UVA Men’s Soccer | Alumni Spotlight: Dane Murphy

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)
VirginiaSports.com

CHARLOTTESVILLE — in the 42na minute, an own goal gave Nottingham Forest Football Club a 1-0 lead over Huddersfield Town at London’s famed Wembley Stadium. It was May 29, and the stakes in that playoff game were immense. The winner would be promoted to the Premier League; the loser would be left to rue missing an opportunity that might not present itself again anytime soon.

For former University of Virginia midfielder Dane Murphy, who’s now chief executive officer of Nottingham Forest, watching the rest of the match was an excruciating experience.

“You’re helpless, honestly,” Murphy recalled in a Zoom interview from Nottingham, a city of about 330,000 people that’s some 130 miles northwest of London.

“You want everything to go the way it should or the way you want it to and the way you think your team and your staff, your community and the club should be rewarded. But the last 10, 15 minutes were some of the worst minutes of my life, because you have no control. You have no idea how it’s going to end, and you have such an emotional high and low going at the same time: the high of being in the lead and possibly winning and your dreams coming true, and then also the dread that if one goal goes against you, momentum swings the other way and maybe in 30, 45 minutes you’re the saddest people on earth. It’s hard to fully describe.”

At the end of 90 minutes, with Forest still leading 1-0, the referee added six minutes of stoppage time.

“Six minutes of complete and utter despair, in a way,” Murphy said, “just because you’re waiting for the worst to happen at that point with a 1-0 lead and having not been in the Premier League for 23 years.”

This story, of course, ended happily for the Reds and their long-suffering fan base. Forest’s 1-0 victory sent the club back to the top division of English football for the first time since 1999.

For Murphy, who grew up in Redding, Conn., this is his first year with Forest, but he’s heard countless stories about the club’s two-plus decades below the Premier League, of which it was a founding member in 1992. Forest spent most of that time in the second-tier Championship, but it was relegated to the third-tier League One after the 2004-05 season and didn’t earn promotion back to the Championship for three years.

Many of those stories have come from Murphy’s colleagues, who are well-versed in the storied history of a club that was founded in 1865 and has won two FA Cups and two European Cups, among other titles. The City Ground, near the River Trent, has been Forest’s home stadium since 1898.

“One thing that’s really nice about the clubs that are in the smaller towns or smaller cities is that you have a supporter base that permeates into your work force,” Murphy said, “and people work with the club care so much about it. It’s not just that they love sports, and they love the game of football. They’re embedded in the community and the club, and you hear the stories of what it’s meant to them, their parents, their grandparents, what it means to their kids now.”

I have laughed. “And it’s all fine and well until you hear too much of it and the pressure just begins to build. It’s like OK, not only am I trying to do this for my employers, my owner, my club, my community, now it’s all people I work with, and every time I walk down the street, I’m getting the story of what the last 23 years have been like. But for it to culminate that way is obviously pretty rewarding for all of us.”

Among those pulling for Forest at Wembley Stadium were five of Murphy’s former UVA teammates: Yannick Reyering, Sean Hinkle, Ryan Burke, Drew Harrison and Kyle Rudzinski. Also in attendance were several other of Murphy’s friends from the University.

“It was a good Cavalier contingent on the day, and it made it that much more special,” he said. “I had about 30, 35 people there from the States, and it kind of was an emotional day because I had so much support, so many people that throughout my life had been there with me and gone through the process. So it was pretty amazing.”

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