only 23, he was still the third oldest player in the tender-aged side that finished against Motherwell. With striker Rodney Sneijder having returned to the Netherlands with a suspected viral infection, Murray is likely to feature at some point this evening.
Murray was already guaranteed to be a central figure as he prepares for a game he immediately looked out for when the fixtures were announced earlier this summer.
I used to go to every derby game… I won’t say which end I was inSimon Murray
“It’s the best game and I can’t wait to experience it because very few people from Dundee can ever say they’ve played in a derby,” he said.
He is a keen student of this particular clash, having gone to his fair share over the years. “I used to go to pretty much every derby because, although I was playing on a Saturday, they were often moved to the Sunday,” Murray explained, before adding with a smile: “I won’t say what end I was in – but that’s just one of those things.”
Indeed he didn’t say, but he didn’t have to. Pressed for his favourite Dundee derby moments over the years, the two memories he dredged up involved James Grady and Giorgi Nemsadze. “I remember back to James Grady playing and Georgi Nemsadze scoring at Tannadice,” he said.
Grady scored a memorable winner for Dundee at Tannadice in 1998 before himself later turning out for United. Nemsadze, meanwhile, sealed his place in Dundee FC legend for a chipped goal that secured a 2-0 win in November 2000, once again at United’s ground.
But don’t take these victories to mean Tannadice has been a fertile place in recent times for Dundee – the Dens Park side are without a competitive win there since the mid 2000s, when Steve Lovell and John Sutton scored in a 2-1 victory in August 2004.
Since that game was played on a Sunday, there is every chance Murray might have been there, cheering from the Dundee end of the ground.
Not that he was expanding on this yesterday. Instead, he was shooting down suggestions from Dundee fans – including many of his own friends – who say the Dens Park side could finally finish above United this season.
This hasn’t happened since 2002-03, although the Dundee sides have only been in the same division in three of the seasons since. “They have said that every year, to be honest,” dismissed Murray.
“It’s not happened yet and I don’t think it will happen.
“Being from Dundee I know what the fans are like, the majority of my pals are Dundee fans. They have been giving me a bit of stick but, hopefully, I’ll have the last laugh this week.
“They can be like that because we’re not going to shout about being ahead of them. They can say what they want, it will be their downfall if they do.
Murray revealed he will have family in both ends of the ground tonight. His father, Gary, a Dundonian as well, was signed by the Dens Park club on S forms from Errol Rovers, along with Gavin and Ian Redford.
The Redfords were kept on. Murray wasn’t. While he might once have had Dundee leanings, Murray senior’s feelings have long since dissipated over the course of a career where he also played for Hibs and Forfar Athletic, as well as enjoying two successful spells with Montrose.
“I will have family there, some support Dundee and some support United,” said Murray junior. “So there’s a bit of divide and the household might not be a happy one depending on the result. My dad played for Dundee years ago but they released him ,so I think he holds something against them for that. He’ll be hoping United win this week, that’s for sure.”
And so, of course, is Murray, who joined United last January in a £50,000 deal but was then re-loaned back to former club Arbroath. The striker admits he found it hard to adapt to full-time training while also joining his Arbroath team-mates at night as they prepared for the weekend’s game. Now able to concentrate on United, he believes he is reaping the rewards.
“I appreciate the opportunity because it’s everyone’s dream to play football every day,” he said. “This time last year I was on a building site doing the same as everyone else does. But I’ve been given this chance, it’s a dream and I am just enjoying it,” he said. “The full-time training has helped loads. I struggled with it to start with because I was training here every day then with Arbroath at night. So when a Saturday came I felt like I had no energy left. But now I feel much fitter, faster and stronger these days. I’m sharper, too, from playing with better players, that improves you a lot.”
He didn’t add that Dundee had better be beware. But these were ominous words for his old friends on the dark blue side of the city.