Matt Murray on racism in football and society and his hope for change

In an interview to mark Black History Month, Sky Sports pundit and former Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray discusses the challenges that he has faced in his life because of racism

Former Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray
Image: Former Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray opens up on his experiences of racism

Matt Murray became a crowd favourite at Wolves, helping the club win promotion to the Premier League in 2003 with a man-of-the-match performance in the playoff final, and later being named as the club's player of the year in 2007.

But long before embarking on his successful goalkeeping career that was cruelly cut short by injury, Murray faced challenges in his personal life because of racism.

In an interview with Wolves to mark Black History Month, Murray shared some of his thoughts on how racism has impacted his life and his hopes for a better future...

On personal inclusion issues growing up

"I had issues around racism and discrimination from different sides when I was growing up. I am from a unique background, as my biological dad was Nigerian and my biological mum English, but I was adopted from birth by a white couple.

"Growing up, I had issues around insecurities in my identity, being of dual heritage or mixed race as I refer to myself, in a very white environment.

"I always say that I am very fortunate to have been adopted by great people and brave people. Racism for me comes from people and not the colour, and I have met some unbelievable white people in my life.

Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray

"As a kid, I would be around black people and they would realise that culturally I was different to them. Sometimes in football, the black lads would call me a coconut - black on the outside and white on the inside. That would hurt.

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"Then I would have issues from white people, because I was mixed race and a lot of bad stuff would get said to me. The other kids wouldn't let me join in football games because of my colour or I'd be chased home from school. There were times when I would be warned that people were waiting to beat me up when I walked home and so I would go a different way which took an hour rather than the more direct five minutes."

On abuse and discrimination

"I will never forget my first ever game of proper football, for Lichfield Colts Under-9s, away at Cannock. It was a big thing and I was excited and nervous at the same time. I used to play an age group above myself, and my manager was Don Astle, a big Wolves fan, who I love to bits.

"We were in the first couple of minutes and I slid and collected the ball. It was in my hands. Then their player just ran and tripped over me. To this day I can see this old, grey-haired referee, coming over and awarding a penalty.

"I remember at the time, I heard people on the sidelines saying, 'we know why you've given that'. But I didn't really understand it at first. Penalties were rarely given at that age anyway. But I actually had the ball in my hands and the boy ran over me.

Matt Murray in action for Wolves against Sheffield United in the Championship playoff final in 2003
Image: Murray in action for Wolves against Sheffield United in the Championship play-off final

"I can close my eyes and still see that referee even now - a racist old man. I was eight years old, and he gave a penalty against me. It completely spoiled it all and I was taken off for crying, I was so upset. There were many examples like that at football.

"I'm not going to lie to you, school could be tough as well. I remember being surrounded by older kids with baseball bats and rounders bats. Another time being head-butted. Having a rock thrown at my head for absolutely no other reason than the colour of my skin. And then being challenged by an older kid to a running race, beating him, and then him taking my legs from under me and raining kicks on my body. His parents were even watching, and did nothing. How can you watch your kid behaving like that and do nothing?"

On dealing with discriminatory issues

"My mum and dad always used to tell me not to fight back physically, They said that meant I had sunk to their level. And so not getting involved would always be my aim. But I couldn't always stick to it.

"There were several occasions when I was surrounded by loads of kids, often older kids, and I would get physically attacked for no other reason than my colour. It was fight or flight. If I didn't do anything, I'd just have been on the end of a really good kicking. I hated fighting, I didn't want to fight, and I have never been an aggressive person. But sometimes, as a last resort, there was no option. The red mist came down, you know? I learned judo growing up and I needed it. And I could run really fast as well. No one at my school could out-run me.

Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray is congratulated by his team-mates after a saving a penalty in the 2003 Championship playoff final against Sheffield United
Image: Murray after a saving a penalty in the 2003 Championship play-off final

"But it was very difficult to deal with as a kid. And it was all taught as well, it wasn't a natural thing. You don't get a nine or 10-year-old telling you that you can't play football with him because you are black unless it has been taught by parents or someone else.

"You can hear it in my voice even now, it scars you. I would be chased home from school and I'd be crying, and saying that I didn't want to be black anymore because of the treatment I was getting.

"It's funny, because after Wolves won the play-offs, and I was man of the match, I bumped into one of the guys who had given me so much grief when I was a kid. He came over to congratulate me, and asked me if I remembered him. 'Yes, I remember you,' I replied, and went on to tell him everything that he had done to me. I shook his hand, and said I hoped he had changed. It was like he couldn't even remember it, or didn't realise the damage he had done."

On how things changed as he became older

"When I broke into senior football, for the most part the support I had from everyone was unbelievable. I never really got any bad stuff. Playing for England Under-21s, there were a few problems but it was always away from home. Against Italy, they had a section of supporters who were racist chanting, in Slovakia the same. Even at Under-16 level, we played Cyprus away, and they were calling us names on the pitch even though we had been in the hotel with them all fine before the game. They were trying to put us off - and we beat them 5-1. Our way of dealing with it was to roll our sleeves up and go out and beat them.

"The problem is still around though. I have received racism on Twitter when I have talked about the issue on Sky. I have been told where Heathrow is and that I am a guest in the country. It is a shame that people feel threatened but it is nothing like that. It is about not giving me a job because of my colour - just give me an opportunity and then I have got to prove that I am good enough."

On Black History Month

"Black History Month, highlighting the role of black people in history, is a great thing to do, and so is trying to stamp out racism in football. But we are going to need more moving forward.

"One of the things that used to wind me up more than anything was doing a player appearance at Show Racism The Red Card events, and there were no other players there, or just the same faces. If people can say things, hold up a card or wear a T-shirt, then that's a start, but go and give your time as well, spend an hour talking to schoolchildren, because education of the young generation is key. Don't just pay it lip service.

"Look at what Marcus Rashford is doing at the moment. Unbelievable. Can people then go and sponsor a young kid through university, or mentor someone? Can we make learning about diversity a compulsory part of doing your coaching badges? Can we teach more about black history, and the impact of racism, in schools? That way we can explain more to young people about the repercussions of things that they say, and the hurt that they can cause.

"I think clubs can also do more. I used to take the diversity training but it was never a priority and often got cancelled. I think a player should be compelled to attend diversity training at least once every three years. More than anything, I would really like to see people just giving more of their time, to help make sustained and lasting change."

Read the full interview with Matt Murray to find out more about the people who influenced his career and his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement

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