I’m a few weeks old and my dad has just removed the typical stuffed bear, that every infant has, from my crib and replaced it with a soccer ball. Now although I obviously don’t remember this happening, it is what I have been told. And as I sit here nineteen years later living my dream of being a professional footballer I have no reason to believe it isn’t true.
I’m James Murphy and I got here simply by loving the beautiful game.
My whole youth was spent in SPF. Three years in Fanwood and the next fifteen in Scotch Plains. Then just 2 months shy of my nineteenth birthday I packed my bags and set off for Sheffield, England.
My entire life all I’ve ever wanted to do was become a footballer. My mom’s photo albums are proof that the day I started walking is the day I started kicking a ball around. The earliest memories I have of this game are of me being just three years old, waking up on a Saturday morning, and going to Park Middle School or Forest Road Park to play SPF recreational soccer. And those days in the park were all I needed to fall in love with the game.
I climbed up the SPF soccer ladder as I grew up. I started playing recreational soccer in the park just like everyone else then, once I was old enough, I played for the SPF travel team. Finally I entered high school and played for the SPFHS varsity soccer team; the same team that I grew up running up and down the sidelines for as a ballboy. Scotch Plains was and still is, very much so, a “soccer town.” It is a community with real soccer culture in a country where soccer has always been in the background of other sports.
From the age of eight to eighteen I played for Players Development Academy (PDA) where I was constantly developing as a player. Those ten years are an unforgettable part of my life as I played with many great players and worked with coaches who have had a significant impact in my life. It was the perfect environment for me to become the player I always knew I wanted to be.
As I got older my love for the game continued to grow. I started watching every game that was on TV. And I always had my dad there next to me watching every single game. The summer of 2002, he and I would wake up with the sunrise to go get bagels and then watch the World Cup games being played in Korea and Japan. We had two televisions set up so we wouldn’t miss a single game. It was experiences like those that were priceless for me growing up.
As I continued watching games I turned each one into a lesson. Every game I watched I analyzed, picking out players whose game I wanted to imitate. I was obsessed. To this day I still wake up at the crack of dawn to watch every match I can.
Summer was always the best time of year because I could go out early in the morning and stay out until dark, doing what I love. Every morning my parents would wake up to me standing by their bed, begging my dad to come out and play soccer with me. If his answer was that he had to go to work, my next question was could he play after work. And he did as much as he could. He’d throw his shoes on, come out in the backyard and be my teammate, my opponent or more often than not the goalkeeper.
The countless hours I’d spend in that backyard on Muir Terrace will forever be my best memories of playing this game. To me it was a massive stadium where millions of fans were watching me shoot into my barely hanging net, scoring and running off in celebration. That yard has hosted everything from World Cup finals to Manchester United’s biggest games.
There came a time, when I was about sixteen, where I realized that those backyard games weren’t enough for me anymore. Being a professional footballer became more than a dream. I wanted it to happen more than ever and I needed it to make it a reality. That’s when loving the game drove me through the toughest times to get to where I wanted.
I developed a work ethic that I was convinced would drive me to the top. I was obsessed with the idea of being great and even more obsessed with the process of getting there. I began spending every minute I could training and working out. I’d wake up before school to run, then would spend my time after school in the gym before leaving for practice.
Every waking moment was spent planning and working towards this goal that I had set for myself years ago.
As a seventeen year old I began trialling for teams in England and was turned down multiple times before getting to where I wanted to be. The hardest thing was be told no but it made me realize I needed to do more. I needed to work harder. And so I did.
Then came my trial at Sheffield Wednesday and I was offered my first professional contract. I signed the contract and six weeks later made my professional debut in the English Football League Cup. I was walking onto the pitch to play in a Cup that I’d watched, analyzed, and reenacted in my backyard so many times before. A dream come true.
I am nineteen years old. I am living my dream as a professional footballer. This is just the beginning.