Back in his Liverpool days, a friend of mine’s grandfather used to put £10 on Danny Murphy to score first for every Anfield home game. Why? Because with Murphy there was always a chance.
Making 249 appearances, there was a time when Murphy looked like a one-club man at Liverpool. Originally a product of the Dario Gradi production line at Crewe, and despite going on to become Manchester United tormentor in chief while at Anfield, Danny eventually found his way south. First Charlton, then Tottenham and finally Fulham. For Mr Reliable, he’s played for a surprisingly large number of teams.
Ironically enough, it was under Martin Jol at Spurs that Danny became a forgotten man. The victim of a transfer policy at White Hart Lane that ensured as many midfielders as possible were signed, Lawrie Sanchez brought Murphy to Craven Cottage in August 2007. I can still remember him being introduced next to Seol Ki-Hyeon and Shefki Kuqi on the Craven Cottage pitch during one particular half time.
Football can be a fickle game, and the relative successes of those three deadline-day signings say it all. Two are confined to the history books, as mere passing specks on the radar of Fulham’s history, while Murphy has gone on to become a Fulham Hall of Famer.
Trailing his Anfield days by only 36 games, by continuing on at The Cottage into next season, there is a good chance Danny would play more times for Fulham than he did for Liverpool, and that would be quite something.
Since arriving at Fulham, Murphy has been at the very core of what has, in hindsight, been a complete upward transformation in the clubs fortunes. From his midfield play, that is the beating heart of the team on the field, to his stoic and poised leadership off it. Danny has come to embody what it means to be Fulham.
Although having not yet lifted a trophy with Fulham, Danny has always led from the front. Over the last five seasons, some of the most memorable moments in club history have involved our beloved skipper.
It started with the great escape. “Who put the ball in the Portsmouth net? Danny Murphy”. It will be a moment that lives on in the memory of all Fulham fans. Twenty-three minutes from relegation to the abyss of the championship, when up popped Murphy, all 5 feet 9 inches of him, to score that header. Since then, while we’ve gone from strength to strength, the three relegated teams that day, Derby, Birmingham and Reading have all had varying fortunes but non were in the top division this season.
That Portsmouth goal is just one of 27 scored whilst in Fulham colours. Many of them have, of course, been from the penalty spot. Ask a man in the street what Danny does best, and the answer will often involve penalties. Perhaps, if he’d won more than the woefully low nine England caps he has, our national team might have actually won a penalty shoot out once in a while.
Talking of our national team. The national press’s topic du jour is appointment of former Whites boss Roy Hodgson to the England post. Although club policy prevents players from commenting, Roy’s hiring is likely a prospect welcomed by Murphy. The thinking man’s manager for the thinking man’s player perhaps?
Murphy has an uncanny knack of popping up when you really need him as well. Be it a goal or an assist, a pass or a tackle, there is always some way in which he makes a difference. As Danny is rarely flashy, these moments of quality often fly well under the radar.
The tremendously important winner against Basel at home in the Europa League is a perfect example. A stodgy game that we needed to win, Murphy won us the game with a delightful 20 yard shot. Yet, in the panoply of memories from the Europa League, you’d struggle to pick this one out of a crowd.
The Europa League was the scene of the game that Murphy himself describes as his favourite for Fulham. The atmosphere of the Europa League Semi Final second-leg against Hamburg at Craven Cottage narrowly allows it to edge out the aforementioned Portsmouth game. Aware of its significance, the game’s place in history was not lost on our skipper. Of course, playing the sumptuous assist for Simon Davies’ stunning equaliser probably doesn’t tarnish any memories, either.
It is often forgotten that Murphy had, like the rest of us, to watch the Juventus game from the stands. The ignominious sending off away at Shakthar Donetsk, when he kicked out at Darijo Srna, gave Murphy the rarest of suspensions. At the end of the day though, it was he who led us out that fateful night in Hamburg, in the Europa League Final, and there’s not a Fulham fan alive that would have had it any other way.
Domestically, it was in our two famous victories against Manchester United during Roy Hodgson’s reign that we saw Murphy’s true colours, scoring in both games to continue his role as Sir Alex Ferguson’s nemesis. It is testament to both his commitment to Fulham, and his enduring fondness for Liverpool, that his wife Joanna, darling of the Fulham twitterati, is still not sure which club the couple’s children will grow up to support (although word is they are both Fulham fans at the moment!).
Besides Danny’s highlight reel ability, the role he performs on the field is incredibly team first. For example, he always mans the post whilst defending corners. Is Danny’s role always glamorous? No. Is it necessary? Yes.
There is also this move that I swear he’s patented, a sort of dummy turn, where he lets the ball run past him, only to then turn his entire body 180 degrees and then continue running. It works every time, and perhaps, it should now be known as the Murphy Turn.
There is a quote from Barcelona midfield Xavi Hernandez, “football is for the smart guys, not just the big guys who can run all day”. While Xavi is perhaps the best exponent of the role of the creative metronome in the centre of midfield, Murphy cannot be far behind. There is something almost mythical about those players who can seemingly collect the ball and distribute it simultaneously whilst managing to always look for that decisive killer pass.
Off the field, it is his ability to articulate that has led many people, in and around the game, to suggest that Murphy has a future career ahead of him as either a pundit or a manager. Already used as a guest on various live broadcasts, Danny would be a welcome addition to our TV screens on a regular basis. I hope that there might be a better use for the brain and feet of our skipper once his playing days are over.
For his part, Danny wants to play for as long as he possibly can before then going into coaching, ideally at Fulham. From the fans’ perspective, this is great to hear and I sincerely wish that this career plan comes to fruition. Football is a game that is nearly impossible to predict, but one day, Danny Murphy – Fulham Manager, has a nice ring to it.
In 2010, Murphy used a platform at the Leaders in Football conference to criticise certain clubs and managers for over-zealous and aggressive tactics. He did so in an intelligent and insightful manner. Almost every Fulham fan was proud to call him our skipper that day.
The pressing issue at the moment is whether or not an agreement on a new contract will be forthcoming. At 35, Danny is no spring chicken, but in this case, age is but a number. The team’s performance level is still dictated by Murphy, and I’m hopeful that his playing career at Fulham will justly continue.
Just look at what happens when Danny’s not there. The man in control of the centre of midfield can make or break a team, and a good one is hard to find. Sir Alex Ferguson bringing back Paul Scholes to the Manchester United team at age 38 is a perfect example.
Whether or not Danny signs a new contract, either way, I’d love to know before this coming Sunday. We host Sunderland in our final home game of the season and we would all love to give Danny the standing ovation he deserves.
A big thank you to Danny and Joanna Murphy for contributing to the article. Please follow Joanna on twitter @joannataylormum