Bygones: Literary linguistics of Colin Murphy’s lore at Lincoln City became legendary

Former Lincoln City manager and Hull City jack-of-all-trades Colin Murphy (Picture: Lincoln City via Chris Vaughan/CameraSport').
Former Lincoln City manager and Hull City jack-of-all-trades Colin Murphy (Picture: Lincoln City via Chris Vaughan/CameraSport').
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FOOTBALL managers are a funny old breed and none funnier – in the nicest sense of the word – than Colin Murphy, who turns 75 today.

Murphy, whose last job was at Hull City a little over a decade ago, enjoyed a highly successful career that also included spells at Derby County, Lincoln City, Stockport County, Southend United and Notts County, along with positions in Ireland, Vietnam and Burma.

Life is not like a bowl of cherries, but more like a bowl of Hungarian goulash – hot, sticky, and, at times, intestinally negative.

Colin Murphy

But in addition to his many achievements on the field, most notably at Lincoln, whom he led to two promotions in the Eighties, Murphy is remembered as much for his programme notes that, 30 years ago, saw him handed The Golden Bull award by the Plain English Campaign.

This award recognised the worst and most confusing use of the English language and was a source of great pride to Murphy, who delighted in penning some of the most outrageous gobbledegook ever committed to paper (present company excepted, of course).

It was during a second spell in charge of Lincoln that Murphy, who variously served as Hull’s caretaker manager, assistant manager and director of development between 2002-2007, came into his own in a literary sense.

Under the heading ‘Murph’s Message’, he consistently served up material infinitely more interesting than that on the pitch, leaving readers both with a splitting headache from trying to understand what he was babbling on about and with sides aching from laughing so much.

With Murphy, there was none of the anodyne, “I would like to welcome the players, officials and supporters of (insert name of club) for today’s match in Barclays League Division Four”, for instance.

On the contrary, it was as if he had spent the entire working week locked in his office hunched over a thesaurus and a volume of archaic words no longer in common use – “What can I hit them with this week?” you could almost picture him saying with a grin.

Mostly the results were ‘super-cala-fragilistic-expialidocious’ as Murphy might have put it, only with a word containing far more letters than this.

Before one game he announced: “I realise that not many possess the wisdom of the Mandala, but at times persiflage is not comprehensible. However, don’t worry, we shall defeat the diphthongs.”

Before another match: “However discombobulating we have been made to appear, we shall genuinely endeavour to discoidulate the cleavage.”

Elsewhere, Murphy insisted that, “We cannot fall into the trap of committing practical haplography”, that, “To extemporise or not to extemporise – that is the issue we face today”, and, “One thing is for sure in all of these circumstances: if one performs with crapulence they will require a corroborant which will need to give you the strength to perform the corroboree in order to become corrible.”

There are literally dozens more examples where those came from, including the particularly memorable intro, “Well, as the art mistress said to the gardener, ‘It’s getting tight’”, and the cautionary, “Life is not like a bowl of cherries, but more like a bowl of Hungarian goulash – hot, sticky, and, at times, intestinally negative.”

As the months went on and as ‘Murph’s Message’ gained national attention, the column’s sponsors must have been rubbing their hands with glee.

Indeed, they could hardly have done a better job than by putting their name to the musings of this footballing bard.

Often Murphy was at his best when either stating the completely obvious or else composing entire paragraphs of incomprehensible gibberish, to be slowly savoured by the connoisseur, like vintage claret.

When Lincoln went top of Division Four in 1989 he warned: “We must not have delusions of grandeur. We cannot suffer from tertiary disease of grand paralysis of the insane. Whilst I appreciate that many great decisions and many great victories were achieved with such tertiaries and such insanities in the days of old then accordingly we must continue doing what has put us top, then we shall remain top. In other words, we will not be topped. The aims and ambitions of the players should be perroglyphic.”

Another time he ruminated: “Tests and periods of pressure have always been an interesting area. Sometimes tests are set; alternatively, sometimes they become evident due to imponderables. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes the answers are amidst the manner in which people conduct themselves and as there were not any answers in the first place, then the result and answers tend to become unique in this respect.”

Another column opened with the reflection: “The male menopause. This particular area has always held or, for that matter, led astray the imagination of many over the years. Its validity, or, more specifically, relating to our form, its scrutiny, has been the subject of conversation.”

Examples of Murphy at his most obvious include the magnificent, “As the games go by, the mathematics change due to there being less games remaining”, and, “As quickly as successive defeats plummet you from your objective, well, then, accordingly successive victories have the opposite perpendicular effect.”

A personal favourite was his assertion that, “It is important to remember that the ‘Club’ or ‘Clubs’ are bigger than all of us and they must perpetuate whereas one day I suppose we are going to leave the Earth, later rather than sooner I hope!”, which perhaps backs up another of Murphy’s contentions that “the macabre has a habit of flourishing in different settings”.

A prize, while we are on this subject, to anyone who can get their head around this apparently unfathomable Murphy-ism: “The home and away form continues to fluctuate. That is distinctively home and away and not at home and away.”

Of course Murphy was writing with tongue wedged firmly in cheek (legend has it that he composed his masterpieces on the toilet), and although some might have found it all a bit too much it at least revealed a refreshing individuality.

Nowadays most manager’s notes are not worth reading before the programme is stored away in the supporter’s collection; there is a distinct lack of imagination and creativity on show.

So much so you can practically guarantee that there will be plenty of platitudes about the opposition and how dangerous they are (even if they are bottom of the table and have not won a match all season) and plenty of praise for one’s own supporters (even though the manager probably despises most of them).

Murphy himself might well have been a past master of the art of saying as little as possible, but at least he did so in a way that made you want to read what little he did have to say.

One final Murphy-ism for the road...

“You, me, we, all of us have been forced to breakfast on travesty, lunch on objection and insult, dine on inflicted pressure. High tea we daren’t sit still long enough to take and, by supper, we were still expected to have been victorious.”

Mr Murphy, we salute you.

Dowie and Fergie both men of letters

COLIN MURPHY is not the only football man to have made a mark in the field of words.

In the 2003-04 season, Iain Dowie, the former Hull City football management consultant, coined the dreaded word “bouncebackability” to describe how his Crystal Palace side had gone from near relegation to winning promotion.

Not many football managers have been responsible for adding words to the dictionary (some seem to know precious few words in the dictionary), but Dowie shared this distinction with Sir Alex Ferguson when, in 2005, “squeaky bum time” – Ferguson’s description of the tension experienced by teams challenging for the title – and “bouncebackability” both entered the Oxford English Dictionary.

However, for all the accolades won by Sir Alex, too many to mention, he does not have a ‘Golden Bull’ award from the Plain English Campaign to stick on his mantelpiece, a testament to Murphy’s programme notes that will surely never be surpassed.