AFC FPs | George Murray Interview
As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations around the 1970 Scottish Cup win, the Red Matchday editor spoke with George Murray, part of that famous starting XI who won at Hampden against Celtic. George, who spent nine seasons at Pittodrie as a player, coach and even temporary manager, was in Aberdeen earlier this year after travelling back from his home in Australia.
In Aberdeen, at the time George signed for the Dons, the city was celebrating the centenary of the opening of the famous Aberdeen Joint Station, the venue for many a triumphant return for an Aberdeen side. The landmark was celebrated with a tour by a train that ran round the south side of the harbour, crossed the bridge – which has long since disappeared – and up to the gas works where several engines were on display. Passengers getting off the train there were able to buy copies of the local Evening Express which showed their very train leaving Guild Street — the wonders of ‘60s technology! George’s arrival was just a bit too late to catch The Who playing at the Beach Ballroom, of all places, on October 7th 1967.
On the field the Dons were as inconsistent as they had ever been under Eddie Turnbull in 1967/68. After a disastrous League Cup campaign where the Dons had failed to win any of the six qualifying group matches, the Aberdeen manager looked carefully at his squad.
Although progress was made in the autumn with an historic first appearance in the European arena against Reykjavik of Iceland, the Dons were then well beaten by Standard Liege in Belgium. A stirring fight back in the Pittodrie return earned plaudits, but Aberdeen were still out of Europe. In the immediate aftermath, Turnbull swooped for Motherwell utility man George Murray to strengthen his side. Murray had already been capped at U-23 and League level for Scotland and the Dons had to part company with Jimmy Wilson as part of the deal.
George was listed as the Aberdeen substitute for the game at Kilmarnock on 9th December 1967, three days after going out to Liege. Kilmarnock were still in Europe and that season reached the semi-finals of the Fairs Cup (precursor to the UEFA Cup).
It was certainly a day to forget for the Dons, who were three down and out by the time George made his first appearance for the club. The 3-0 defeat compounded a miserable week for Aberdeen, who had shown a fair degree of muscle in the game with Ally Shewan and Frank Munro booked in a bruising game played on a rock hard surface.
The Aberdeen starting line up that day was: Clark, Whyte, Shewan, Munro, McMillan, Petersen, Little, Smith, Robb, Melrose, Taylor.
George barely remembers the game itself but does recall, “It was a freezing cold day and the pitch was rock hard which made it impossible to play on. Players were sliding all over the place and I remember my good friend Bobby Clark diving to make a save and then sliding yards over the line with the ball still in his hands. I doubt if playing on pitches like that would be allowed these days”.
And things did not get much better after that.
The Early Days
“We were not doing too well. It was hard going. I was not a great success at the start at Aberdeen. I had played a couple of very good games against Aberdeen and also scored a great goal at Pittodrie, so I had been in good form before I arrived.
“But I didn’t have a happy start to my career here, which I put down to the weather which was like the Arctic! It was something I really had to get used to. One of my first training sessions was at the Bridge of Don Barracks. The snow was blowing directly across the field which was exposed and all I could do was turn my back on the storm and hope for an end to the torture. I remember team mate Davie Millar shouting ‘Let’s plant the British flag and get to ….. out of here!’ I had no problem with that at all! They were no conditions to be out in, let alone football training.
“A couple of days later, I went down with the flu which is a condition I had not experienced prior to that and have not had since. That set me back and it is fair to say that my form suffered greatly as a consequence. The virus floored me for ages and I never really recovered for the rest of that season.”
The Cup Run
By early February 1970, Eddie Turnbull had put together a strong looking side. They had defeated Clyde in the opening of the Scottish Cup, comfortably winning 4-0, but then came the infamous second round tie against lowly Clydebank. The match was played in midweek as snow had caused a postponement at the weekend. Although the Dons won 2-1, the performance was so bad that the Aberdeen fans started to cheer when the visitors went on the attack. Aberdeen were booed off the pitch.
