Robert Edward (Bob) Murphy was born in the St Albans City hospital on 23rd August 1946 and went on to become one of the most significant figures in the history of St Albans City.
From supporter, to player, to manager, to top ranking official – Bob did the lot.
Living with his parents George and Joan, Bob grew up, in Fleetville, close to the football ground that was to figure for such a long period of his life – or as he put it ‘a Freddie Collings free kick away from the beautiful Clarence Park’.
As a youngster he helped his dad on his mobile fruit and vegetable round, and when the family moved to London Colney in the early 1950’s they took on a general store, fish and chip shop and café. Again Bob helped out as he put out the stall before setting off for Bowmansgreen School. Also, on Friday’s, it being fish & chip day, he would peel a cwt of potatoes before going off to school and another cwt when he got back. The only day that they did not open was Christmas Day.
Bob’s next school was St Columbas where one of his classmates was golfer Peter Townsend. After leaving school Bob worked in the computer department at De Havilland in Hatfield and ran into City favourites of the day such as Freddie Collings, Dave Lawrence, Jim Whiting and Clive Chattin. He also worked alongside Scotland international Alex Massie. Also working for De Havilland at this time was City’s all-time top goalscorer Wilfred ‘Billy’ Minter.
Uncle Bill and The City
Bob was around seven years old when he first saw the City in action; he was taken to games by his Uncle Bill. Although it was not the first match that he saw at Clarence Park, the first one that he can recall was two days before his eighth birthday.
“My first real memory of watching the boys in yellow and blue stripes was the game against Dulwich Hamlet, on Saturday August 21st 1954, a 3-1 win. The crowd was over 2,000 and I can still see Charlie Hand and Bill Mariner sitting in that little office at the bottom end of the stand with piles of coins and notes. I even got to speak with my hero Freddie Collings and Les McCormack’s dad Ron.”
When Uncle Bill moved away Bob started going to Clarence Park on his own, but as he had no money he volunteered to sell programmes, as this would get him in for free.
At this time Bob’s dad was chairman of London Conley, so when one club was at home he’d watch them play and then switch when the other was at home. Colney’s home back then was at White Horse Lane. From the age of 14 Bob played for London Colney Youth and Napsbury.
In the summer of 1963 he was approached to play for Carlton - effectively the City Youth team of the day - by their secretary Dick East (later hon. secretary for the senior Club). The City manager at the time was Jock Weir and Bob recalls what an influence he was to the Carlton players. “As a reward for signing for Carlton all of the young lads were invited along for pre-season training with the men. The enthusiastic Jock Weir was manager and I remember him saying to all us kids in his gruff Scottish accent ‘lads, on your way home kick dustbins and head trees’. I was so inspired I got off the 84 bus in Colney High Street and ran up Kings Road, kicking imaginary dustbins and heading trees.”
The 1963-64 season was a phenomenally successful campaign for Carlton’s U18 side as they won the Herts County Cup against Bennetts End 6 -3 (Bob and fellow City player Mick Pestle each scored a hat-trick in the final), the North Herts League Challenge Cup, the North Herts League Charity Cup, the St Albans Youth Challenge Cup and were finalists in the St Albans City Supporters Cup (the final of which was held over until the following season). Bob scored 79 times in 31 games along with two more in his games for Herts Youth. He and nine other members of the Carlton U18 and U16 teams of 1963-64 later played for the City First team with two of them, Matt Hughes and Joe Kinnear, turning professional with Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City respectively. Goalkeeper Alan Tatham played for England Youth. All in all, quite a remarkable array of talent for any single local youth team.
CARLTON U16s & U18s 1963-64
Back row: Steve ??, Brian Taylor, ??, Mick Lawrence, Dave Clark
Middle row: Matt Hughes, Ray Bloxham, Kelvin Curran, Alan Long, Neil Riley, Alan Tatham, Joe McNicholas, Kevin Allen, Bob Murphy, Brian Male
Front row: Bill Hussey, Mick Pestle, Tony Mardle, Bob ??, Graham Pestle, Andy Desmond, Bob Humphrey, Barry Bentley, Barry Robinson
Seated on ground: Terry Pratt, Roger Grant
The success that Carlton enjoyed did not go unnoticed at Clarence Park. Bob was already a regular in the City Reserves when he was called up by Harry Gibson – who had replaced Weir as City manager the previous summer – to make his First team debut on 8th April 1964. It was an in auspicious start with Bob, who was marked by Dario Gradi, having a headed goal disallowed during a 3-0 defeat to Tooting & Mitcham United at Sandy Lane.
In June 1964 Bob signed amateur forms for Third Division side Luton Town – then of the Third Division North – but was persuaded by his father to have a rethink and, instead, sign for St Albans and continue to work his way up the ladder at De Havilland.
After starting the 1964-65 season in the Reserves Bob returned to the First team on 14th November but ten days later suffered an injury in an innocent tackle with the Hendon England international (and future City defender) Dave Hogwood. Although in pain he continued to play for several more weeks but after a 1-1 Mithras Cup draw at Maidenhead United took a break from the game.
