Feature by Stuart Gillespie
Updated Monday, 30th April 2012
Saturday may be Saints' last home game of the season but it will also be the end of an era as Hugh Murray will play for the Buddies in front of the Paisley public for the final time.
After 15 years - and that's just in the first team - Shuggy's time is up. The decision, whether or not you agree with it, has been made. Hugh Murray, who has so far made a record 467 for the club, is moving on to pastures new. Saturday is our chance to say farewell and show our appreciation for a genuine club legend.
It all started way back on August 2, 1997 - so long ago that Shuggy made his debut against a team that doesn't even exist any more! The midfielder started the opening game of the season against Airdrieonians. One member of the Saints side that day - Norrie McWhirter - was already a club legend. Some of those playing - like Austin McCann, Chris Iwelumo and Alan Combe - have gone on to have decent careers in Scotland and beyond. Others, like Russell Kelly and David Milne, faded into obscurity. Shuggy? He's been here ever since.
Think how much has gone on in the past 15 years. We've had four World Cups, we've seen 9/11 and war in Iraq and Afghanistan, three (soon to be four?) Scottish clubs no longer exist. I've gone through secondary school and uni and have been in my job for five years. But through it all there has been one constant. Aside from a few short months, Hugh Murray has been a St Mirren player.
That first season was not a good one for the club, with problems off the park and on it. Shuggy managed to establish himself and scored goals against Ayr and Hamilton Accies. In April 1998 current chairman Stewart Gilmour bought the club, keeping it out of the grasp of the rather shady sounding Reg Brealey but the danger wasn't over - we were perilously close to relegation to the second division and, perhaps, oblivion. A dire defeat to Airdrie in which Mark Yardley missed a penalty left us teetering on the brink.
And so, this early in the Shuggy story, we come to the defining moment. It may be from the first season of his long Saints career but it's the moment we'll most remember him for. On May 2, 1998 we headed to relegation rivals Stirling. Winner keeps alive their survival hopes, loser goes down to the second division. Buddies fans packed Forthbank, the tiny terracing behind one goal opened up to accommodate them. Early in the second half Murray - wearing 11 rather than the number seven he would make his own - scored a screamer and was booked for running into those very same fans. Then it was a case of clinging on until full-time. Results elsewhere and the following week's fixtures meant we were safe. Shuggy had saved the Saints.
I can't really recall him doing a great deal the following season aside from getting the Clydebank goalkeeper sent off (in typical Saints style we scored the following penalty to go 2-0 up and still only managed a draw!). But the following season he was superb and played a key role in Tom Hendrie's side that swashbuckled its way to the first division title. Shuggy got himself a call-up to the Scotland under-21 squad but was released in time to face Airdrie when Alex Smith decided he wasn't going to play. He showed what he thought of that decision by banging in two goals. Three more followed that season - including a spectacular keepy-uppy effort against Clydebank that was partly because the ball was stuck in his hair gel - as Saints stormed back into the top flight after an absence of eight years.
Shuggy was one of those expected to shine in the top flight but he struggled. There's no shame in that - few players emerged from that season with any credit and he was just a youngster. One game he'd seem fine, the next he was poor. As the man himself later admitted he was "just a silly wee boy" at the time. Relegation followed and back in the first division Shuggy was almost, but not quite, back to his old self.
But then, in the summer of 2002, comes the only blip of this tale. He decided the club wasn't offering him enough money and decided to leave - having told the press exactly what he thought of the offer. After a deal at Mansfield failed to materialise he came back with his tale between his legs and agreed to a much lower offer - then extended the deal at the end of the season for another two years. Lesson learnt.
By now we were seeing classic Shuggy. The never say die attitude, a player who was not afraid to fly into a tackle. Yellow cards and suspensions inevitably came with that style of play but no matter the league or opposition the first tackle of his return from a ban or injury was usually greeted with a collective "That's what we've been missing" from the crowd. The years following relegation were not good - Hendrie and then John Coughlin were sacked as the club slumped from one embarrassing result to the other, all while financial instability continued behind the scenes. Through it all Murray remained and in February 2004 ended a four year wait for a league goal against Falkirk - following it up with another a month later against St Johnstone.
Goals were not in his game - almost half his career tally came in his first three seasons - but he still contributed one in 2005/06 as we took a spectacular double, winning the first division and League Challenge Cup into the bargain. Shuggy was excellent in midfield. On loan Ranger Charlie Adam may have been the diamond but, according to assistant manager Andy Millen, Hugh Murray was the shoveller. He was the only survivor from the Millennium Champions team and famously described the feeling of clinching the title against Dundee as "every bit as better".
