Belfast Telegraph

Blues legend Murray to be honoured with Windsor gong

 

By Ivan Little

Former Linfield and Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham didn't know it - but the smiling schoolboy sitting right behind him 46 years ago would go on to become one of the Irish League's biggest stars.

And this evening, Billy Murray's mercurial skills and achievements will be officially recognised by Linfield who are inducting him into their hall of fame.

Before tonight's match against Glenavon at Windsor Park, Billy will be presented with the Torrans Trophy, which is awarded every year by the club to players who've achieved legendary status in a blue shirt.

Billy has flown back to Belfast from his base in the Canary Islands to receive the award which in the past has gone to Blues icons like Noel Bailie, Peter Rafferty, Tommy Dickson, Glenn Ferguson and George Dunlop.

"I'm delighted to be in such exalted company," said Billy. "I had 11 great seasons at the Park."

For Billy, joining the Blues really was a dream come true. He'd supported them as a boy and he was a member of the Belmont Linfield Supporters Club in East Belfast from an early age.

And the photograph published here shows a teenage Billy at a Belmont function in January 1971 when the then Linfield boss Billy Bingham was guest of honour at a film show featuring a documentary about the history of Wembley stadium.

A few years later, Billy Murray exploded onto the Irish League scene as a gifted winger with Portadown, whose Scots-born manager Gibby Mackenzie spotted him on the playing fields near his East Belfast home.

Billy stayed at Shamrock Park for four years but his heart was never really in it.

He hankered after a move to Linfield and he put in a transfer request in the hope that their manager, Roy Coyle - a huge admirer of Billy's extraordinary talents - would sign him.

Mackenzie, who was convinced that his protégé could make it in English football, didn't want to let Billy join a club nearer home.

But Portadown couldn't hold out for ever and accepted a £7,000 fee for their want-away winger from Linfield in 1973.

And it proved to be a bargain buy.

'Minto', as the fans called him, would go on to make 390 appearances for the Blues, 65 of them as a sub. He scored 131 goals before leaving Windsor for Ballyclare Comrades in August 1988.

In the 1978/79 season, Billy was Linfield's leading scorer with 23 goals. His silverware tally was remarkable with seven Irish League wins and two Irish Cup medals. He also won four County Antrim Shield honours, two Ulster Cup gongs and a Gold Cup medal.

And Billy also featured in the Linfield side that won the All-Ireland Tyler Cup with a 2-1 away win over Athlone Town.

Billy was capped by Northern Ireland at under-21 level against the Republic of Ireland and he also represented the Irish League against the Scottish League in 1979 and 1984.

Billy was rewarded by Linfield with a testimonial season, with the highlight a game against Shamrock Rovers.

He'd earlier played against the Dublin side in Europe, where other opponents included Panathanikos, Bevern SK, Nentori 17, Benfica, Servette, Rosenborg and Lillestrom.

Billy was a real idol to thousands of Linfield fans who still remember him swinging his Blue shirt over his head after scoring a hat-trick against Glentoran in a 5-2 cup game.

And he famously scored the winner from the penalty spot in an Irish Cup triumph over Coleraine at The Oval.

The Bannsiders remonstrated long and hard against the penalty decision but Billy was icy-cool as he strolled up and stroked the ball past goalkeeper Vincent Magee.

But off the park, Murray was shy and modest and he genuinely looked embarrassed at the adulation he received from fans who wanted pictures and autographs, though he never declined their requests.

A friend said: "Sometimes he didn't seem to appreciate his own talent and frequently sought re-assurance about his performances, even if he had played a blinder".

Several years ago, judges in a newspaper poll rated Billy as the sixth-best ever player in Linfield's history, calling him a superstar in a team of superstars that also included greats like George Dunlop, Peter Rafferty and Lindsay McKeown.

Roy Coyle used to marvel at Murray. Not only for his silky skills and the ease with which he would 'skin' full-backs but he was also intrigued at Billy's lightning quick change act in the dressing room.

Billy was always the first player showered, dressed and out the door after every game.

"That's because he rarely had to break sweat to be a star," laughed one former colleague.

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