Our Sporting Lives And Times with Colin Murdock: Playing for Northern Ireland was amazing and I've a feeling we might just beat the Dutch
Colin Murdock was a rare breed as an international player. Not only did he bring his football boots to Northern Ireland games, he had a case load of textbooks with him too!
The fiercely determined central defender liked to study law as much as opposition centre forwards.
The Ballymena Academy boy was a smart cookie with a wide and varied vocabulary. There was once a press conference when Murdock, in full flow, came out with several words that had the reporters in attendance searching for their dictionaries.
Nobody thought Murdock was trying to be superior though. He wasn't that type of guy. As genuine as they come this towering presence was popular in the Northern Ireland dressing room and beyond. Team-mates would ask him questions and use Murdock's intelligence to expand their own knowledge. He helped them out whenever and whatever way he could.
Today, 10 years on from the end of his playing career, Murdock is still assisting players and offering advice in his role as a football agent.
In 2011 the former Manchester United ace founded Murdock Sports Group which has become one of the UK's leading and most respected agencies.
Big name clients from across the UK include Northern Ireland heroes Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair and Gavin Whyte. Manchester United star Scott McTominay is also on the books as is promising Old Trafford youngster Ethan Galbraith and Linfield's much sought after 15-year-old Charlie Allen. Ex-Celtic ace Shaun Maloney, now coaching number one side in the world Belgium, is another represented by Murdock Sports Group.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
Jackie Evans, dad of Windsor Park heroes Jonny and Corry, is a key figure in a growing team while Stephen Whelan is the company's man on the ground in Northern Ireland.
So how did a centre-back with Preston, Hibs, Crewe, Rotherham, Shrewsbury and Accrington Stanley, who played over 400 games as a professional, end up as an agent?
"During my playing career I did a part-time law degree and post grad in law," says the 44-year-old.
"When I retired in the summer of 2009 I started doing training to become a sports lawyer and alongside this I chaired a number of high profile FA regulatory hearings.
"I was doing quite a bit of regulatory work and dealing with a lot of players who weren't getting good advice from agents and people kept saying to me that I had been a player, was an international, a qualified lawyer and did lots of arbitration work and that I should consider being an agent.
"I resisted it for a long time but I love football, have a lot of experience in it and feel I've always been a sensible guy so I decided to set an agency up in September 2011.
"My idea at that time was to say to players 'look guys I've been through the process from every angle as a player, lawyer and regulator and if anyone can help you make good career choices I think I'm well placed'. That was my pitch to the players and it's still what we try to do under the Murdock sports branding."
It's a profession that often comes in for criticism from football chairmen, managers and supporters. True to form Murdock does not shy away from that.
"In 2015 FIFA decided to de-regulate football agents. A lot of people who couldn't get the licence to advise by doing the agents exam or by becoming a lawyer, which is the challenging route I took, have now come in to effectively represent someone. As a result of that from 800 intermediaries in 2015 we now have over 4,500," states Murdock.
"There are some good operators out there in a very competitive industry but there are many guys who have little or no experience or skill set.
"Everyone working in our company has been involved in sport, most specifically football at an elite level. They also have professional qualifications to back that up.
"Look at Jackie Evans, who is such an important person in our company, and the experience he has in the game. First of all as a parent of Jonny and Corry he knows all about that side and he also worked as an elite coach and player mentor at Manchester United's Academy playing an important role in the development of Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford. Then he went on to do a degree in Sports Business Management to expand his knowledge.
"Say for parents of a player in Northern Ireland looking to send their son across the water, I haven't seen anyone deal with youngsters in a more human way than Jackie.
"We may be a company based in England and are UK wide but at our heart we are Northern Irish people and there is desire in us to help footballers from back home fulfil their potential. That's why we have Stephen Whelan working with us in Belfast and doing a great job. We've seen the good, bad and ugly in this game and I genuinely believe we have the skill set to look after the best players and another thing we actually care about them."
Speak to Murdock about his own playing career and you get the feeling he would have welcomed some advice as a highly rated teenager at Man United. He was in the 1991 Milk Cup-winning team alongside David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Keith Gillespie but believes that a decision relating to his education impacted on his chances of success with the Red Devils.
"As a player at the very beginning of my career I signed a four year pro deal on my 17th birthday with Manchester United," he recalls. "Coming on the back of having won the Milk Cup I was viewed as one of the stand-out young players at the club.
"After my GCSEs I made the decision to try and continue my A-Levels and move back to Northern Ireland having initially gone to Manchester. It was the wrong choice to make purely from a football perspective.
"The combination of trying to continue my education at Ballymena Academy and flying to Manchester every weekend and training by myself did not help my football development. I also picked up an injury that kept me out for a lengthy period.
"What I was doing was completely unprecedented. It resulted in me not making the progress I should have made.
"I left United without playing a first team game and went to Preston. I feel I could have done better and gone further at United but on balance I had a reasonable and enjoyable career. I played over 400 games in English and Scottish football and won 34 caps for Northern Ireland.
"That experience early in my career has actually helped me when I look at what is best for young players now and their football development. Education and football are not incompatible but you have to make a choice in terms of workloads."
Murdock scored once for his country in a crazy 3-3 draw against Austria at Windsor Park in 2004. Beaming at the memory he says: "I am so proud to have represented my country. When all the lads came together we all had our esoteric banter, this purely Northern Irish banter, and we laughed for 10 days. It was brilliant fun.
"The goal against Austria is an easy one to pick out as a highlight but I loved it anytime we won and played well. Just to represent Northern Ireland was an amazing experience."
Colin will be back at Windsor tonight for Northern Ireland's mouthwatering Euro 2020 qualifier against Holland. He'll be bringing his wife Laura and their four sons with him.
Murdock says: "Our boys love their football. We can't wait to cheer on Northern Ireland and it would be brilliant if we could beat the Dutch. Everyone knows at Windsor special things can happen."