BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
He is the boy from Bothwell who befriended a billionaire, dined with political heavyweights and witnessed the devastation of a killer cyclone – all while 9000 miles from home.
Little wonder, then, that Euan Murray is ready for anything football can throw at him after an unforgettable experience in the Solomon Islands.
The former Motherwell, Arbroath and Clyde player embarked on his remarkable journey in March, joining league champions Western United in time to participate in the Oceania Champions League.
He had offers to continue his career in the southern hemisphere, including with FIFA Club World Cup regulars Auckland City, based in New Zealand, but chose to return to Scotland during the summer.
Now plying his trade with Stenhousemuir, the 21-year-old is able to reflect on his experience on the tiny Pacific island.
He told Capital City Press: “It was very different from anything I’ve been used to. All I ever knew was being a full-time footballer with Motherwell and living in Glasgow. It was a real culture shock.
“The biggest change is the pace of life. Everything was so slow – that irritated me a bit. I just couldn’t get used to it. At Motherwell you would be in at half-nine, see the physio or go to the gym. There was structure.
“Over there, they would say ‘training tomorrow is two o’clock’ and I would wait for the car at my hotel. It would get to half-two with no sign of them and I’d phone the driver – and all he would say is ‘relax, relax, we will get you there.’ It’s island life. If it was any more laid back it’d be horizontal.
“But I have nothing bad to say about the people there. The people there treated my girlfriend, Holly, and I really well and it was a worthwhile experience. The football was a better standard than a lot of people would imagine, too.”
Murray’s top-flight experience in Scotland amounted to three appearances for Motherwell, nevertheless his capture was seen as a coup for Western United as he became the first Scot to play for the club and attained celebrity status.
Murray also enjoyed VIP treatment from the team’s owner – part-Scottish concrete magnate Reginald Douglas – and dined with the British High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, Dominic Meiklejohn.
He recalled: “There was a lot of publicity and, from the moment we stepped off the plane, there were cameras in our face. There was a gathering at the airport! People would come to hotel and try to meet you.
“We went to the High Commissioner’s house for dinner with him and his wife. There was old fashioned British cooking and everybody was very well spoken – I was thinking ‘I better watch what I say, here!’
“The owner of the team, Reggie Douglas, was a billionaire but he was genuinely one of the most decent people I have ever met. He would sit and chat about any issues, have meals with you and socialise.
“He took to me because he has some Scottish blood in him. He visits Scotland a lot – he was over for the Commonwealth Games – and loves talking about Scotland. He looked after me better than I ever imagined.”
However, living in a nation within the infamous “Ring of Fire”, one of the most seismically active regions on the planet, always had the potential to be fraught. And so it proved.
Cyclone Pam made land on March 6, with nearby Vanuatu bearing the brunt of the devastation. Fifteen people were killed.
The Solomon Islands – just 600 miles away – avoided the worst of the damage, but Murray was still afforded a sobering sense of perspective.
Murray recalled: “One night my girlfriend said ‘have you seen the news?’ She had received a text message which goes out from the government, saying there was a major tsunami warning for the island.
“That was the tail end of the cyclone and Vanuatu was just destroyed.
“We flew from Solomon Islands to Vanuatu on our way to Fiji for the Champions League and, as the plane descended, it was just complete devastation.
“Everything was wrecked, there were trees everywhere and homes turned upside down. We were lucky it missed us.
“When all you know is living in Scotland, you never think about something like that. You are sitting in a hotel thinking ‘this place could be hit by a tsunami any second’. I was never homesick, but that was a reminder of just how far away from home you were.”