The match is also remembered for the Dons playing in an unusual strip, as the referee insisted that the Clydebank strip with red diagonal sash would clash with Aberdeen’s all red. For some reason, the Aberdeen change strip was unsuitable so at very short notice, a set of kit was borrowed from a local junior club (possibly Lewis United thanks to Teddy Scott’s contacts), the shirt design being blue and white vertical stripes. The press were critical of the referee for imposing this change, particularly as he went on to permit Bobby Clark to wear a black jersey, which was in breach of SFA rules as it was not on the list of allowed colours for goalkeepers. Thankfully, Aberdeen were not thrown out of the competition!
“I remember there was a photo taken of me walking off the park. I was wearing the blue and white shirt, which we thankfully never wore again, standing there scratching my head. There was a caption in the paper saying ‘You can see what Murray thought of the game’. It was a terrible performance.
“It was typical cup football. We were expected to thrash them, but it did not work out that way. We were just glad to get through. We could easily have lost that night.”
George had originally been signed as a left-half but with the emergence of young Dons star Tommy Craig, it was as a left-back that Murray found success with Aberdeen. Indeed, it was in that position that Murray played his part in the Aberdeen side that won the Scottish Cup in 1970.
“At Motherwell, I had been played in the old inside-forward position. I was involved in the first team from the age of 16 and 17. I was an attacking man. Slowly but surely I moved back and then landed up defending!
“I played all over. One of the problems I had was that I was versatile and could play most positions. If they needed someone to fill in, they would say “George can play there”. The only positions I never played were goalkeeper, on the wing or centre-forward. I played every other position.
“Although on the plus side it would sometimes help me get a game, it was a bit of a problem. By the time I started playing left-back, I decided that was me and I would try and stick to that position.”
Murray was first thrust into that position in the crucial quarter-final tie against Falkirk at Brockville in 1970 as the Aberdeen squad was decimated by a flu virus and only those that could walk were included in the squad. Murray excelled in his new role and he kept his place at left-back for most of his playing days thereafter.
“I remember there was a flu outbreak. Aberdeen were trying to get the game called off but were told to play. It was such a big game in our season. It was a win or bust game. Despite a good number of players being unavailable with illness, we still put out a decent side because there were a lot of good players at the club at that time.
“It was in that game that Derek McKay came into the side. He scored the winner at Brockvillie, in the semi-final and netted twice in the final. Derek was unique. He was a great goalscorer. He played very few games but I don’t think he got a fair crack of the whip. No one called him anything other than ‘Cup-tie’ after that!”
This was Aberdeen’s fourth semi-final in five years. But could they finally go on and win the cup? They were certainly made to work very hard at Muirton Park, Perth, at the semi-final stage.
“That was a very good Kilmarnock team. We rode our luck that day. My abiding memory of the game was when they had a corner kick late on. I had played with Jackie McGrory in a Kilmarnock amateur side. The corner came over and he soared up above everyone else and bulleted in a header, from six yards out, straight at me. I was on the line, controlled it on my chest and volleyed it out of the park. If I had not been on the post, it was a goal.
“I also remember Willie Ormond, the future Scotland boss who was the St Johnstone manager at the time, he told Eddie afterwards that he could thank Henning Boel and me for winning that game. We were up against wee McLean and Cook, two very good players.
“My other memory is going down to the game – it was long before the motorway was built and you would travel along the old coastal road – there was an incredible number of cars. We were lucky to get to the game on time!
“There was a massive crowd that day, which showed how big a club Aberdeen was. But then I remember there being 12,000 at a reserve game once! In the final, I reckon we must have had 40,000 fans there that day. There was no way Aberdeen fans were outshouted at that game. The support we had that day was incredible.”
We will get to the 1970 Scottish Cup final presently, but before that, George recalls beating Celtic in a league game in Glasgow a few weeks before. Celtic just needed two points to clinch the Championship in this dress rehearsal for the final.
“Two weeks before the final, we beat Celtic at Parkhead in the league and it was one of my best games for the Dons. Scoring one of the goals made it a great night for me personally. Big Jock Stein had all the champagne ready to celebrate but we did them.
