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Murty: Tommy Burns left an impression on me at Reading FC
Tommy Burns left a lasting impression on Reading legend Graeme Murty.
The late Burns gave York City £700,000 for a little-known winger in July 1998 just as Royals were preparing to move from their spiritual home of Elm Park to Madejski Stadium.
Following the ‘magnificent seven’ – Burns’ deadline-day swoop to help fight off the spectre of relegation in the months before Murty’s signing – many Royals fans felt a case of déjà vu at their latest summer recruit as they began life in Division Two.
Of course the ‘magnificent seven’ turned out to be anything near what their billing stated.
And Murty’s fee looked like it was more money down the drain as the former Middlesbrough trainee was hit by injuries at the start of his Reading career.
However, it was perhaps Burns’ wise words on the day of his departure from Madejski Stadium on September 16, 1999 that proved to be the catalyst in Murty cementing his name in Royals folklore.
Speaking to the Royals Post podcast from his home, he recalled: “The day Tommy Burns got sacked, he said to me: “Murts – please show this lot what I have bought because I believe in you.
“You’re a fantastic player, just make sure you believe in it and do it every single day. He could have hammered me or taken me to the cleaners because I didn’t play enough games for him.
“But it’s a measure of the man that he was worried about me and not himself.
“No-one wants to be injured and it’s the worst part of football. I would have loved to have missed out on a few knocks. I think if I had I would have not played 300 odd games for Reading, but 400 and on-going.
“I’ve spent the last 18 months trying to get fit because I want to play. I just love doing it and I still think I have something to offer.
“I had lots of mates who were better than me, quicker, more skilful – but they just didn’t want it enough. When I was bombed at Middlesbrough as a 15-year-old I had to get off my arse and work hard.
“Everything I have achieved today is down to basic fundamentals – listening to people you trust, learning your game and working your socks off.”
In fact Murty was close to not joining Reading at all after his girlfriend, now wife Karen, was opposed to the idea of moving away from home.
“My wife burst into tears as she didn’t want to move down south,” Murty said with a smile.
“Steve Kean (the current Blackburn Rovers boss) picked me up from the airport. I met Tommy Burns and Packie Bonner at Madejski Stadium with a hard hat and all the gear on as it was still under construction.
“We walked into the middle of the pitch and they said: “Do you think you would like to play here?”
“And I was like, ‘have you been to Bootham Crescent?!’
“Tommy was the nicest bloke I met in football. I had a nightmare first season and I found it hard, I wasn’t ‘me’. It took me a long time to settle down and just be ‘me’.
“He wanted players to do things they couldn’t do. And when they couldn’t, he didn’t get rid of them because he wanted to make them better. Which I think is a very commendable and laudable thing.”
Alan Pardew took over from Burns and Murty was finally beginning to get himself fit and make an impact on the team.
But even then it was hard to see the dynamic right-back go on to make 339 appearances in the blue and white hoops over 11 years.
Murty insists that the highs of reaching the Premier League for the first time in Reading’s history under Steve Coppell and captaining the record-breaking ‘106’ team outweigh the heartbreak of losing a play-off final 3-2 to Walsall at Cardiff in 2001.
“Steve is very clever manager,” said Murty who is currently training with League Two side Aldershot.
“The detail he would bring to everything was brilliant. The year we went up, 90 per cent of Reading players had their best season of their lives at the same time.
“I don’t think that will ever be replicated, it was just one of those things. We just knew we would win games. He treated us like men and told us explicitly what to do and then trusted us to do that.
But relegation from the top-flight after just two seasons was a hard pill to swallow after Murty noticed a shift in mentality amongst the squad.
“There were definitely different agendas amongst the players, rightly or wrongly,” he admitted.
“Steve Sidwell moving (on a free transfer to Chelsea) didn’t help because they saw people were looking at players and putting offers in.
“Heads were definitely turned, but we still had it in our own hands and should never have got relegated. I was frustrated because I didn’t really play after Christmas because I tore my calf.
“Every year they seemed to sign a right-back. I had the shirt and armband and there was no way I was letting go of it. Then Liam Rosenior got in and I couldn’t get the shirt off him.”
Murty went to support his old team as Brian McDermott led Royals to another Wembley final last season.
Although they were beaten 4-2 by Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City, he is confident that Reading can reach the big time once again under McDermott.
And the capture of Adam Le Fondre has taken Murty back down memory lane as he recalls similarities between the 24-year-old striker and Jamie Cureton.
“I think Brian McDermott has got himself a little bargain and Alfie is fitting in with the Reading ethos,” said Murty
“If you see Reading train they are switched on and fully at it every single minute.
“When you make that jump up from League Two the passing is sharper, the touches are tighter and the chances you have of getting the ball back when you have lost it are significantly less.
“But Alfie is getting all of that. And I think when new players come in, it’s important that the existing players make that transition easier.
“The players that are already at the club have to integrate the new ones and I think Reading have done that really well.
“I know a lot of managers wouldn’t have looked at him because he’s too small. They would have a perception, which is totally wrong. But Brian McDermott spots a player.
“Brian is a great man. I’ve been in and talked to him and listened to his thoughts on football and as a person. He is creating this ethos and it’s hard to create a team without one.
“When Reading play well, you can see that ‘Reading way’ running throughout the team and it’s to Brian’s credit that it’s like that.
“He reminds me of Coppell in the best way, but definitely with his own flavour. He is going to have to continue to shop the way he is and spot players.
“And my worry for him, is that if we have a lean spell, people won’t stay with him. I hope they would, because he is very good for the club.”
27 October 2011
04 April 2019