A year on he was diagnosed as having a fractured pelvis. After intensive physio at the Middlesex Hospital he resumed training but had been out of the game for the best part of 15 months. Bob recalled that time in some detail; “Mr Johnson took x-rays etc and declared that I had a fractured pelvis, but it was alright now as it had healed! The pain was caused by muscle tissue trapped in the healed fracture. The next week I went back and the doc knocked me out and redid the splits and the muscle popped out of the fracture, cured! Over the next month I had intensive physio at the Middlesex Hospital and after that I started back training at St Albans.”
Bob played in a handful of games during the remainder of the season and spent the following season touring the county with the likes of Hemel Hempstead Town, Hertford Town and Hitchin Town. At this time he was also playing for renowned St Albans Sunday League side Sporting Club; the club reached the National Sunday Cup semi-final in 1966 but lost to Ubique United (Dagenham) in front of a crowd of 6,000. Bob scored Sporting’s goal in a 2-1 defeat. Former City player Maurice Walby, also with Sporting Club, recommended Bob to Letchworth – as a centre half. After a spell with the North Herts club Bob, along with Walby and another Sporting Club youngster, John Mitchell, moved to Hertford Town.
Bob appeared in one cup tie for St Albans during 1967-68 and four cup ties the following season, but away from the Park he was making good progress in the game. The 1970’s saw him switch between St Albans and Boreham Wood on more than one occasion; both held his affections, “Boreham Wood was the type of club I wished St Albans was – a football club with a thriving community club house.”
St Albans City, along with Corinthian Casuals, suffered the ignominy of being one of the first two clubs relegated at the end of the 1973-74 season in the newly expanded Isthmian League. A late season rally almost saw City avoid the drop under new manager Tommy Barnett and Tommy invited Bob back to the Park for the start of the following season. Along with Phil Wood and Ray Aggio, Bob signed a contract for the new season.
Appointed City Manager
Barnett left the club in the spring of 1975 to be replaced by Sid Prosser at the start of his second spell as City manager. Bob left again to join the Wood in 1976. Just over a year later Prosser walked out and the job was passed to John Clarke. In March 1977 Clarke was dismissed and Bob was invited to take charge, something that he did once Wood had wrapped up the Isthmian League Division Two title. Somewhat unusually, he offered to do the job for free but eventually, with the agreement of the City treasurer Derek Bing settled on pay-per-result deal. “I would have done the job for nothing and when they asked me how much I wanted I told them I only wanted to be paid on results. Apparently unheard of, so Derek Bing, the Treasurer, came up with £7 a point. So a win got me £21, a draw £7 and a loss zilch. Derek was a lovely lovely man and it was a tragedy when he died of a brain tumour in December 1978.”
City’s first game with Bob as manager was a 2-2 draw (Paul Gallagher, Derek Brown) at the Park with Harlow Town in Division One of the Isthmian League on 26th March 1977. During the close he brought in several new players and early in the 1977-78 season looked to have secured the services of a young Brian Stein, Bob takes up the story. “I had this tip about a young black lad who played in a Sunday team in Wembley, if you’ve been to Vale Farm you’ll know how many pitches are there. So off I went and traipsed round over 20 games, as I walked past the end of a hedgerow I knew I’d found Brian Stein; this lad received the ball inside his own half and ran through several tackles before shooting home. I tapped him up as he came off the pitch and we met up in the tea bar, along with his brother Edwin. I invited them training on the Tuesday and they both came along. We agreed I would pay Brian £20 (making him the highest paid player at the club and he was only 19 years old) and his brother £8 a week. If you consider my budget was £180 this was a sizeable chunk, I said we needed to sort out the paperwork with Edgware Town, where they were both registered. They agreed to come back on the Thursday to sign, I was chuffed to bits, but it’s never over until they sign on the line. Early on the Thursday evening I got a call from Brian saying that he wouldn’t be coming training tonight as he had just signed for Luton Town, I said to him I’ve heard all the excuses for not coming training but this takes the biscuit!! He rubbed it in even more when he scored two of the three goals, including the winner, against my beloved Arsenal in the final of the ‘88 Littlewoods Cup. We chuckled about this several years later when I saw him, along with Lee Dixon and Mick Harford, in Billy’s Bar in Harpenden.”
For the start of the 1977-78 season St Albans City had sponsorship for the first time courtesy of the Colney Street-based Arenson International, an office furnishing company. But £100 of the sponsorship was lost when City were fined for wearing shirts bearing the sponsors name for an FA Cup tie at Carshalton Athletic before such kits were permitted in the competition.
St Albans City pictured prior to a 4-0 win over Corinthian Casuals on 20th August 1977.
Back row: Bob Murphy (Manager), Willie Whyte, Alan Ayling, Tony Lock, Steve Wyatt, Bob Petty, Ian Whitehead, Brian Wright (Trainer).
Front row: Les McCormack, Barry Jobson, Chris Duggan, Derek Brown, Paul Mayles, Phil Wood.