“Do I remember my goal? Do I ever! I still vividly see it my mind. It was just after half-time. The ball was coming across and Arthur Graham was running towards the ball as well but I just shouted ‘Bumper!’ at the top of my voice so he teed it up to me before I thumped the ball into the back of the net.
“In that league game, Celtic tore us to ribbons in the first half but we went in at the break nothing each. As we walked off the park at half-time I remember saying to Bobby Clark, “Bobby, we will win the cup because there is no team that can do that to us again.” I just did not think that it was possible.
“In the second half we went 2-0 up. Arthur, who was terrific that night, added a second before Tommy Gemmill scored late on. Tam and I came from the same area so we knew each other. He gave me a bit of stick before the final and told me what they were going to do to us.
“They had a confidence about them but that was because they were a very good team. They were reaching European Cup finals. They were good and they knew that they were good.
“But during that era, we had a very good record against them. We really had. I remember the following season beating them again at Celtic Park in a game that we were never in. But when you had Harper up front, you always had a chance. He could score from nothing.
“In the cup final I was up against Jimmy Johnstone. When he first came into the Celtic team I was still playing for Motherwell. He tore me apart. I was kicking lumps out of him, but he was still going past me at will. I will always remember the referee, a guy called Jimmy Stewart, and he said “George, if you kick him one more time, I am sending you off.” I said back to him, “Jimmy, I’m not trying to kick him, he is just too good!”
“But I had learned a lot from that experience. At left-back, I played him very well. I never dived in. I would try and get to the ball at the same time as him, but even if he got there first, I played him well.
“The two legendary European Cup semi-finals between Celtic and Leeds United took place either side of the Scottish Cup final, and I watching the games. Leeds had an England international left-back, Terry Cooper, who would give Jimmy ten yards. He was picking the ball up and running at them at will. I don’t care how good a player or team you were, if you gave Jimmy that much space, he would beat you.
“I could not believe that Leeds had not watched us because if they had, they would have seen how I played him. That is not being arrogant, but I had learned how to play him over the years. I would not necessarily tackle him, but I would push him away from goal and force him to make a pass. I never dived in, never fouled him after what happened when I was playing for Motherwell.
“Jimmy was a real talent but the best player I played against was Charlie Cooke. He and I again played together at youth level. I was pretty friendly with him. Aberdeen had sold him to Dundee, and I remember a game when I was playing sweeper. He was incredible that day. Thankfully it was before the time of substitutions otherwise I would have been hooked off! He was a marvellous player. He was just as good when he went down to England to play for Chelsea.
“Winning the Scottish Cup in front of a packed Hampden that day was unforgettable and the highlight of my career. The one disappointment about the day was that there was no lap of honour. The police were afraid that the Celtic fans would cause trouble or invade the park. But to be fair to their fans, they were ok. They had realised that they were well beaten. When our bus left Hampden, we passed a lot of Celtic fans and although there were a few gestures, the rest of the fans had accepted the defeat. To this day I still feel very strongly about this. We should have had a lap of honour. We should have at least been allowed to go over to our own fans.
“We made up for it though with the celebrations back at Gleneagles. It was good night! The guy who owned British Paints was there, so he very kindly paid for all the drink! Eddie and Jimmy Bonthrone disappeared and did not leave a tab or anything. That was Eddie. He was tough. But this guy paid for everything! And then I will never forget the scenes down Union Street on the Sunday. There were just so many people, all the way from Stonehaven to the city centre.”
The following seasons
Sadly after that famous triumph, arguably the Dons’ greatest domestic cup win, they and George could not build on the success despite going so close to winning the league the following season.
“After the cup final I suffered a lot of bad luck. The following season, when we played in Europe against the Hungarian side Honvéd, I pulled a hamstring. They were desperate to get me fit for the second leg – Eddie told me that I had to be ready for that – and I played but I was not fit. I should never had played because I could not run properly. I couldn’t sprint. I still played the odd game but it was another nightmare season for me. I never got my fitness back.
