As he stood watching a primary schools football match, a total stranger walked up to Gary Murray and, pointing to a wee red-haired boy, told him: “He’s going to be a player one day.”
The former Hibs striker didn’t let on that, in fact, he was that boy’s dad and he’d long before come to the same conclusion.
Today there’s not a prouder father in the land as he watches his son Simon rattle in the goals for his old club, while admitting even he couldn’t quite envisage the impact he’s made in a green-and-white shirt, seven goals in his first four matches.
Gary has been at every one of them, as he has throughout the 25-year-old’s career, rarely missing a match home and away, following him through the Junior ranks to Arbroath, on to Dundee United and now Easter Road.
Although he lives on Tayside, Gary has retained a soft spot for the Hibees, his own fond memories of his time with the Capital club rubbing off on his family who have always kept an eye out for the club’s results.
Gary made his own move to Edinburgh from Montrose at the start of the 1980s, numbering the likes of Jackie McNamara, Jim McArthur, Arthur Duncan, Ally MacLeod, Gordon Rae and Ralph Callachan among his new team-mates.
And, the memories of those days have come flooding back as he’s sat in the Leith ground’s West Stand watching Simon in action.
He said: “The first thing was I couldn’t believe how much the stadium has changed. I’d been back when Simon played for Arbroath against Hibs in the Scottish Cup a few years ago but for him to end up there is fantastic.
“Although I was brought up supporting the Dundee teams, I am a Hibs fan because I played for them.
“I enjoyed my time at Hibs and have many happy memories. I was very grateful to have become a professional football player, playing full-time, to have reached that level and to be playing for a club such as Hibs.”
Simon’s own route to Easter Road was somewhat more circuitous, spending years playing Junior football in the Dundee area before moving to Arbroath where his goals persuaded then Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara jnr to splash out £50,000 for his signature.
Gary said: “Simon has always wanted to be a football player. He was associated with both clubs in Dundee as a young boy but he prefered to play with his mates.
“I remember watching him playing for his school team, he must have been six or seven, and a total stranger came up to me and said ‘that lad’s going to be a professional football player one day’. I didn’t say I was his dad but simply replied ‘yes’. Simon was always a good player as a youth, but I respected his wishes to play with his pals. I knew how hard it was being a young player to turn professional, not so much the dedication, but missing out on other things.”
Even so, Gary believed Simon had what it took to make the professional ranks and as he continued to bang in the goals at Junior level his credentials became impossible to ignore.
He said: “Simon’s goals record at Junior level was phenomenal. He was player of the year at Tayport and when he got his award they read out that he’d scored 60 per cent of their goals.
“John McGlashan, who ran Tayport, had been in the game for quite a while. He was a team-mate of mine at Montrose, had gone south and played for Millwall and he knew his stuff.
“He’d also played for Arbroath and he gave them the heads up about Simon.”
Gary admits it was an unusual route to have taken, saying: “I think if you are not in the youth system in Scottish football you can be overlooked. I don’t imagine many clubs wil scout at Junior games.
“But Simon was scoring so many goals it was hard not to be noticed and after John had tipped them the wink Paul Sheerin took him in at Arbroath.”
At that stage Simon was playing part-time and working as a plumber but a move to United quickly transpired, the twist of fate that it was his old team-mate’s son who was then in charge of the Tannadice side not lost on Gary. He said: “It was Jackie snr who gave me the nickname ‘Charger’ because I was very direct. I did a lot of chasing but maybe I didn’t chase back as much as Simon does.”
Predictably, Simon was dubbed Mini-charger on arrival at Tannadice, where he scored seven goals in his first season and then 18 last season in the Championship.
Hibs did show interest in him during the January transfer window as they had done when he was with Arbroath, but even so, Gary admitted he was taken aback when Simon told him he was, in fact, signing a two-year deal with the Capital club.
He said: “It came right out of the blue. Simon came in one Sunday and told me. I was a bit taken aback and thought he was having me on at first.
“But he’s finally got to the right place in my opinion.”
Gary recognises some Hibs fans found the arrival of Simon somewhat underwhelming, but he insisted his son could handle that and revealed that he already believes he’s improved immensely in the short time he has been at Easter Road.
The departure of Jason Cummings, top scorer for Hibs in each of the past three seasons, only put further pressure on the new striker’s shoulders.
But Gary said: “You always get doubters in football, it’s easier to be that way. Simon had it at United as well. The main thing, though, is that Neil Lennon had faith in, that he’d seen something in him.
“Jason was still at Hibs when Simon signed, but the fact he has gone won’t concern him. Obviously people are going to compare him to Jason, that’s the nature of the business.
“However, Simon won’t worry in the slightest, that’s why he is where he is today. He’s got there because he has the character to get above that sort of stuff and not worry about pressure.
“People talked of him having got all his goals in the Championship but if you check you’ll find he scored seven in the Premiership, including one against Celtic.
“Mixu Paatelainen didn’t fancy him much, but when he started getting some game time he took his chance.”
If Simon did feel any weight on his shoulders, he certainly hasn’t shown it with the goals he has scored so far and that, insisted Gary, is down to the coaching he’s enjoying at East Mains.
He said: “Simon has changed since he went to Hibs, he’s improved massively and I’m delighted he’s under Neil Lennon’s wing.
“The big difference is he’s not doing the needless running he once did, I could see that right away.
He’s restricted to running into the right places. You do tire in a game so it’s best to keep your energy for going forward in the final third of the pitch.
“It’s interesting to note that all seven of Simon’s goals have come from no further than eight yards out – he’s yet to score one from outside the box.”
Simon missed the opportunity to write himself into the club’s history books by becoming the first Hibs player since Joe McBride almost 50 years ago to score hat-tricks in consecutive matches.
Having hit three in the 6-1 Betfred Cup victory over Arbroath a few days earlier, Simon had the chance to claim another treble when, having scored two against Alloa Athletic, he ballooned a late chance over the bar. But while admitting he’d have been delighted to see Simon achieve that feat, Gary said: “I’d never criticise a striker for missing chances.
“Often they are more difficult than people realise, the ball bobbles at just the wrong moment, someone nicks the back of your leg as you go to hit the ball and so on. We’ve all seen massive misses in games involving the biggest names in football.
“The trick is never to let your head go down, to keep trying to do the right things, to get in the right places and Simon has that, he doesn’t let seeing a goal-scoring opportunity lost get him down.
“I was at Alloa at the weekend and he was a bit unlucky not to have got another hat-trick. It would have been a great record for him to have but hopefully he gets another opportunity to get back-to-back hat-tricks again. It’s not beyond him. He’s a great finisher, he always has been.”
As he was unveiled to the press on signing for Hibs, Simon revealed his family’s affection for the Capital club given his father having played at Easter Road, joking that he never heard the end of him recalling the day he’d had Celtic legend Danny McGrain “on toast” as he scored twice against the Hoops.
Gary, though, insists his best memory was actually a match in which he didn’t score. He said: “Yes, I did score two against Celtic, but we were beaten 3-2 that day.
“The one I remember most was beating Celtic 1-0 at Easter Road. It was on the BBC. Erich Schaedler threw the ball up the linie, I flicked it over Danny McGrain’s head and crossed it for Gordon Rae to score.
“It’s always best to be on the winning side even if you do not score.”