Great sportsmanship or just plain crazy?
That’s the question people were asking on hearing Dungannon Swifts manager Darren Murphy deliberately missed a penalty on Easter Tuesday in their 4-2 defeat against Ballymena United.
And this at a time when the score was 0-0 with Dungannon needing every goal and point they could get in their bid to avoid relegation from the Carling Premiership.
Let 37-year-old Murphy set the scene: “It was pretty early on in the game and one of the Ballymena players, Chris Rodgers, was down on the ground and out cold. I could see that it was a head injury but not all the players realised that.
“I was hoping the referee would blow the whistle but play went on and then the ball was in their penalty area. The referee said ‘stop the play’ and then Gavin Taggart caught the ball.
“With some of our players not knowing Chris was out cold, they appealed for a penalty. The referee hadn’t blown the whistle and then the referee told me he would have to re-start the match with a penalty.
“I went over to our bench and talked to Rodney McAree and Brian Hutchinson to speak about what was an awkward situation.
“The question was do we put the spirit of the game first and that’s what I felt we had to do.
“We weren’t looking for praise
or sympathy when we were making the decision — it was because I want to win football matches the right way and going up and scoring a penalty that should not have come about would have been morally wrong.
“I wouldn’t have felt comfortable in myself stepping up to score. In many ways I am glad it was me being put in that position because I’m the manager and it took pressure of anyone else.
“We may be fighting for our lives and the score was 0-0 at the time, but it wouldn’t have been right to try and score.
“I walked over to Dwayne Nelson, the Ballymena goalkeeper, and said to him to stay in the middle of his goal and that I was going to roll the ball back to him.
“He looked at me as if I was nuts and maybe didn’t believe me but I made it clear when I addressed the ball that I wasn’t going to hit it hard.
“I stood a yard away from the ball and hit it so it trickled back to him. There was no intention for it to go into the net.
“The good name of Dungannon Swifts was more important to me than scoring a penalty. I feel the club would have been tarnished had we taken advantage of the situation.”
Now that’s what I call a sportsman.
In 1997, Robbie Fowler received a Fifa Fair Play award for protest
ing after he was awarded a penalty, which he didn’t believe was the right decision. Four years later Paolo Di Canio received the same award for catching a ball in the opposition penalty area so that an injured opponent could get treatment.
In 2012, Darren Murphy should receive a Fifa Fair Play award for his selfless and sporting actions. He deserves it — and I genuinely hope the powers that be at the IFA put these particular wheels in motion.
Murphy adds: “I’m well aware that many people will be thinking what was I doing, given we are fighting a relegation battle, and maybe think I am crazy, but I’ve always tried to be an honest player and will continue to be that way.
“I’ve always wanted to be a winner — it’s one of my main motivating factors for being involved in football down the years but friendships and honour count too.
“People may see me as fiery, combative and, at times, argumentative, but I like to think I’m honest too.”
The former Glenavon, Linfield and Ballymena player insists that even if Dungannon go down — they are just three points above bottom team Carrick Rangers in the table — he won’t regret what he did.
“I told the players that if we go down, missing a penalty against Ballymena won’t be the reason. We will have played 38 games by the time we finish the league and if we go down it will be over the course of all those matches.
“If people want to use the penalty miss as an excuse that’s up to them, but I’ll be able to sleep at night. After the match I’ll admit a lot of thoughts were going through my mind and then I saw Ballymena assistant boss Lee Doherty who looked after me at Glenavon when I was starting out. I learnt a lot from Lee and his opinion counts to me.
“He said that despite stick I might take I did the right thing. That was good enough for me.”