An injury crisis led to Bob making two player/manager appearances during the season. The first was a FA Trophy defeat at home to Wembley on 15th October, while the second came a week later when Barnet knocked City out of the FA Cup with a 4-2 3rd Round Qualifying victory at Clarence Park. Scorer of one of the Barnet goals was the legendary Jimmy Greaves. “I think Jimmy scored and whenever I came up against him he went past me as if he was gliding on ice skates. When you play against someone like him you realise the gap in class.”
In mid-December the team, led by Bob Murphy, went to the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley and took part in a tug-of-war with an elephant. The elephant won.
At the close of the season Bob was quick to negotiate the budget for the 1978-79 season. A figure of £220 per week was agreed and Bob headed for his summer holiday planning the signings required to strengthen the squad. When he returned home he was called before the board and told that the budget had been cut by 50%, but not only had the budget been slashed but slashed by 50% of the previous seasons figure. As Bob explained, “I offered to do the job for nothing if they put their hands in their pockets and reinstated the budget. It was a resounding no, I knew these people and I knew that collectively they could afford it. So I quit. No one person is bigger than the club and the Saints continued under the brief managership (one week) of the legendary Dennis Gibbs and then Maurice Walby.”
Bob’s days at the Park looked to be over once for all and he accepted an offer by Boreham Wood manager Micky Lennon to return to Broughinge Road. He also continued playing for Sunday side Albert RN (the latter-day incarnation of Sporting Club) until an ankle injury sustained while playing for the Wood did finally end his playing career.
With his direct involvement in the game greatly reduced Bob was able to concentrate his efforts on building up his data processing business, Abacus, in Luton. But in September 1983 the game came calling once more when Maurice Walby invited him to become part of the backroom team at Clarence Park. Bob knew all of the characters at the Park but a revolution was taking place as the club sought to bounce back after relegation to the Isthmian League Division Two at the end of John Butterfield’s first season as manager. Butterfield was one of the great players during Sid Prosser’s first spell but his time as manager did not go well and he resigned early in the 1983-84 season due to pressure of work.
Managing Director then Chairman
By now St Albans were under the control of Blue Arrow plc, the club’s main sponsor and the backbone of City’s revival. Former City player John Mitchell formed a close friendship with Blue Arrow chief Tony Berry and, in addition to working for the company, replaced Butterfield as manager having been coach since the start of 1983.
As part of Blue Arrow’s restructuring of the club Bob was appointed managing director and worked closely with Mitch. John built a side constructed around local players who were untried at this level of the game but under the guidance of outstanding captain John Watt promotion was won at the first attempt and 100 goals deposited into opposition nets.
Off the pitch, the drive provided by Murphy and Mitchell completely revamped the club with improvements made to the structure and the avenues for raising revenue. The club, after a prolonged period of stagnation, was buzzing once more and after just two seasons in Division One of the Isthmian League returned to top Division as champions in 1986.
City consolidated in the Premier Division, partly thanks to the personal investment made by Tony Berry after John Mitchell declared that the budget needed to be increased from £500 to £1,000 if the club were to be successful at the higher level it now found itself.
A mixed City side of Reserve team and First team players participated in a tournament in Alzey, Germany, on 30th May 1987.
Back row: Syd Wells (Fixture sec), Barry Butterfield (Reserve Team sec), Beverley Long (physio), Peter Lawrence (Reserve Team Manager), Les Littlechild (kit man), Robert Murphy (Managing Director), Ray Kierstenson (coach), Ted Goldney (First Team Assistant Manager).
Front row: Warren Kelly, Mick O’Shea, Marvin Bates, Terry Benning, Geoff Kirby, Alan Paradise, Lee Bozier, Jon Friend, Mark Barnard, John Colfer, John Watt (Captain), Martin Gurney, Paul Lowe.
On 15th November 1988 Bob received a fax informing him that the title of chairman had been added to his role of managing director. By that time Mitchell had stood down (at the end of the 1996-97 season) to be replaced by John Lacy as City’s first full time manager. Lacy, who played alongside Mitchell for Fulham in the 1975 FA Cup final, resigned after just one season to be replaced by Doug Parkin, then manager of Hitchin Town. But the season did not go well for the former City ‘keeper and Bob relieved him of his duties early in the New Year. City again turned to former players to fill the vacant manager’s position with Steve Perrin and Roy Butler being appointed to replace Parkin.
Between 1984 and 1989 there were strenuous efforts by everyone connected with the club, including officials Eric Hood, Ron Mann and Charles Freemen, to negotiate with the council to get a proper lease and also to try and find a site for a new ground, none of which came to fruition (sound familiar!?). At the end of the 1988-89 season Bob Murphy accepted an offer from John Mitchell and Bernard Tominey to buy his shares and duly stood down as chairman, something that allowed him to renew his lifelong support of Arsenal.
Bob is still involved with local football as St Albans City Youth life Vice president and as a trustee, and was instrumental in the Highfield Park pitches development scheme and the all weather pitch at Nicholas Breakspear.