Features. Jacob Murphy: 'That 30 seconds will now live with me for the rest of my life'

Jacob Murphy
30 Sep 23
Read time
10 min

"That was the first thing that everyone said – 'did you see your face? Did you see your reaction?'" smiles Jacob Murphy, his features lightening as they did when he heard the Champions League theme blaring out in San Siro last week. "I wanted to be steely in the line-up, but then once the music came on – and it came on quite soon – that's when I was caught in the moment.

Tom Easterby
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"I had my worries that it could have been an anti-climactic experience but it was literally everything I'd dreamed of it being. I couldn't hide the excitement and I was glad that I embraced it and enjoyed the moment for what it was."

The images of Murphy, a lifelong fan of the club he has now played over 150 times for, grinning and savouring a few glorious seconds he thought may never come for him were pored over back home. It wasn't rehearsed – if anything, he had planned to "stand there, (with a) focused look" – but the gravity of it all enveloped him. "It was the feeling of knowing that everything that I've done recently and in my career has led me to that point, the pinnacle of club football, and I'd achieved that. It was nothing more than being proud, excited, and embracing an achievement I'd worked really hard for.

"It's a feeling I would recommend everyone to experience. Honestly, if I could bottle it up and drink it every day I would. In that moment I just felt high on the essence of life. It was amazing. It's been a long wait, and for people to resonate with my feeling, it means a lot. Being a fan of the club as well, you know how special the moment is. To be a player in it also, it just added to it."

Murphy is 28 now, one of the remaining players to have straddled two disparate eras at Newcastle United, and knows as well as anyone the significance held by his club taking a seat at European football's top table. In May, when qualification was assured, he wondered at the reality of it. "Who would have thought it?" he said then. But here he is, a Champions League player in a Champions League team, and after the last year it just feels quite apt. "It was almost a sense of belonging – as players, as a group, as a team, as a fanbase, it just felt right. It felt like this is where we need to be. We arrived here earlier than anyone could have expected, but we're proud of that. It's now about consistently making sure that we’re experiencing European nights.

"There were four or five of us debuting in the Champions League, and then the rest of the lads had played. But I think to play for Newcastle, in the Champions League, it must be different to playing for any other team," he grins again. "It must be."

His start in Milan was his first of the campaign, a sign, in one way, of head coach Eddie Howe's confidence in the winger. He is one of a handful of players, like Callum Wilson and Dan Burn, who have grown with each step on the English football ladder; Murphy's own career has seen him take in loans at Swindon, Southend, Blackpool, Scunthorpe and Colchester, among others. On signing for Newcastle from Norwich in 2017 his potential was valued. Now it is his dependable contribution in the here and now. Since Howe took over in November 2021 Murphy has been named in all but two of the Magpies' Premier League matchday squads and one of those was last month, when his partner was due to give birth to their second child.

"The manager knows what he gets from me – a detailed understanding of how he wants us to play – and for me, it's all about being reliable and being someone he can count on in any situation. Whether we're winning a game and need to see it out, whether we're chasing a game and need to get a goal. It's being reliable. I hope that's the manager's dream!" he laughs.

"That's probably one of the best things in football, having the trust of your manager and teammates. No matter what the outside world noise is, as long as you have that trust from the core group within, nothing can harm you. To not be featuring in the early part of the season… yeah, I was a bit gutted. But I knew at some point the manager would rely on me, would call upon me, and it's always about being ready. There's no point sulking. I know my value within the team. I knew to keep working hard and my moment would come. It came in an exciting way in starting the first Champions League game for two decades for my team."

He puts emphasis on 'my'; my team, his club. The camaraderie in Howe's squad is lauded now. But it was too when Murphy joined Rafa Benítez's newly-promoted United side, winners of the Championship and with a brief to drive the club on in spite of sizeable and obvious obstacles. What's the difference? "There's now a belief, a belief that we can achieve. Have we achieved something great yet? No. You could say that getting into Europe was a great achievement, and it was in itself, but we now want to and know that we can challenge in cups, in the league, and now in the Champions League.

