Les Murray, SBS football commentator, dies aged 71
Les Murray, the former football broadcaster, has died aged 71.
Regarded by many as the voice of Australian football, Murray had been battling a long-term illness, according to his long-term employer SBS.
He had retired from his role on the The World Game in July 2014, having played a major role in the game’s development in Australia since the 1980s.
In a statement SBS said: “Les will be remembered not just for his 35-year contribution to football in Australia, but for being a much-loved colleague, mentor and friend who has left a unique legacy. To say he will be sorely missed is an understatement.
“Many Australians know Les as Mr Football, who began working with SBS when it launched as a television broadcaster in 1980. His role went far beyond being a football commentator. The growth, popularity and success of football in Australia today is absolutely a reflection of his passion and advocacy for the game that he loved.”
Murray pioneered football broadcasting in Australia following the launch of the National Soccer League in 1977, initially on Channel 10, and went on to become the voice of World Cup coverage on SBS for several decades. He hosted eight World Cups in total, his debut coming at Mexico 1986.
He sold Australia a vision of the world game – a phrase he coined – rather than just a British game.
“I started on this mad mission to convert Australians to football in the schoolyard,” he said in a Guardian video last year. “That’s where it started, not when I became a broadcaster, that was just a continuation of it.”
In partnership with his fellow commentator and former Socceroos captain Johnny Warren, Murray tirelessly promoted football as a game that could be accepted by Australia’s sporting mainstream, and sold a love of the game outside the narrow confines of the UK. The pair became known as “Mr and Mrs Soccer”, also the title of the 2004 book about them by Andy Harper.
“Johnny and I were soul mates… He was my mate and brother,” Murray said of Warren in Harper’s book.
Murray, born László Ürge in Budapest in 1945, came to Australia with his family after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. The family settled in Wollongong, where football was the vital point of contact between Murray and other migrants as they struggled to adjust to an unfamiliar landscape.
Murray never forgot his refugee roots and was a constant advocate for more tolerant policies towards asylum seekers and refugees.
The managing director of SBS, Michael Ebeid, said: “No one better embodied what SBS represents than Les Murray. From humble refugee origins, he became one of Australia’s most recognised and loved sporting identities. Not just a football icon, but a great Australian story and an inspiration to many, to say that his contribution to SBS and to football was enormous, doesn’t do it justice. This is a devastating loss for all of us at SBS. Our thoughts are with his family and all who loved him.”
Last year Murray took part in a video as part of the Guardian’s Dear Australia series on refugees. Murray recounted how his family was helped to flee across the border to Austria by a man who would have been classed as a “people smuggler” under Australia’s current asylum policies.
“I owe him my freedom,” Murray said. “I get this stuff about protecting our borders and all that – I get that. But one of these days we’re going to have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: what kind of country is it we’re actually trying to protect?”
In the years that followed his retirement from SBS, Murray receded from the public eye, only to re-emerge earlier this year as part of a Chinese-backed consortium for a southern Sydney “super club” in its bid to win an A-League expansion licence.
Australian football figures, politicians and fans rushed to pay tribute to Murray following news of his death.
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