“When Eddie left, I got on well with Jimmy Bonthrone. When Martin Buchan left, I was playing as a sweeper or full-back so I had a good spell after that. But the best years were wasted because of the hamstring injury. Back then, there was no treatment as such. You just hoped that if you did not play, then you would get better. There was no physio as such. The medical teams are very different now to what it was like in my day.
“There was a guy in Glasgow who had his own practice and had a good name so I went down to see him. When I came out of my appointment, Jim Baxter and John Greig were sitting in the waiting room. It was same for them, you could not get treatment at your club.
“Although we did well for a spell, and were still very competitive, it was unfortunate that the ‘70 cup winning side could not continue. The club allowed that side to break up and I think that was a mistake. We were as good as anyone at that time. We could compete with Celtic who were beating the best teams in Europe. The team should have been strengthened, not weakened by allowing players to leave, because we were good. Who knows what might have happened?
“Ok the team that Alex Ferguson produced was better in the long run, but for us to do what we did regularly against Celtic, and in Glasgow, that meant we had a good team. We had a team that could defend and we had some very good forward players. None better than Joe.”
Although there were many Aberdeen legends in that cup winning side, it is another player who George picks as the best he ever played with.
“I was very friendly with Zolta Varga. When he arrived at the club, I was an established player who had played at a very good level, but he still taught me how to kick a ball properly. After watching him, and I would study what he did closely, I could hit balls with the outside of both feet. He was a tremendous dead ball striker.
“Zoltan was never going to stay with Aberdeen. He once said to me, when I was trying to get him to stay, the money he got from Aberdeen was pocket money compared with what he could get in Europe.
“He was the nicest guy but he was also a character. He had some amazing stories, such as the time he had to leave Mexico in a coffin! I had a lot of time for Zoltan.”
By now George had taken on a coaching role and even had the distinction of being the Dons’ caretaker manager after Jim Bonthrone left and before Ally MacLeod arrived.
“I did enjoy the coaching side of things. I got on very well with Teddy Scott. He was a great supporter of mine. So anytime we wanted me to play for his reserve side, I would. He wanted me to play because I was good with the younger players. I had a lot to do with helping a young striker by the name of Willie Miller. It was more about me talking to him that coaching.
“He did not play very often play in the little practice games in training, but I remember once he and keeper Andy Geoghegan when up for a ball. Andy cleaned him out and I will never forget when Teddy got back to his feet! His language was something else!!
“But in truth, I do regret taking the role. I could still have played on for two or three years more. When the story was announced that I was going to be the coach, we had a game against Celtic. Kenny Dalglish asked me if that was right and told me that I was too good to stop because I was still doing well and should keep playing.
“Much as I liked Jimmy Bonthrone, if there had been a stronger manager at the club at the time, he would have told the directors that I was not taking the position. They were the ones who wanted a coach and they had a very clear view of what the role should be. I did still play the odd game, but I was mostly on the bench and would come on or play when someone was injured.
“I also managed the club in a few games when Jimmy left. It was difficult because all the guys in the dressing room were the guys that I had played with. I would not say that I was a success or a failure, but it was pretty difficult.”
George is currently residing in Melbourne, Australia, where he emigrated after leaving Pittodrie in 1976. But he might have stayed on to enjoy the glory years had things been different.
“Had Alex Ferguson got the job before Billy McNeill, then I would have stayed at Pittodrie. Alex and I were pretty friendly long before he became a manager.
“Even back then, Alex had very strong opinions on the game. I played in the Scottish Youth team with him against England and after that we stayed friends. I liked the guy. I played against him when he was at Dunfermline and also when we played Falkirk in the League Cup and whacked then 8-0. When you played against him, he talked a lot through the game but I would not have said there was any indication that he would go on and become the manager he did. He was also a bit of a hot head!
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Pittodrie. It was good career, but all good things must come to an end. I will always keep an eye out to see how Aberdeen are doing.”
George made 127 Aberdeen appearances and scored four goals and will always be remembered as a Scottish Cup winner. We thank him for giving up so much of his time during his stay in Scotland and wish George and his family all the best for the future.