Some footballers sail through entire careers on a tide of exaggerated praise, their names dripping with stardust carelessly dispensed. Others, somehow not cast naturally in the heroic mould, suffer by comparison, their reputations shining less lustrously even though their worth is immense. Jimmy Murray, the excellent, free-scoring, quietly unassuming Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-forward of the late 1950s and early 1960s, falls emphatically into the second category.
Murray never received a full England cap – the nearest he got was an outing for the Football League and two international appearances at under-23 level – but his record of 166 goals in 299 games for the Molineux club suggests he was distinctly unfortunate not to be granted at least a fleeting opportunity at the top level. Reaching his zenith in the second half of Wolves' golden era under the stern martinet Stan Cullis, Murray contributed bountifully as the Black Countrymen lifted the League crown in 1957-58 and 1958-59, then missed out by a single point on achieving a rare championship hat-trick in 1959-60, when they were pipped by Burnley on the competition's final day.
Murray was the leading marksman as Wolves racked up a century of goals in each of those three top-flight campaigns, and he was vastly influential, too, as Cullis's dynamic, hard-driving side beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in the 1960 FA Cup final on a sunlit Wembley afternoon, thus claiming rich consolation for their title-race frustration.
Rather surprisingly in a team renowned for its steely athleticism and predilection for long-ball tactics, the spearhead of the attack was no archetypal hulking bustler. Indeed, although he could hold his own physically in the heat of the action – Cullis would never have employed him, otherwise – Murray was not even a particularly muscular specimen, being slender of build and standing only 5ft 9in. What he brought to the Molineux mix was skill, mobility, intelligence and that most precious of all qualities for any centre-forward, a poacher's instinct for arriving in front of goal at the optimum moment to propel the ball between the posts.
Murray was a notably shrewd reader of the play and the way he anticipated the intentions of team-mates and opponents alike seemed almost uncanny at times. For such a prolific front-man, he was unselfish, too, frequently making clever decoy runs off the ball to allow the likes of inside-forwards Peter Broadbent and Bobby Mason, and wingers Jimmy Mullen and Norman Deeley, to capitalise on the space thus created.
Like the sumptuously gifted play-maker Broadbent, Murray hailed from the mining village of Elvington in Kent, between Canterbury and Dover, and while many of his young friends gravitated to the coal industry his father, who managed the local pit canteen, refused to let his son work underground. As it happened, that possibility was swept aside when the 16-year-old was spotted by Wolves' talent scout George Poyser while playing for non-League Canterbury City. He enlisted at Molineux as a junior in 1951, turning professional in November 1953 during the season which ended in Wolves winning the League title for the first time in their history.
The callow newcomer was offered no part in that campaign, but when the established sharpshooter Roy Swinbourne suffered a grievous knee injury in November 1955, Murray was called up for a high-prestige floodlit friendly against Moscow Dynamo at Molineux. Though only just turned 20, that night he revealed both verve and composure, creating one of the goals for Mullen in a 2-1 victory and signalling that he was ready for permanent promotion.
The level-headed and unfailingly loyal Murray was rarely out of the side for the next six years, peaking in the glorious trophy-laden seasons but still carrying a potent threat into the new decade. However, as Wolves began to decline he became less sure of his place and in November 1963, still in his prime at 28, he was sold to Second Division Manchester City for £27,000.
Now operating under Poyser, his former mentor, Murray made a sensational start to his Maine Road tenure, scoring 13 times in his first eight games – including two successive hat-tricks – and striking up a formidable partnership with the former England international Derek Kevan.
Though his subsequent effectiveness was limited by injuries, and a new link with the former Rangers star Ralph Brand did not quite gel, he helped City, by then managed by Joe Mercer, to rise to the top tier as Second Division champions in 1966.
Having entered his thirties, Murray lingered only briefly back among the élite, moving to Third Division Walsall in May 1967. After two seasons of sprightly contribution at Fellows Park he left the Football League to join Telford United, helping them to two FA Trophy finals, losing in 1970 but triumphing a year later. After laying aside his boots, Murray ran his own greengrocery in Tamworth, and he later entered the car-hire business.
James Robert Murray, footballer: born Elvington, Kent 11 October 1935; played for Wolverhampton Wanderers 1953-63, Manchester City 1963-67, Walsall 1967-69; married (two daughters); died Lichfield, Staffordshire 27 September 2008.Reuse content