Les Murray: A trusted mate and a tireless fighter for football

I'm writing this on my mobile in hospital with a close friend and colleague having passed this morning, tears flowing off and on. So please understand that my words can in no way pay adequate tribute to Les Murray, a man who changed Australia through football.

Why am I writing it at all, amid the grief of family, friends and the football community worldwide? 

Because Les deserves to be remembered and his life celebrated by our entire country.

News passes quickly. It is now that we must speak about the former refugee who lived life his way, who loved the game of football endlessly and whose pride in the game and fierce advocacy on behalf of it changed everything.

He deserves these words and our tribute.

Les was one of those rare human beings that became larger than life. People loved him because we saw in him our passion and determination for this game to succeed in Australia. 

Colleagues, friends: Les Murray and Craig Foster worked together at SBS and were synonymous with the broadcaster's football coverage. Photo: Ryan Pierse

Colleagues, friends: Les Murray and Craig Foster worked together at SBS and were synonymous with the broadcaster's football coverage. Photo: Ryan Pierse

So many of us grew up watching, listening to him, believing every word. He had our trust – mine until the end – and that of the football community.

We knew Les would show us the best of the game, that his words would respect everything beautiful about our game, his game, and that he would stand up for us. At a time when the game needed cultural warriors – like his great mate Johnny, with whom Les is now at peace – Les stood up and took everyone on. And you won old friend, you won.

Les came to a country that mistreated football and the 'wogs' who played it, and sat proudly, impeccably attired on the wog channel and told us – in the perfect pronunciation that would become his emblem  – that this game is priceless, it is the game of the world, that just because you do not know it means nothing to me. 

He said, I am proud of football, and I am proud to live this every day. 

For this, we loved him.

He embodied the care and love, passion and frustration of all of us who loved the game. We saw through him a new way to carry ourselves.

Les always said that he put football on Australian television not to teach us about football, but to teach Australia about the world. To show us the world game, which Australia constantly seemed to overlook or mistreat. Les was having none of it.

I'll tell you something, and remember this well: 

When Les Murray was around, there was no mistreating football. He fought and fought and fought for the game, as he did his illness, and nothing and no one could diminish the love of football he developed as a child in Hungary.

If you fancied an argument, you might have come into contact with Les and criticised our game. That was when he most came alive, young again and full of fire.

Countless memories flood the mind, of our World Cup times, our tears when Australia lost, our tears when Australia won, our discussions and arguments – for Les did not back down when it came to football.

Les Murray came to Australia as a refugee, and represents every refugee now so mistreated by a heartless government and nation. How many thousands of Les Murrays have we failed to give a chance?

If nothing else, I know this is the question Les would have you ponder.

He led an extraordinary life of love and passion, and his name will not fade, not in our game.

I had the privilege of knowing, of loving and befriending a great man, Les Murray.

May you, in the post-match of Les's life (played on a rectangle field, with vertical stands, singing and dancing fans, drums and trumpets, with banners everywhere, a true football game) remember this.

Many people are different in private than in public.

But not Les Murray. He loved football in public, and he loved football in private. It was his life, every minute of every day. For that we loved him. 

Rest well old friend. You played a spectacular game, a Classico, a World Cup final. You were truly a Galactico of Australian life.

  • Craig Foster and Les Murray were SBS colleagues and worked together on the bid to launch a southern Sydney A-League team. At his request, the fee for this column will be donated to a refugee charity.
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