In May 1973, Jock Stein pulled off a major surprise by signing Aberdeen’s talented midfield player, Steve Murray, for £50,000.
Murray was one of the finest midfielders in Scotland and had been courted by many major English clubs. In view of this, Celtic fans were delighted to see him arrive at Parkhead as he had always impressed when playing against Celtic for Dundee, firstly, and then with Aberdeen.
Steve was a modern style midfield player, mobile and capable of strong tackling but also possessing fine passing skills and having a good eye for goal. It was an added bonus that he was a boyhood Celtic fan from his days growing up in Dumbarton and he become what the older fans used to endearingly refer to as ‘A jersey player’.
Jock Stein’s Celtic team were still in their glory days period and had ambitions both domestically and in the European arena. A few months after Steve’s arrival, Bobby Murdoch moved to Middlesbrough and Steve was then seen as the great Murdoch’s successor in the Celtic number 4 shorts. Steve’s first season was a hugely successful one despite the changes in personnel. There were a host of new faces around Parkhead with Steve at that time with Andy Lynch, Jimmy Bone and young 18 year old sensation, Brian McLaughlin, all having runs in the first team at different times.
In March 1974 he scored a dramatic extra time winning goal against FC Basle in the quarter finals of the European Cup. Comparisons were made with Billy McNeill’s late winner against Vojvodina at the same stage of that tournament in 1967 but there was to be no happy ending this time round. In the semi finals, Celtic were eliminated by the dubious tactics of Atletico Madrid which denied Steve and his Celtic team mates of the opportunity to play in Europe’s premier game.
The league title was clinched at Brockville in April 1974 and a few weeks later the Celts made that a double when Dundee United were defeated 3-0 at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final. Steve Murray was most impressive on the day, scoring Celtic’s second goal and generally controlling his midfield area.
Scotland had qualified for the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany and Steve was given the chance of playing in the games leading up to the tournament. Many observers felt he was worth a place in the Scotland squad and it came as a huge shock when he declined to play for his country. He cited the pressures of playing for Celtic as being too much and that travelling abroad for European games was time enough away from his family. He was also studying for banking exams which was also very time consuming.
Celtic were again in the running for the domestic trophies in 1974-75. In October, the Celts produced one of their legendary performances to demolish Hibs in the League Cup final by 6-3. Murray was again one of Celtic’s leading lights and scored with a fine low shot on a day when Celtic did not have a bad player.
Celtic were going for a 10th successive league title win but sadly, despite their best efforts, it wasn’t to be. There was some consolation for the team and their supporters when the Scottish Cup was won in May with Airdrie losing 3-1 to the successful Celts.
Unfortunately for Steve Murray, he was to suffer a massive disappointment. He had injured a toe against Aberdeen in November 1974 and had bravely played on in great discomfort until the end of the season. An explorative operation on the damaged toe found that it was such a severe injury that medical advice dictated he would have to retire from the game or risk permanent damage to himself.
Although he made a brief comeback in January 1976, he eventually had to stop playing. This was a huge disappointment to everyone at Celtic and also with the fans with whom he was a huge favourite. In May 1975, Billy McNeill retired as Celtic captain and had he stayed fit, Steve would have been a likely replacement for McNeill as skipper. As it was, the role was given to Kenny Dalglish.
Steve Murray was only with Celtic for a relatively short period but will always be remembered with great fondness by those who witnessed his whole hearted displays in the hoops.