When Simon Murray left for another continent, he never envisaged returning to see three of his former clubs battling it out for the same prize.
The 27-year-old Dundonian is plotting a comeback to Scottish football this summer after 18 months in South Africa.
He’s delighted to see both Dundee United and Arbroath on the up and hopes another of his former sides Dundee can return to the top flight soon with the Tangerines clear at the top of the Championship and the Dark Blues and Red Lichties battling it out for a play-off spot.
Murray burst onto the senior scene after a couple of years in the Dundee juniors at Gayfield were he stole the headlines, scoring 16 goals before New Year in League Two.
That prompted a £50,000 move to Tannadice for top-flight United before being loaned back to the Red Lichties.
Murray said: “We were 12 points clear at the top and were a good team but then blew up.
“I scored 16 goals in the first half of the season and signed for United in January and couldn’t keep it up in the second half.
“Looking back, I was just not used to full-time training and I was tired when it got to the games. I was training full-time at United during the week and I was really trying to impress there but I wasn’t used to it.
“I ended up running myself into the ground during the week and had nothing left for a Saturday.
“Looking back I still think I did the right thing but the Arbroath manager wasn’t happy at the time. We fell out a bit and didn’t leave things the way I’d want them to be.”
Murray played for Alan Moore at Gayfield before Todd Lumsden took over. He was then replaced by Dick Campbell the season after Murray moved to United – since then Arbroath have moved up and up and are now competing with the Tangerines and Dark Blues in the Championship.
“I think Dick Campbell took over from Todd when the club were fourth bottom of League Two – to see them go up to fourth this season in the Championship this season has been amazing.
“Dick played with my dad and you can see why players want to play for him.
“I always keep an eye on my old clubs and how they are doing. I’m not sure if every player does but I have a soft spot for every club, especially Arbroath because they’re maybe not expected to be where they are. It’s great to see them doing so well.”
Murray’s time at Tannadice was an up-and-down one as United dropped through the relegation trapdoor in his first campaign before missing out on an immediate return at the last hurdle the following season.
Murray scored 25 goals across those two campaigns but admits the 1-0 play-off final defeat to top-flight Hamilton Accies was the toughest moment of his career.
“When I left for Hibs, we were so close to going up,” he added.
“We’d had a decent season and were top at Christmas but couldn’t keep it going and lost in the play-off final. We always thought if we got the penalty in the first leg where I got brought down but sent off for diving – I got volleyed in the leg!
“If we got that, we could have gone to Hamilton and sat behind the ball and got the result. That was the hardest day in my football career.”
The Tangerines’ time in the Championship doldrums is almost certainly at an end as they sit well clear at the top of the table with eight matches remaining.
What happens after the coronavirus shutdown is still up in the air but Murray reckons the break might have come at a good time after just one win in their last nine matches.
“They might be quite glad to have a stoppage because they’d had a sticky patch.
“I think they were maybe too good in the first half of the season and took their foot off the gas, they were cruising at one point.
“They are still far enough ahead that no one will catch them and it will be good to see them back up.
“The fans definitely deserve that.”
And the 28-year-old wants to see another of his former clubs join them at the top table, hopefully after an expansion to the current league set-up once this hiatus comes to an end.
“Dundee will be a bit gutted because they’ve been on a really good run and made good signings in January but then this happened.
“I do think the city of Dundee needs its two teams in the top league again and I’m really hopeful that can happen soon.”
On league reconstruction, he added: “Sixteen teams would be good and it would be good to see the top league expanded.
“By the time the season is finished in the Premiership you know what aftershave each defender has on, you’ve played them that many times.
“You can play five, six times a season and it’s hard enough going to Celtic Park just once!
“I’d like to see some league reconstruction and also something done with the play-offs, have the top team play fourth in one semi and second v third in the other.”