In 2014, prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, an obscure Melbourne band from Coburg released a catchy dance number which was a musical tribute to the iconic French footballer Zinedine Zidane.
The lyrics, for those who haven’t heard the tune, listed the names of most of the players who have achieved distinction in the sport, from all over the world, all spoken in rhymed verse over a dance beat.
The little known band was Vaudeville Smash, and they had the bright idea of approaching the voice of Football in Australia, Les Murray to recite the Litany of the foreign sounding names of star players. Thankfully Les agreed and the band’s recording thanks to Les and the entertaining video clip that accompanied it, was a You Tube smash and one of the better World Cup recordings ever made.
That song praised Zidane but this week the tributes and praise have flown for Murray who sadly passed away early in the week after a long illness aged 71. The many tributes have come from colleagues that worked with him at SBS, in the football media in general, from players, coaches, clubs associations and from politicians with calls to give his a state funeral.
Many of the tributes rightly point to his work as a great ambassador and promoter of the game in this country. His work with SBS did much to broaden the appeal of the game during a period when it was trying to gain a foothold in the mainstream sporting landscape of this country. His weekly programmes such as the World Game, and his pilgrimage every four years to another corner of the globe for the World Cup were instrumental in bringing the game into the living rooms of the mainstream.
PHOTO: Vaudeville Smash Twitter
Other commentators who knew Murray well have told of how he was a proud supporter of immigration and of refugees ( as he and his family were political refugees from Hungary arriving in 1957).
Murray was close to another former Hungarian immigrant who made good, former FFA chairman Frank Lowy who also expressed his sorrow and paid a heartfelt tribute to his friend Murray.
“We both arrived in Australia in the 1950s.
We both brought with us a love of football. Football was our common cause.
He was one of its most loyal sons and never lost faith in the beautiful game, or its potential in this country. As such he was an invaluable ally and adviser to me, and a tireless promoter of the game.”
Former work colleague at SBS, Andy Paschalidis was grateful for Les’s guidance and support early in his career. In his tribute on roar.com he wrote “ Les was easy to work with. A mentor to so many. His door was always open, his opinion highly sought….Yes , there were many great memories of those ten years at SBS. They were golden years at a time when multicultural Australia and football were entwined. In amongst that was a Hungarian refugee from the outskirts of Budapest who would make football fashionable with the masses.”
I was never lucky enough to meet Les Murray, but I remember as a student journalist, interviewing him by phone for a story on Australia joining the Asian Confederation. I had approached SBS more in hope, requesting an interview with Les, not expecting to hear back. I could hardly believe it when I got a call from his secretary at SBS telling me that Les would shortly join me for the interview. I was so excited and he was so generous with his time and support.
His voice, with its distinct tone and accent, will long be remembered as the voice of football in this country, much like Richie Benaud’s voice is with cricket, and Jack Little’s was with wrestling back in the late 60s and 70s.