Joelle Murray, the Hibernian Ladies captain, is a throwback to a breed which is all but extinct in top class football. The 29-year-old is a one-club player, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Murray has seen pretty much it all since joining Hibs as a 14-year-old, an age when she was no longer allowed to play alongside her great friend Liam Craig at Chirnside Boys Club. But she will have a new, and thrilling, experience on Wednesday night when she leads her side out for their Champions League, last 32 tie against Bayern Munich at Easter Road.
The central defender was first taken to the ground at the age of five by her father, Alan, and, touchingly, still attends Hibs’ men’s matches with him. She is able to do so because her games are on Sundays – but this week she will be the one playing and her proud family watching.
The challenge facing Hibs against a Bayern side which has won the Frauen Bundesliga title for the past two seasons is enormous. The visitors have a multi-national squad of fully professional players, including five Germans bearing recent Olympic gold medals. After winning their most recent title, the team shared the Munich town hall balcony with Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and the men’s side while being feted by thousands of Bayern fans.
Hibs, and Murray, play their home games off the radar at Albyn Park in Broxburn in front of tiny crowds. Yet the team plays a very watchable, quick-passing style of football which has established them as the closest rivals of Glasgow City, Scotland’s nine-time champion club.
Wednesday night is a big test not just for Murray and her team-mates, but for Hibs fans. Are they going to get behind their women’s team for what is undoubtedly the biggest game they have ever played?
“The feedback and support, especially on social media from fans’ groups, has been incredible,” Murray says. “I don’t want to estimate what the crowd might be, but if it’s a decent size it will give all the girls a boost.”
Hibs finally broke Glasgow City’s domestic dominance by beating them in June’s League Cup final, but it was a rare success. With just four games of the summer season remaining, City look certain to make it ten-in-a-row, a feat which eluded the Celtic and Rangers men’s teams.
Nevertheless, Hibs have cause to be grateful to their Glasgow rivals. City’s exploits in the Champions League, which include reaching the quarter-finals, paved the way for Scotland being allocated two clubs in the competition for the first time.
Murray played in the tournament in its previous guise as the UEFA Women’s Cup, but on each occasion Hibs failed to make it out of the qualifying group. The bonus this time is that they were given a direct route along with City – who are at Swedish club Eskilstuna United – into the knock-out stages.
“Initially it was a sense of ‘wow, what an amazing draw’,” Murray says of the moment when Hibs were paired with Bayern. “We’ve had a few weeks now to digest it and we’re just approaching it as another game.
“We’ve done some analysis on them already and it’s something we’re relishing.”
Murray, Lisa Robertson and Rachael Small are the only really experienced players in a young Hibs side, although 22-year-old full back Kirsty Smith is starting to hold down a regular Scotland place. Defender Siobhan Hunter and forward Lizzie Arnot also have limited international experience.
Other Hibs players look set to become Scotland players after next summer’s Euros, but one of the big differences at Easter Road will be that nearly all the Bayern players are established internationalists. Murray, who will be partnered by Hunter or Emma Brownlie, will be particularly wary of 20-year-old Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema, who has already notched 23 goals for her country.
Scotland’s Lisa Evans is also in the Bayern squad and there was plenty of time for banter before she and Murray played against Iceland in the recent 2-1 Euro 2017 qualifying win. “Lisa is full of nonsense at the best of times so there was plenty of good chat,” Murray laughs.
The composed Hibs defender is playing the best football of her career and works for an insurance company in between early morning strength and conditioning work and Hibs’ four-times-a-week evening training sessions.
Murray has little interest in leaving the club she adores. “There’s no money in the Scottish game, but I love playing football and wearing the Hibs strip on a Sunday,” she says.
“It makes me feel so proud. It would have to be a very good offer indeed to tempt me away on a professional contract in another country.”