Sunday 23rd November 2014
To mark the anniversary of a headline-making two years with Dumbarton FC, manager Ian Murray gave matchday reporter and trainee journalist Jack Crawford an exclusive insight into how he came to be the boss of Scotland’s most successful part-time team, what his reflections are on that time, and what he thinks about the future.
Ian Murray has had a lot to celebrate in his two years in charge of Dumbarton. Since being appointed manager on 22nd November 2012, Ian has overseen 35 wins, a Stirlingshire Cup triumph, the Sons’ highest league finish in over 25 years and a Scottish Cup Quarter-Final. But he wants more.
“We want to be full time, ideally. We want to be at as high a level as we can.
“When I first came in here, the fitness coach Colin McLelland said to the players to look at Ross County and Inverness as our aspirations and there’s no reason these guys can’t do the same.” he said.
But Murray’s involvement with Dumbarton nearly ended before it began.
“I was in America working with kids. I was keeping up-to-date with football in general at home and it was on the BBC website I noticed the available job.
“I contacted my agent who was back in the UK to apply and then I got a phone call from my agent to ask when I was back.
“I wasn’t due back for another six weeks. I had a family holiday planned that my wife and kids were looking forward to and the two were going to interfere.
“So, that was the end of it. I told my agent to withdraw my interest and that was that. Dumbarton needed to crack on and whatever happened, happened.
“I then got a phone call three weeks later asking me if I was still interested, which I was. I flew back early and it was on a Tuesday, got interviewed on the Wednesday night, got offered the job on the Wednesday night and signed on Thursday before taking training on the Thursday night.”
The rest is history. Ian signed up as a player-manager, but in the end didn’t make any appearances in a Sons shirt.
“I think the fact I came in as predominantly a player-manager was appealing to the club.
“Obviously it didn’t work out. It was probably for the better that I didn’t need to play, because we got results pretty much straight away so there was no need for me to play or for me to make any changes.”
Ian Murray’s first game in official charge of Dumbarton was a 3-1 loss to Hamilton Accies in the Scottish Cup. Sons went on to win five out of six in the league following that match.
“The Hamilton game was the first time I had seen the current players play, so we went with the same formation that we had been playing that season.
“But I remember saying to [then assistant manager] Jack Ross at half time, walking across the pitch, ‘We can’t play that formation ever again. The players we have don’t know how to do it’.
“So, we went 4-4-2 and drew the second half 1-1.”
The first game in charge in the league was a 4-3 victory over Falkirk away from home, which was only Dumbarton’s second win all season. The team were stranded at the bottom of the table.
The next five matches that followed saw Sons face Morton, Dunfermline, Partick Thistle, Hamilton and Airdrie respectively.
“We started 4-4-2 against Falkirk and went in at half time at 1-1. The players didn’t really believe they could go on and win the game, but then they did and we found ourselves 4-1 up and managed to hold on.
“That three points gave us a fantastic platform, and we had Morton just two days later and beat them 3-0. Suddenly we had six points out of six and we were just two points off second bottom.
“If you can get results against them [Hamilton, Thistle, Morton, Falkirk and Airdrie] it breeds confidence. To go and beat these teams – and to beat them comfortably – filled us with confidence.
“We were beating teams, and we were beating them on merit. It wasn’t as if we were camping in and hitting them on the break.”
In this way, the gaffer started to turn Sons around and managed to beat the much-feared drop.
“It was a brilliant turnaround. Even without the points deduction to Dunfermline, I still think we were going to stay up.
“We’ve always seemed to come out on top against the part-time teams during my time here. It was Airdrie then and now obviously Cowdenbeath and Alloa.
“We seem to have that bit of dominance over them just now, but that could easily change. So, for the boys to stay up, that was a great achievement for them. They had been written off five or six games into the season, when nobody gave them any chance whatsoever.
“It was great for them, not so much for me, because these guys were the ones who were taking the brunt of the criticism.”
