“From an apprentice to a first-team player” – Sean Murdoch tells his DAFC story

My interview with Sean Murdoch appeared in the official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match-Day Programme on Saturday 12th August, 2017, for the match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish this article on my website.

Sean Murdoch is in his second spell with the Pars and he has now firmly established himself as Allan Johnston’s first choice goalkeeper.

The 31-year-old started off with us here at East End Park as a teenager.

I love football and I have done since I can remember. Being 5 years old and playing with my mates; doing the whole boys club thing before going and signing S-Forms with the Youth Initiative Squad and then I came to Dunfermline at 15-years-old. It was actually Mo [Hutton – Kitman] who brought me to Dunfermline. He was the Under-15’s or Under 16’s coach, so I probably have him to thank but from thereon I didn’t make as many appearances as I would have liked in my first spell at the club, but that was because we had such a massive squad! I made a lot of loan moves, to Forfar then Hamilton before moving on to other clubs in the UK and a spell in the USA, too.”

While Murdoch was making his way up the ranks, his qualities were recognised by the Scottish Youth sides.

I played school-boy, Under-18’s, Under-19’s and also in the Under-21’s squad, although I never actually gained a cap but I was there or thereabouts. It was a great honour – I would never say no to the full National Squad but it is a privilege to play for your country, no matter what age group you are representing. I was in squad’s with players such as Steven Naismith and Ross McCormack; they are probably the two who have went on to have a really successful career – in fact, there are a few who don’t even play football professionally any more, which is crazy as they were big players at that time!”

Having found it difficult to get games for the Pars, Murdoch went out on loan, initially, to Forfar.

I had to move as there was 3 goalie’s in front of me at the time. The goalkeeping coach back then, Scott Thomson, arranged it all and he was very keen for me to go out on loan there. I started off as number two behind a goalkeeper called Francois Dubourdeau and eventually I dislodged him and it was then just a case of gaining more experience – I was only 19 years old and it was quite daunting to be a goalkeeper there at that time as we were hovering around the relegation zone – there was a lot of weight on my shoulders, but I came through it well before going on to have a reasonable season at Forfar.”

Murdoch continued: “You need to be playing games to improve; you can train and train and train and train for as many hours as you want a day but for me, without playing in competitive games, you can’t improve, so, for me, going to Forfar and then on to Hamilton – who were in the Championship then – it gave me more experience when I came back to Dunfermline. It is very difficult as a goalkeeper – you very rarely get a chance to come on for 15 minutes in a cameo appearances for example so, for me, I completely understand why – and would do the same if I was a manager back then – they wanted an experienced goalkeeper between the sticks as it is a very big position. I didn’t play as many games as I would have liked at the time – it must only be a handful – but, I have no regrets.”

Murdoch made the majority of his appearances in his first spell under Irishman, Stephen Kenny.

When we got relegated [in 2007] I was on-loan to Hamilton at the time and we had finished second in the league that season, so, going back to the Pars in pre-season, I had done two years of going out on loan and gaining good experiences so I felt I had a reasonable chance of becoming number one but we had Paul Gallacher being brought in at that time and lots of other players on high wages – the club were going for it at the time to get automatic promotion – and what Stephen Kenny had said to me was that he really liked me but I was going to be on the bench. There has to be a back-up goalkeeper, unfortunately. I was here for the full season but it wasn’t a season I enjoyed to be honest. We were really poor if we are honest and then Hamilton came in with a nominal bid for me and I felt it was the right time to move on. I pushed it through, as I needed to play. I was 21 and had to try and kick on.”

Speaking further about the matches he played in, in his final year at the club first time around, Murdoch reminisces:

I have played in Europe with Hibs but my first experience of it was here with Dunfermline. I came on early when we were 1-0 up against BK Hacken. We all thought it would be a comfortable win, to be honest. We had looked at them, watched all their videos; we didn’t see much. Roddy [McKenzie] got injured and I came on – I made a few good saves and caught a few good crosses that settled my nerves, but then I made a big mistake, which made it 1-1. Even then, we still felt comfortable about going across to Sweden: we were confident that we could score across there but unfortunately we didn’t and we lost 1-0 and that was that, we were out of Europe!”

I loved the game – even though I made a bad error which led to a goal. It was a big crowd and a big occasion – this is what I had worked all my life for… even when I came home, I spoke to my dad and he was just happy I got on the pitch! I had made a few good saves but unfortunately, as a goalkeeper, you are either a hero or a villain.”

Murdoch was on the end of some heavy defeats in his final few appearances for the club before his move to Hamilton, conceding 3 then 4 goals in consecutive games against Stirling Albion and Livingston.

I knew I was coming into a side low on confidence and we had got beaten pretty comfortably. You don’t like getting beat to anyone but especially – with respect – so heavily against sides like Stirling Albion. We were a big team in that league with big players; you need to be a strong character though, you cannot go into your shell. To be fair, the pros in the team at that time – Scott Wilson, Scott Thomson, Greg Shields, they rallied round me and helped me through it: they were experienced and they were also great people to work with.”

After time with Hamilton, Hibs and Accrington Stanley, Murdoch moved to Rochester Rhino’s in the USA. After only s few months, the Scot moved back to East End Park, where he has since established himself as Allan Johnston’s number one.

Coming back and getting Dunfermline out of League One isn’t as big a challenge as trying to get them back into the Premiership as we are trying to do now, but, there were some hard games but there was also matches that we strolled through. We did well last season and only a few points off the play-off’s in the end: yes, it is disappointing we didn’t make the play-off’s but we had just been promoted, there were very good teams in the league and we had to be realistic with our aims. I am half way to what I want to achieve here at Dunfermline – getting this club back up in to the Premiership is my next goal.”

Speaking about winning League One, Murdoch looks back on the achievement with great pride.

To be honest, we all thought Peterhead would beat Cowdenbeath as Cowden were really struggling whereas Peterhead were flying. We heard a cheer after about 20-odd minutes so we knew Cowdenbeath had scored; I was fully focused on the match in hand though as I though Brechin were unlucky to come away with nothing in that game. Everything just fell into place though – wee Faiss [Faissal El Bakhtaoui] scored his hat-trick with the last kick of the ball, it was just all meant to be…I didn’t know the Peterhead score but I had a feeling Cowdenbeath were still beating Peterhead and our game was on edge – Brechin had a few really good chances. When Faiss scored, I just knew we had done it and that we would get it over the line – then I just ran forward and celebrated as, after all, it is a team effort!”

With Murdoch penning a 1-year extension to his contract until 2019, the goalkeeper looks back on his time away from Fife and how much the club has changed within that time.

It is all about proving people wrong – obviously, when I left Dunfermline the first time, some fans may have been like “oh well, who cares, he never played much anyway!” but I was always highly rated as a youngster. I think winning some awards could have put those doubts to bed, but, it also gave me great personal satisfaction – we had a great team last season, with a lot of good players who could have won that award so, it was probably the biggest moment in my career. A big thanks has to go to my dad – he has always supported me; he comes to every game and speaks to me after each one. It is a team effort, it isn’t just all about me.”

It is night and day in terms of how the club has changed – when I was first at Dunfermline until now is completely different. Back then, we had squads of 30, 35, maybe even 40 players; a lot of big money – I don’t even want to know what the monthly wage bill at the club was as it must’ve been crazy! I don’t know how they done it. From there until now, the team is more united in my second spell, if I am honest – everyone is on roughly the same terms and the same wage, we are all in the same boat… the way the club survived was all done to the fans and as players, we can see that and we know how much it means to them. You could probably say I was an apprentice then and in my second spell I am now a first-team player.”

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