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England native Murphy finding home in Ann Arbor

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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BY RYAN KRASNOO
For the Daily
Published November 7, 2012

When we enter a coffee shop on South State Street, no one recognizes him.

He picks an open table near the windows on the left and sits down, rubbing his hands together for warmth. Asked if he wants to order something, he shakes his head. He’s not a big coffee drinker.

On the walk over, we talk for 10 minutes before the interview even starts. At this moment, we could be classmates working together on a project, or roommates relaxing on a Sunday afternoon or high school friends catching up.

Walking around Ann Arbor, dressed in a gray pullover sweatshirt, navy blue athletic pants, and blue and white adidas shoes, James Murphy looks like a typical American college student.

You couldn’t guess he’s 4,000 miles from home.

***

Witney, England is a small town on the River Windrush, 12 miles west of Oxford and a little more than an hour northwest of London.

This is where Murphy, a freshman standout on the Michigan men’s soccer team, calls home.

“Outside of my family, I miss the countryside and being able to walk down by the river the most,” Murphy said. “Not being able to see my family for months on end is very hard, and I miss the home comforts that everyone has.”

Growing up in soccer-crazed England, one of those comforts was developed at an early age. A rite of passage for many young English boys, “the beautiful game” soon became much, much more to him.

Murphy, his brother and his father would sit on their sofa every Saturday and Sunday watching matches. He started playing when he was 5 — by 8, he was playing six-a-side tournaments and was hooked.

At 11 years old, with just one year of local soccer under his belt, Murphy signed with Oxford United’s youth academy and spent three years there before transferring to Reading FC, where he spent the last five years of his young career.

Things only took off from there. Murphy — whose mother is of Irish decent — made his international debut at just 15 years old, when he suited up for the Under-16 Irish National Team against Israel in January 2010. He would later score his first goal in an Ireland uniform in a match against Malta.

“I still remember the exact dates, and it’s something I’ll always remember,” he said. “Not many people can say they’ve played internationally or scored an international goal.”

Murphy’s success caught the attention of Michigan assistant coach and England native Tommy McMenemy. After forming a connection with Murphy and recruiting him against schools like the University of California-Santa Barbara and North Carolina, McMenemy finally got Murphy to sign on with the Wolverines.

“I’ve been (to the United States) a few times before on holiday,” he said. “I’ve been to Florida. I went on a soccer tour with Reading to Charlotte, North Carolina when I was 15. I always wanted to live in America when I was younger. I thought it would be cool to experience a different way of life and get out of my comfort zone.”

But as he would soon find out, the journey across the pond is not always an easy one.

***

“Oh my God, I’m actually going.”

That was Murphy’s reaction the night before he was scheduled to arrive in Ann Arbor in July. The end of his summer had snuck up quickly, and the reality of the situation had finally caught up with him.

“It didn’t hit me that I was going to America,” Murphy explained. “It seemed like such a long way away.”

Murphy is quick to reference how supportive his parents were in his decision to attend college in the United States, despite the distance he was about to travel.

“I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mom,” Murphy said. “She made a big effort to help. I remember a six-hour day we spent at the U.S. Embassy in England working on paperwork to allow me come here. (My parents) understand what a great opportunity this is for me and that I should take it with two hands. It’s not every day you get an opportunity like this.”

Murphy is making the most of it — and then some.

He embodies the term student-athlete. On the pitch, he is a menace for opposing defenses to handle. He is quick, has a deft touch on the ball and is always one step ahead of his opponents, prompting Michigan coach Chaka Daley to rave about his incredibly high soccer IQ.

As impressive as he is athletically, he is keeping pace, step-for-step, in the classroom as well.