Few goalkeepers that made little over 100 appearances in English football, with only one of them being in the Premier League (a 5-1 defeat by Blackburn Rovers), have made the same impression as Matt Murray.
A Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper for the entirety of his career, aside from four loan spells, Murray played exactly 100 times for the Old Gold, the club he joined as a nine-year-old.
Murray was dogged by injuries throughout his career, which saw him retire at just 29 years old.
Having played for England’s under-21s before helping Wolves to promotion to the top flight in 2003, during the time of the ‘golden generation’ in the mid-noughties Murray could potentially have been England’s number one choice between the sticks.
A dream start to a nightmare career
Any young goalkeeper should watch Wolves’ 2003 First Division play-off final victory against Sheffield United. Dave Jones’ Wolves won 3-0 thanks to first-half goals from Mark Kennedy, Nathan Blake and Kenny Miller, but it was Murray who took the Man of the Match award.
Wolves began the second half on the back foot. A penalty was given, which was perhaps harsh, for a handball against centre-back Paul Butler; Michael Brown stepped up to take it, and finessed his shot towards the top corner, but Murray dived to his left and parried it away superbly.
He also saved defender Joleon Lescott from embarrassment by managing to divert his goal-bound header, which seemed destined to be an own goal that would have given United a way back into the game, wide.
Wolves’ Molineux faithful looked forward to their first season in the top tier of English football for 19 years. But for Murray, and indeed Wolves, it did not last long – Murray played in Wolves’ 5-1 opening-day defeat to Blackburn, before getting injured on international duty. Without him, Jones’ side finished in 20th place and were relegated back to the First Division.
2006/07: A bittersweet season for the Old Gold
Having failed to come close to promotion back to the Premiership under Jones, and then Glenn Hoddle, Mick McCarthy was appointed as Wolves manager in the summer of 2006 ahead of the new season.
Murray missed just two league games in what was only his second consistent season as a number one keeper. He won the club’s Player of the Year award, only to be ruled out of Wolves’ play-off semi-final first leg against arch-rivals West Bromwich Albion after breaking his shoulder on the eve of the tie.
Relentless injuries take their toll
Murray’s absence meant that young Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey established himself in the starting side, in a similar fashion to how Murray had done a few years previous.
Murray went out on loan to gain match fitness and some valuable playing time in 2008, joining Hereford United. In only his third game for the Bulls, in a midweek fixture against MK Dons, he damaged his cruciate knee ligaments when clearing the ball.
It was one injury too many and in 2010 Murray was forced to call time on his career. He announced his decision on the pitch at half-time during a Premier League fixture against Aston Villa, and was met with a resounding reception.
After retirement – still giving back to the game
Murray can be seen on Sky Sports News regularly covering English Football League matches for Soccer Saturday, hosted by Jeff Stelling.
He began coaching at the Nike Academy, an elite football school that provides released and unattached young players a chance to earn professional contracts with English clubs after his retirement from playing. He then moved to Championship club Barnsley as an academy coach; he dreams of one day managing a club himself.