Torrans Trophy Award Winner Billy Murray - a personal tribute by Ivan Little

Posted : 17th April 2017 at 20:21:07

Billy Murray is the latest recipient of the Torrens Trophy, the coveted award which recognises Linfield legends of the past. Billy will receive the accolade from Linfield chairman Roy McGivern before tomorrow night's crucial game against Glenavon at Windsor Park.

Freelance journalist and broadcaster - and Blueman - Ivan Little has known Billy for a lifetime. This is his tribute to the Blues hero who played 390 games and scored 131 goals for the club he supported as a boy.

Linfield icon Billy Murray who’s just been admitted into the club’s hall of fame has always been a Blue-eyed boy. And this rarely seen photograph proves it.

For the picture shows a 13 year old Billy at a function organised by his Linfield supporters club in January 1971.

That’s the instantly recognisable and fresh-faced schoolboy sitting just behind the former Linfield and Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham 46 years ago at a film show about the history of Wembley stadium.

The screening was staged by the Belmont Linfield Supporters Club in the old Presbyterian Hostel in the centre of Belfast a year after Billy and his Orangefield Boys School pal Fred Leeson had joined the club.

And even after Minto was starring in the Irish League for Portadown he still retained his membership of the Belmont.

Billy had been spotted by canny Shamrock Park boss Gibby Mackenzie who knew he’d unearthed a gem on the playing fields of east Belfast.

Gibby, a fiery Scot, told all and sundry that Billy had the ability to make the grade in cross-channel football and he resigned himself to losing him to a top English side.

But he was incandescent with rage after Billy slapped in a transfer request. Gibby knew that the fanatical Blueman had his heart set on playing for the Blues.

And eventually Billy realised his ambition and signed for Roy Coyle who’d long been one of his biggest admirers.

It was a match made in heaven, with Coyle giving free rein to his new boy to parade his extraordinary skills. And Billy was finally at home in Windsor Park where he’d watched so many of his childhood idols in the famous blue jersey.

Yet despite his prodigious skills, the gangly winger could be frustrating. He could drift in and out of games and there were times when he barely seemed to break sweat but when he was hot, he was incendiary.

He could ghost past defenders with a drop of his shoulder and a shimmy. He made the hardest of hard men look foolish as he left them in his wake.

Billy was a left-footer but despite notions that his right peg was solely for decoration he could be equally devastating on either flank.

The anticipated move across the water never materialised for Billy but while Linfield fans were disappointed for their hero, they were selfishly delighted for themselves.

“One Billy Murray, there’s only one Billy Murray” was a song that rang out regularly from the Kop and the grandstands.

Only one man sometimes didn’t always fully appreciate Billy Murray’s worth – and that was Billy Murray.

There were times after exhilarating and breath-taking performances on the park that he would ask his occasional post-match shandy companion – me – if he’d ‘done okay.’

Fans still savour the moment Billy took his shirt off and swung it in the air after scoring a hat-trick against old rivals Glentoran.

But he wasn’t swinging the lead in the players’ lounge afterwards as he tweaked his hair in his own peculiar way and wondered if he’d had a good game.

It wasn’t false modesty. It was just modesty. But it was coupled with shyness and Billy often looked genuinely embarrassed if supporters approached him to offer their congratulations or to ask him for an autograph.

Yet on the pitch he had few peers in the confidence stakes.

Just look at the YouTube video of him scoring a crucial winning penalty in the 1982 Irish Cup Final against Coleraine at the Oval.

The hotly disputed spot-kick was delayed but Billy was the coolest man on the park as he stroked his penalty past a despairing Coleraine goalkeeper Vincent Magee before blowing kisses to his adoring fans in the 12,000-strong crowd.

Billy stayed at Windsor for 11 years until 1988 but he continued to play football in the junior ranks for years afterwards and even reported on games in the old Irish League ‘B’ division for the Ireland’s Saturday Night where he used to feature in the headlines not write them.

Billy, who was voted the sixth best Linfield player ever in a 2011 newspaper poll, now lives in Lanzarote but he was only too happy to fly back home to receive the Torrens Trophy, confirming his status as one of the true greats of Irish football.

Funnily enough, though, every time I meet Billy the conversation usually drifts back to the old days when I was working on the Portadown Times and he was playing for the Ports.

He knows that I know the identity of the mole who kept feeding our sports team stories about the goings-on at Shamrock Park.

He always asks me to name names. But my lips are sealed, even for the mercurial Minto.
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