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Cheltenham Town: Murphy is still planning for a bright future, 40 years on

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 23, 2013

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CURRENT director John Murphy is the only man to play, manage and serve on the board at Cheltenham Town.

His main responsibility since returning to the club two years ago has been to oversee all aspects of the club's Academy.

Former Cleeve School pupil Murphy originally joined the Robins in 1974, during the reign of Bob Etheridge.

Etheridge invited him along to training and despite forgetting his boots for his first session, he quickly made a positive impression.

He had been playing casually for Forest Green Rovers, who were in the Gloucestershire County League at the time.

With a stable career in the civil service, defender Murphy did not have aspirations of becoming a professional and he turned down an offer from Crystal Palace six months into his Robins career.

The Eagles' loss was his hometown's gain as he played a key part in team team's promotion to the Premier Division of the Southern League under Denis Allen's management in 1976/77.

Work took him to the north and he spent time with Harrogate and Scarborough, but he returned to Cheltenham and was influential in the 1982/83 title-winning season, which saw Alan Wood's Robins team return to the Premier Division.

During his first spell, Murphy was persuaded by Allen to run the youth team, starting his coaching career in his early 20s.

Midway through the 1983/84 campaign Wood was sacked and Murphy took over as player/manager at the tender age of 27.

"Arthur Hayward was the chairman at the time and it came out of the blue really," Murphy said.

"He said that I always seemed to be saying what we should be doing, so to go ahead and do it myself!

"I took to it straightaway and the only thing that concerned me was playing and managing at the same time.

"I had Roger Thorndale with me at the time and Dave Lewis to offer support.

"My first game was on Boxing Day against Gloucester City and I wasn't sure whether to play.

"The trainer Bert Williams convinced me to and we beat them 4-1.

"There was a massive crowd and it couldn't have been a better start."

Murphy soon took the decision to concentrate fully on management, however, hanging up his boots at the age of 28 after making more than 350 appearances.

"I could have probably got up to about 700 appearances for the club, but I chose management and we had a purple patch for a couple of years really," he said.

At the end of Murphy's first full season at the helm, Cheltenham were celebrating promotion to the Gola League (Conference), pipping King's Lynn to the title with a 2-1 final day victory over Alvechurch.

"When I first took over there was a slight worry we'd go down, but we stabilised and the following season everything went right," he said.

"I enjoyed spotting players and bringing them in.

"Tactically I focused on getting good players in who took responsibility like Ray Baverstock, Steve Abbley, Anton Vircavs and Richard Crowley.

"Steve Brooks and Mark Boyland were outstanding players and I forged them together, didn't overload them and made it an enjoyable place to be.

"I rarely told them how to play, but we had so many good personalities in there.

"Brian Hughes was a good influence and we went up and had a really good couple of seasons in the Conference."

As well as uncovering the brilliance of Boyland from Banbury, Murphy spotted Brett Angell playing in a five-a-side match and snapped him up.

"Brett was playing as a defender for a local side in the Portsmouth area," Murphy said.

"We played him up front and he took to it immediately.

"He had all the attributes, he wasn't slow once he got going, he was brave in the air and strong.

"I remember we played Bristol City in a pre-season friendly and Terry Cooper was their manager. He was desperately keen to speak to Boyland, but Mark was happy with what he was doing and he was a great non-League player."

Murphy, who was also a serving director at the time, soon became frustrated as Angell was sold to Derby County for £50,000, Boyland joined Wycombe Wanderers and another star player Chris Townsend was also allowed to leave.

"I thought we could have a real tilt at winning the league and the Trophy because we'd caught up with a lot of traditionally strong non-League teams like Maidstone, Enfield and Kettering," he said.

"Suddenly we had clubs coming in for our players, I was inexperienced and I didn't handle the adjustment to that particularly well."

Murphy never overcame the disappointment of losing 4-2 to Telford United in the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy in the 1987/88 season.

But the final straw came the following season when Cheltenham were beaten 3-0 by Gloucester in the second qualifying round of the FA Cup.

"That was the pinnacle of losing those players and I was so disappointed, it was a massive blow," Murphy said.

"I wasn't very good at overcoming disappointment and I'd managed for five years and was still only 32, but I decided to take a break, which was fine."

*–  For the second part of this look back at John Murphy's long association with Cheltenham Town, see tomorrow's Echo.

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  • jackstumps  |  January 23 2013, 2:57PM

    I well remember Murph's time at Cheltenham both as a player and of course as a manager. Some great charactrs in there - Boyland, Hughesy, Baverstock and Angell. They always had time for a chat and a beer afterwards. So did Murph and I remember him takng time to attend my club - The Court (more great memories) - AGM and presenting the trophies. Good stuff. Looking forward to next installment.

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