Bidvest Wits’ new striker Simon Murray has not watched the Last King of Scotland‚ the film where James McAvoy plays a young Scottish doctor who picks a country on a spinning globe‚ Idi Amin’s 1970s Uganda‚ and travels there in search of adventure.
But the story of how the burly‚ mobile centre-forward got to playing for Bidvest Wits in Johannesburg from the Scottish Premier League is not dissimilar.
“Basically‚ back home you know the Kaizer Chiefs and the [Orlando] Pirates because those are the big teams‚ and they’re on Fifa [EA Sports’ video game]‚” Murray said on Wednesday at a Wits media day ahead of their Telkom Knockout last-16 clash against Free State Stars at Goble Park on Saturday.
“Apart from that I never knew a great deal about South African football.
“I knew obviously players like Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy. McCarthy came to Scotland – he lives in Edinburgh‚ where his wife [Stacey] is from – to Hibs to do some coaching.
“And obviously when the World Cup was in SA‚ I watched it on TV‚ and the fans and the vuvuzelas. But I never knew much about the league.
“I knew Richard Gough‚ who played for Dundee United‚ the same club as me; for Rangers and captained Scotland [in the 1980s and 1990s]‚ and was from South Africa‚ and from Wits actually. He’s a legend in Scotland.
“He still lives in my home town‚ Dundee‚ where I’m from. I wouldn’t mess with him‚ that’s for sure. Big guy.”
Like McAvoy’s movie character‚ Murray wanted to broaden his horizons and have some adventure in his career.
Hence the unusual move for a 26-year-old Scot with a decent scoring ratio in the Premier League of 15 goals in 58 games for Hibernian‚ Dundee and Dundee United to South Africa’s PSL.
“I’ve got a good enough name in Scotland that I can go back. But I don’t want to be one of these people who maybe thinks they would have liked to play abroad one day‚ and it just never happened‚” he said.
“You can kind of get stuck‚ I feel‚ in the same rut in the same league. Unless you’re going to get a move to a bigger team in England‚ which can be hard‚ because they’ve got that much money and they scout all over the world.
“The opportunity came for me to come to South Africa. And it was quite an exciting thing for somebody to come across to Africa from Scotland and see how it goes.
“But when I met the representatives of the club it wasn’t a case of just coming here and maybe finishing a season‚ like if I was finishing my career‚ having a ‘jolly’ overseas.
“That’s not what it is for me‚ and it isn’t for the club and the coach [Gavin Hunt]. We’re here to try and compete and win things.”
Murray’s contract at Hibs had run out‚ having been loaned to Dundee in the second part of last season where he scored three goals in 14 games. He was contacted by South African agent Ryan Hartslief and put in touch with Wits CEO Jose Ferreira.
“I think that’s just what agents do. You know‚ they ask people and stuff like that‚” Murray said.
“But I think he watched a few of my games in Scotland. And he’d seen goals I’d scored and the passion that I showed for football.
“And he said that the South African people would love that sort of thing.
“I came here and I’ve not been disappointed by the way that Wits go about their business.”
Murray has moved to SA with his girlfriend‚ who is expecting their first child‚ a boy‚ on April 1.
“April Fool’s day. Suits me‚” Murray grinned.