This time he was ready for the SPL - no more silly wee boy. Never spectacular, always consistent and reliable, he was deservedly awarded with a testimonial and also got to enjoy a special six-a-sides tournament at Braehead. However, injury at Ibrox ruled him out for several months but he returned just in time for the end-of-season run in - and he made the best possible contribution. Against Dundee United - almost nine years to the day after that goal at Stirling - he drilled one in to the bottom corner to lift the club's survival hopes. SPL safety was secured the week after in dramatic and memorable style against Motherwell - Shuggy unsurprisingly excellent.
With top flight status confirmed there was a vacancy for the captaincy following the departure of Kevin McGowne. There was really only one possible candidate - but strangely it didn't seem to sit well with Hugh. He got a rather silly red card against Dundee United a few month's after his testimonial against Derby and that seemed to be the end of it. He remained club captain but others captained the team. Towards the end of the season his form seemed to return, although not before a rather rash challenge against St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup saw him unceremoniously hooked at half-time.
John Potter was made captain the following season but there was only one thing on everyone's mind - the move away from Love Street. Before that there was the small matter of a win against Rangers, Shuggy coming on late in the game. It almost seemed like giving a legend the chance to experience such an occasion but he played a huge part, one of four players clearing a late effort off the line in a photo that has become famous. However, the first half of that season was to see one of those many phases when we all wondered if this was the end of his time at the club only for him to bounce back. The player himself even wondered if he'd still be around to be involved in Love Street's final game but he was. Most of us had been hoping and praying he would be the man to bag the final goal and it almost happened - in one of the last few games he sent a 30 yard screamer inches wide.
That season saw more injury problems but when he returned it was clear what we'd been missing. It also saw Shuggy's second trip to Hampden - the first way back in 2001 - when Saints made the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup only to lose to Rangers. It preceded an almost unthinkable post-split collapse as the club teetered dangerously close to relegation from the top flight, only an incredible performance from everyone - Murray included - at Falkirk ensuring that didn't happen.
There was another journey to the national stadium the following season, but not before the rare sight of Shuggy scoring twice in one game against Motherwell - a match we ended up drawing 3-3. The first saw him in nosebleed territory to finish like a striker, the second a cross that flew in. The start of 2010 saw another one of those terrific team efforts as the club made the final of the League Cup. We all know the story about what happened there but in amongst the madness Shuggy was subbed in a bid to stop him getting a second red card. In hindsight him being sent off might not have been a bad move but he kept his cool a few days later as we destroyed Celtic 4-0, eventually securing our SPL status once more.
The summer of 2010 saw another change of manager, Danny Lennon replacing Gus MacPherson. And it seemed, for whatever reason, Shuggy's face didn't fit. The January transfer window saw him offered to Dunfermline but the move fell through - and Shuggy returned to the side to the new manager exactly what he'd been missing. He was indispensable and at the start of May made his 459th appearance for the club - one more than the record held by Tony Fitzpatrick, who had handed him his Saints debut all those year ago. The landmark appearance didn't last long - within the first 10 minutes Shuggy flew into a trademark tackle and suffered an injury that would keep him out until the end of the year. His years of service won him another contract.
No one was really sure how he'd be on his return but his involvement on Christmas Eve showed he could still play a part. Saints were 2-1 up against 10 man Rangers but it seemed a matter of time until the SPL champions bagged an equaliser. Shuggy arrived from the bench and Craig Samson had hardly anything more to do all afternoon. It was the same story against Hearts in the cup a few months later, but that seemed to be Shuggy's role as far as Lennon was concerned - coming on from the bench to steady the ship rather than playing from the start. With that in mind it wasn't a huge surprise when it was announced a few weeks ago there would be no new contract for the legend. There was an outpouring of grief from Saints fans akin to a tragedy with calls for one of the stands to be named after him, such is the esteem in which he is held.
And that brings us to the end. Saturday should be his last appearance for the club - it is only right he goes out at home. I started writing this during Chelsea's Champions League win over Barcelona last week when John Terry was sent off and it struck me that while he and Murray are both one club men that's where the comparison ends. Shuggy is everything you could want from a player - loyal, dedicated, consistent, humble, professional and reliable. He will not attract controversy or go off in the huff if he isn't being treated correctly. He will not think it's all about him rather than the team. Only one of them is a true legend - and it's the one that wears number seven, not number 26.
Hugh Murray it's been a joy to watch you over these past 15 years. Despite all the changes you have been the one constant at St Mirren Football Club. Thank you for everything - and in particular thank you for Forthbank.