Footballer Freddie Murray has reinvented himself as the physio to the stars, including Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl
For an Irish footballer who never played any higher than England's third tier, Freddie Murray has some pretty impressive names in the contacts list of his mobile phone.
The 38-year-old no longer works in the football world as such, instead focusing on his physiotherapy company where clients, from the sporting sphere but also the entertainment industry, put in a call for him to come over and make their aches go away.
"I do have some famous names in my phone, it's still surreal when I am speaking to X or Y but at the same time they're just normal people, I treat every client the same, it's just Freddie Murray treating a client," says Murray, a Tipperary native who turned to physio when his playing career in England was ended by injury at the age of 28 and now runs the London-based Remedy clinic which he founded.
We live in a world where privacy has been shredded, where Instagram rules some people's lives, where everyone thinks they know, or has a right to know, everything about everyone else.
Murray is a contrast to that as he's reluctant to speak in detail about the clients he works with. He recently had a spell dealing on a daily basis with a high-profile continental player, but doesn't want to name him.
"He's a French international, a World Cup winner, he had a significant injury where they were looking for a consultant specialist to come in and help him get through the injury.
"He had struggled in the past to get back fit from that injury and that's exactly the kind of job my company would have been called in for, we don't get called in for straightforward jobs, we get a lot of the complex cases, where people have struggled to get better," he says.
"I got called in last year into a club to work with a player, we worked together every day for three-and-a-half months, this year we got him back playing way ahead of schedule, for the Euros. He got back playing just before the season got cancelled due to Covid-19. But I don't like to speak about specific clients, we sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements)," he adds.
But he has been 'outed' by one of his clients. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl went to the trouble of thanking Murray, in media interviews in 2017 and then on stage at a Dublin gig (RDS) in 2019, for the work he did in getting him back to fitness after a leg break in 2015, joking "this Irish b**tard tortured me" as he dedicated a song to Murray at the Dublin concert.
"He was with me for six months, and I would not be walking if it wasn't for that guy," Grohl said in 2017. "Four hours a day for six months, he was the one pushing me to get up and do it again."
Murray says the shout-out on stage was appreciated, especially as his family were there, but the real pay-off was seeing Grohl regain fitness.
"We consulted with Dave for a while as he's had a couple of injuries over the years and we were lucky enough to be the ones to get called in to sort stuff out for him," Murray says.
"Having spent time with him I'd see it as something we have in common, the work ethic he shows is very influential to me, you spend time with people like that and it rubs off on you, how hard those guys work to get to that level.
"It's been a big eye-opener for me in the last five or six years in this business, that these guys have talent but there's no substitute for hard work.
"I was with Dave for the best part of six months, he had a really bad fracture, we worked together for a minimum of four or five hours a day. That's what it takes, we do eight hours a day with an athlete, these guys want to get back quickly and we tell them what they have to do for that to happen.
"We have done a lot of work in the music and film industries. Without sounding like a broken record it's not about the name of the client, whether it's about someone at the top of their game in music or someone in the lower leagues in football, they all get the same product and level of care, it's nice when someone like Dave Grohl goes out and thanks you but that's not why we do that. You don't go to university for 10 years, do all those courses to get better at your job, just to get your name in the paper."
When Clonmel lad Murray joined Dublin club Belvedere as a teenager, the aim was to get his name in the paper as a footballer, Belvedere a key staging post. "We had a great team at Belvo. We had Wes Hoolahan in my team, all we had to do was give the ball to Wes. We had some other great players, lads like Declan Field, but Weso was the star. I'd play left-back, he was left wing and I'd just watch him make fools of people," says Murray.
He won a contract at Blackburn Rovers but injury (he'd have nine surgeries in his career) cropped up early. "I tore my cruciate in my first week so I missed my first year," he says.
He left Blackburn in 2002 and had spells with Cambridge United, Northampton Town, Stafford Rangers, Stevenage Boro, Exeter City, Gray's Athletic and Luton Town.
Injury was an unwanted companion, two years lost to an Achilles injury at one stage. He says Luton (2009-'11) was his happiest spell as a player but that too ended painfully, a Conference game away to York City in April 2011 his last outing on a football field. He was a month short of his 29th birthday.
"I came off on a stretcher in my last game for Luton, my last game in football, and I have never kicked a ball since. I never had any interest in playing again as I fell in love with physio, I filled the void that football had given me and I was ready for a change. I walked from one career into another and studying physio was the best thing I ever did."
He trained as a physio in Salford University and began working with QPR. Promoted to first team duties from an academy physio role by Harry Redknapp, he was there for their Premier League spells. "They had guys who had won the European Cup but it was a difficult environment as a lot of players were there for money, Harry had to get rid of some of them, and bring in other players, great signings," he says.
"The first medical I did was Charlie Austin, then we signed Joey Barton and Richard Dunne, who were amazing for the club; they had a huge role in bringing that club back to the Premier League and it was a pleasure to work with pros like that, old school."
But the football world was no longer his happy place. A hunger for knowledge led to more qualifications and the "bubble" of the football world became less attractive, leading to the founding of his company, Remedy.
"I loved working for Harry Redknapp, but with the politics and pressure within a football club, the player is the one who ends up losing out. The player doesn't always get the best of care even though he could be at the best club with the best resources," Murray says.
"The player gets pulled and dragged and one of the reasons I pulled away was that I saw the model in football was flawed, my vision when I left elite sport was that I didn't want to go back.
"I had offers from Premier League clubs to go in as physio over the last few years but there is no job that would bring me back there as the work I do now is the way I want to work with a client, if that's an athlete or anyone, we treat them the way they should be treated."
Despite living away from home for 20 years, the Tipperary accent remains strong. "People lose the accent if they want to," he says. "When I went to England at 16, some lads lost their accent in the first few weeks but I love my accent, when I travel it's my identity, I still go home four or five times a year. Clonmel will always be home."
But he's happy to leave behind the football world, the banter. "That bubble in football, I never enjoyed that, that was never something that I was comfortable in," he says.
"So for me to walk away, I feel blessed. You hear players who miss the camaraderie from sport and start drinking but I was happy to walk away and never look back.
"My thing as a player was to train every day to be the best player I could be, but I was affected by the injuries I had and I took the same approach into physio.
"I speak to a lot of footballers about how they struggle when they leave the game.
"For me it comes back to educating yourself while you are playing, can you find something that interests you, have a project or some creative idea of what you want from life.
"A lot of people stay in football as it's all they know and I see that as quite sad, a lot of guys I played with had the potential to go on and excel in other areas but didn't do that. I have other things I want to do."