Simon Hart: Dutch courage of Arsenal kid tearing it up at Dagenham
Life Beyond the Premier League: Rhys Murphy had to go abroad to kick-start his career
Thursday 31 October 2013
Arsenal supporters with a love of Sixties music may be aware that the No 1 hit record "Telstar" was produced in a flat on the Holloway Road, a short distance from where the Emirates Stadium stands today. That piece of pop trivia means nothing to Rhys Murphy but the name Telstar certainly does – it is where the former Arsenal reserve began rebuilding his career a long way from north London.
The Telstar in question is a Second Division Dutch team based in the North Sea port of Ijmuiden and it was there that Murphy, the leading scorer in League Two with Dagenham & Redbridge, spent last season, having finally severed his ties with the club which nurtured his talent from the age of 13.
Murphy, 22, went there with one simple wish – to play football. According to XPro, the former players' charity, just two per cent of footballers who sign for a club as professionals are still playing beyond the age of 21. The number still in league football from his 2009 Arsenal FA Youth Cup-winning squad is much healthier, though Murphy – who got no closer to the first team than a place on the bench for a pre-season friendly – still had to go abroad to kick-start his career.
"I was always aware that Arsenal is such a big club and if it doesn't work there then you will have to take a step back," he reflects. "That was the main thing for me – I needed to go somewhere where I was going to be playing football regularly, and get any doubt out of any managers' minds as to whether I was injury-prone."
He is referring to the broken leg and hamstring trouble which had hindered his progress at Arsenal. Loans at Brentford and Preston had not helped much either, providing just one league start each. Over at Telstar, though, the Irish Under-21 international made 28 appearances – with 17 starts – and hit eight goals, his first in senior football. "I started in the central role and then was playing more of a winger," he says. "They play 4-3-3 over there. It helped me learn playing in different positions." The standard was mixed but the football "a bit more technical".
Yet when Telstar ran into financial troubles at the season's end, Murphy was on the move again. "Eight of us had to leave to get off the wage bill," he explains. "I agreed to cancel my second year, which left me as a free agent." A nervy summer followed. "The number of players out of contract with no club in pre-season is frightening," he adds. A trial with Aberdeen came to nothing, but fortunately the chance arrived with Dagenham & Redbridge.
The homely Essex club is a different word from the "little bubble" of life at Arsenal – where he was a youth-team colleague of Jack Wilshere and trained with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie – but they have given him his chance and he is repaying them. Wayne Burnett's side escaped relegation by goal difference in April but now sit one place off the play-off spots, with the help of Murphy's eight goals – the most recent in last Saturday's win over second-placed Rochdale – as well as contributions from two other Arsenal alumni, Gavin Hoyte and Abu Ogogo, and Zavon Hines, once of West Ham.
The reason for his own good form is – unlike the original Telstar satellite which inspired the name of both a pop record and a football club – hardly rocket science. "It is so hard to get your form going when you're in, out, in, out," Murphy says. "Playing every week helps so much – you feel fitter, you feel better. I'm scoring goals and I'm feeling good. I am happy to be playing at Dagenham and grateful for the opportunity and hope I can do well enough to start pushing up the Football League when the time is right."
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