Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday 8 January 2018

In Search of Jock Murray

Paul Nicholls

As so often happens, this tale, about footballer “Jock” Murray, came about while I was searching for something else. It was just a snippet in a newspaper that caught my eye. About a sportsman whose life was cut tragically short. Soon I felt compelled to follow the lead.

My search for Jock Murray reveals as much about community and family as it does about football. I hope this story can do some justice to the memory of Jock, who played for the St George club in Sydney in the 1920s.

John Percival Carr Murray, was born in Roslin, Scotland, in either 1896 or 1897. The family emigrated to Australia just before the outbreak of the first world war and settled in the southern Sydney suburb of Hurstville.

Like many Scottish migrants, the Murrays brought with them a love of football.

Jock first made an impression at his junior club, Balmain Thistle. In 1920 he joined Dulwich Hill, playing as a fullback. In a game against St George he came on as an injury reserve and scored two goals. The victory must have been made all the sweeter since his younger brother Bob was playing for the opposition. Dulwich Hill went on to win the Charity Cup that season.

The following year, Jock and Bob turned out for Hurstville United. With Jock at centre-forward and Bob on the wing, they terrorised opposition defences. Jock scored in almost every match including four in one game against Arncliffe.

In a cup tie against Balmain Gladstone, the brothers were unstoppable. One reporter said, “He (Jock) was responsible for the whole of the three goals on Saturday. Bob, his brother, played with his usual dash, and by his accurate centres, helped Jock to finalise on two occasions.”

Hurstville won the 1921 Metropolitan junior premiership and the club considered amalgamating with St George in an attempt to push for First League status. Jock was a vocal supporter of the idea but the amalgamation didn’t happen and he joined the Balmain Gladstone club who had been promoted to the First League for the 1922 season.

It was Jock’s first taste of top flight football in Sydney. He went back to his old position of fullback but the competition was a step up in class. Although he did score in a game against Granville, Jock often found himself on the reserves bench.

The following year Jock moved to his local district club, St George, who were currently playing in the third tier of Sydney football.

St George was a great family and community club with its share of colourful characters. The half-back line consisted of three Chiswell brothers and the two fullbacks were Smarts. Describing George Smart, a reporter said, in the picturesque language of the day, “he has the physique of Jack Dempsey and kicks like a Gallipoli mule.”

St George won the competition with an unbeaten record and were promoted to the First Division second grade – effectively the second tier league.

In the 1924 season Jock had a great year for St George. He showed his versatility in one match when he substituted for the goalkeeper who came off with an injury. In another game he scored from the penalty spot. He was a hard working fullback who, “defended like a trojan.”

At club functions, Jock was the life of the party. He always had the MC duties and arranged the music and the dances. He was said to be the most popular player at the club.

A reorganisation of club football meant that St George would play in the First League in 1925. Jock was back in the top tier of Sydney football.

This time Jock would be a regular. Things got even better for the Murray family when Jock’s wife gave birth to their second child just as the football season commenced.

A Sydney football scene from the 1920s. Sydney Mail 26 May 1926, p. 21.

On 22 August 1925, St George played Canterbury at the Canterbury sports ground.

Jock had a good game and almost made the score sheet. According to a match report, “Hayes, when close to goal, gave Murray a capital opportunity but Bailey ran out and saved.”

During the match Jock slipped and fell and split open his finger. The wound was cleaned up and he continued playing.

On the Monday, Jock was persuaded to see a doctor who inserted three stitches in his finger.

But the Canterbury Sports Ground had until a few years before been a market garden. The nutrients from fertilisers such as animal manure made the soil good not only for growing cabbages and carrots, but also for bacteria.

The wound became infected. The following Sunday he was admitted to the Coast Hospital suffering from tetanus. By Friday, Jock Murray was dead.

It was a massive shock to Sydney’s football community. Over 200 mourners turned up at the graveside at Woronora cemetery. Football officials, players of rival clubs as well as supporters and players from the district attended, such as the Chiswells and the Smarts. And of course, Bob, Jock’s younger brother, great mate and occasional strike partner was there.

The death was felt throughout the St George district. A wreath was presented by the Hurstville United Rugby League club. JJ Cahill, the local member of state parliament attended the funeral as did Clarrie Tye, the vice-captain of the St George Rugby League team.

Also at the graveside was Jock’s shattered wife, holding onto their two children; a two-year old and a four month old baby.

What a sad old day that must have been. It appears that Jock Murray, the grafting, hard-working footballer for the St George club touched many hearts. He was just 28 when he died.

Well laddie, my search is over. In some small way I’d like to think I’ve found you.