In his first full season in charge, Ian Murray guided Dumbarton to the status of Scotland’s best part-time team once more.
“We were fantastic last season in the league.
“It’s like this season, really. We have exactly the same number of points at this position just now, compared to what we had at this stage last season.
“We’ve shown we can compete with all the full time teams.
“Last year’s league position was exceptional from the players, and to narrowly miss out on the playoffs was disappointing, where we would have had as good a chance as anyone.”
It wasn’t just a successful league season for Murray and the squad, it was a more than successful Scottish Cup run as well.
“I always believe any team can have a good cup run. It only takes the luck of the draw five times to get to a final.
“However, it was a great achievement for a part-time team to get to the Quarter Finals. For us to go to Aberdeen and put on the performance we did was great.
“It was fantastic to see 700 fans go up to Aberdeen. I know the club is small and we have a core support. We’re never going to take 5,000 fans anywhere because the club’s just not in that place at the moment. But to take a big support like that to Pittodrie was great because it gives the supporters a really good day out and gives the players a huge lift.
“The fans in general have been great,” Murray adds wholeheartedly.
Speaking of who he feels his biggest transfer coup has been, the manager obviously had more than one player in mind.
“Chris Kane has been terrific. His name always came back to us, even from different clubs when we were enquiring for players from others. Paul McGinn on a permanent deal was superb and Mitch Megginson last season got 12 goals. There are also players who have re-signed for us who are vital, such as Scott Agnew and Garry Fleming.”
Ian has brought in some squad members who have played at the highest level for many years, such as David van Zanten and Colin Nish.
He said: “I think it’s a sign of how much the club is progressing. We’re also bringing in players who are being suggested to us because other clubs can see this is a great place for young players to learn their trade.”
When asked about the new stadium plans, Murray was full of praise.
“I’ve seen them and they look great. It can only be good for the club. It’s great ambition from the owners and the board and the chairman, but with it comes great expectation and pressure on myself, the coaches and the players because we need to remain at this level.”
Ian Murray has now managed over 80 games for Dumbarton, and when asked he had a hard time picking what he thought the best performance was.
“Hibs earlier on in the season in the Cup was fantastic. Last season, I would say the 5-1 win over Alloa. We were great that day. Even in the four games against Dundee, I thought we played them off the park in three-and-a-half of them, despite taking no points.
“The worst would perhaps be a 3-2 loss at Cowdenbeath, when we were 2-1 up and managed to lose the game. We didn’t even deserve to be 2-1 up, to b
e honest. That was perhaps more frustration, however, as we let the win slip to another part-time team. Maybe even Queen of the South this season, when we lost 3-0 was a very poor performance.”
A lot of attention has certainly been attracted to wee Dumbarton during Murray’s two years at the club.
“There’s been nothing that turned our heads enough for us to want to follow it through.
“The Chairman and I have a very good relationship. We speak all the time and are honest with each other, which I think is the biggest thing.
“A couple of clubs have approached and he’s asked me, ‘Do you want to speak to them?’. If it’s a yes, it’s a yes and I’ll go and speak to them. But so far it’s been a no. He’s happy, I’m happy and we get on with things.”
With a new baby being welcomed by Ian and his family back in March, it’s been a busy year.
“I’d get him a Dumbarton top for Christmas, but I don’t think they make them that small!” he joked.
“My older son has one and he wears it about. I’m not quite sure he understands what’s happening, but all he knows is if we win he gets a Kinder Egg, if we draw he gets a fudge and if we lose he gets nothing! That’s all he’s worried about.”
And in conclusion Ian had this to say about looking forward to the next two years: “It’s hard to say. Two years is quite long now for a manager.
“We have to aim as high as we can. I’m not going to be daft and say I’m going to be at Dumbarton for the rest of my life, because I’m probably not.
“In two years time it’s very difficult to say where the club will be. If things go to plan and we remain at this level it’s very hard to see why myself and the rest of my staff wouldn’t be happy.”