"I think that belief, that's what carried us through last season – having 25 players all on the same page, trying to achieve the same goal. That's powerful within itself. There's a focus – there's a focus, knowing that we can achieve, so that's probably the main thing. If we didn't have anything that was realistically achievable, it might be different here. But there is that sense of belief that we can really achieve."

Murphy does not want to be drawn into too many reflections on the past. "Everyone saw what it was like then, and what they saw was what it was," he says. "That's where we were. This is where we are now." A gathering for players, training ground staff and their families was arranged to watch the Champions League draw in August and "that shows how the club has grown – we never had functions on like that," he adds. "The first team environment is tight anyway, but to bring that in with everyone's families… not everyone sees each other's families. To be able to see the catering staff's families, the groundstaff's families, it's powerful. I think then everyone sees why everyone does what they do. You see the groundstaff with their wives and children, and they do what they do to give them a good life, and what we do can then affect that, so it's everyone just working together in unison to create magical moments here. Everyone's got a part to play."

In the last few years, Murphy's stock has risen sharply. The most recent upward curve coincided with him finding a degree of online fame with a few amusing sideshows: a gentle wave at Southampton’s Duje Ćaleta-Car after his red card in last term's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg; a quizzical glance at the camera as Marco Silva confronted the officials after April's win over Fulham; his open-mouthed, wide-eyed wonder after clattering home his second goal in the 6-1 drubbling of Spurs at St. James' Park; a knowing gesture at an imaginary watch after the 2-0 win over Manchester United. There are probably more, such is his propensity for a funny aside.

"These things, they just happen in the moment. I'm observant and reactive to everything that happens in the moment. There's just cameras everywhere now. Back in the day you could pull a face or point at your watch and mock some timewasting accusations. It's easy content for some people and that's just the digital age we're in now. Whatever you do – good, bad, funny, not so funny – I'm sure it's clippable. I just roll with it. As long as I'm not causing any offence, I'm happy to show my personality, because that is me."

He shrugs. It is just him being him. As Anthony Gordon said in these pages recently, anything that shows players not to be "robotic" as per some public perceptions is welcome. "If they can have a better glimpse of my character, and they can resonate with it, then good. I'm glad they can see it."

This season is a different beast to the last, with more games, less rest, more time in transit. "I think it's going to be mentally demanding and fatiguing for us all, because we're playing such elite matches," he says. "The Premier League is the most elite league, and the Champions League is the most elite competition. With the travelling as well, mentally, that's what will be a big challenge – staying focused when you're feeling tired. Can we dial it in a little bit more, just to stay on top?

"I think that's what's great – we'll be able to test ourselves in a different way this season… test that mental resilience, as well as physical, and every week, every month, every season, you have to see it as some form of development. Can we develop as a squad in another aspect of our game, if that is physical, if that is mental, if that is dealing with the game load, stuff like that? Can we then gain that experience, (and) implement it as fast as we can? Because this is where we want to be. We want to be playing 40, 50, 60 games a season. That's what all the elite teams do. It's the first step of getting used to that."

There are a lot of questions in there that can only be answered in time. Dedication, focus, discipline and heart are required in bulk to thrive at the level Murphy and Newcastle are now at but there is a need to have fun too. Football can be a discouraging place if enjoyment passes by. We arrive back where we started: in San Siro, the noise, the feeling of belonging and the sense of everything feeling just right.

"I'm only going to experience my first time hearing that music, being in that line-up, once," he says. "I experienced it for what it is. Not everyone gets to live that, and I'm glad I took it in, embraced it, soaked it all up for that brief moment. That 30 seconds will now live with me for the rest of my life because I was present in the moment and enjoyed it for what it was."

This interview is featured in Saturday's edition of UNITED, the club's official matchday programme. Find out more about what's inside the latest issue for the visit of Burnley by clicking here.

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