It was a partnership that spawned 50 goals in one season as Blackpool achieved promotion back to Division Two in 2001, yet John Murphy and Brett Ormerod never had to work too hard to develop an understanding.
A combination that played to its strengths, the Murphy-Ormerod dynamic remains one of the club’s greatest ever strike pairings and brings back many a happy memory on the terraces.
While many would expect the duo to have spent hour upon hour perfecting routines at Squires Gate, the reality was quite simple.
“We never sat down and wrote it on a piece of paper, it just happened,” Murphy recalls when reminiscing about his role in the partnership. “He just knew what I was good at and I just knew what he was good at.
“We were both understanding in the fact that I wasn’t going to run the channels, so he was happy to buzz round me. He’d lay it off to a winger and tell me to get it in the box.”
For Ormerod, the partnership is one he considers to be the most free-flowing for chemistry that he played in throughout his career.
“We just seemed to hit it off straight away. It was the classic big man, little man, I suppose,” he admitted. “He would pull off to the back post and I would always time my runs off him. It was a very natural thing.
“It was the most natural strike partnership I had with any team in my career. We understood what each other’s strengths were and played off each other that way.
“I don’t think I ever had a cross word with him in a game. We were both very unselfish when it came to each other and we’d always give the ball to the one in the better position. That’s not always the case in partnerships. It was like The Two Ronnies; we never had an argument.”
The connection extended way beyond the football pitch, with a training exercise in August 1999 revealing that the two shared more than a penchant for scoring goals.
“We signed Murph from Chester and I think it was only his second day at training. Sometimes we’d have a circle with two in the middle and as soon as somebody gave the ball away they had to go in,” Ormerod explained. “We started off with the youngest in, and I think John Hills was the youngest at the time. It was then between the two of us for the next one to go in the middle. We soon realised that were born on the same day, of the same month and in the same year. We even tried time for who would go in the middle, but we didn’t know!”
“I knew I was one of the youngest at the time and although he looked old – people couldn’t believe he was 22 – we both said the same year in October,” Murphy added. “It was just one of those strange coincidences in football.”
The first season of the partnership was curtailed due to Ormerod sustaining a badly broken leg in October 1999, yet the combined 50-goal season that followed saw the striker return from his long-term absence by contributing 26 to that tally.
“It was a big thing that season because in the course of me breaking my leg in the previous October I’d be wondering if I’d come back from it, and then Nigel Worthington left and Steve McMahon came in,” Ormerod remarked. “He was obviously bringing players in and it was a very unsure time for me. A lot of horrible things go through your head when your sat at home with a long, long time to think and dwell on things.
“But I had to go in one day with Paul Kelly, the physio, and Steve McMahon pulled me and said, ‘I know all about you and you just need to concentrate on getting fit because when you’re fit, you’ll get your chance’.
“I was sub in the first game of that season but I started the second one and I was smashed on my leg after taking a bad touch. It was probably the best thing that happened because it gave me the confidence that I could take a tackle. I never really looked back from that.”
Murphy’s 24 goals that season proved to be a career best, though he felt his team-mate could have hit 50 on his own.
“In the second season Brett could have scored 50. He missed a lot of chances, although he scored a lot, then in the next season everything went in until he left by getting his move. The fact that we both did quite well in that second season only resulted in success for the team,” he said.
Both players are quick to credit the supply line for helping the partnership bear fruit, with Paul Simpson an instrumental arrival in 2000.
“Paul Simpson had a fantastic left foot and Murph got on the end of his crosses a lot. We also had the move where Simmo would hit it long, Murph would knock it down and I’d spin in behind to get goals off that,” Ormerod said.
“We can’t take all the credit, you need people creating,” Murphy stated. “You had Paul Simpson, Martin Bullock, Richie Wellens and then Danny Coid who, when he was playing well, had a brilliant delivery. You can’t always just get the ball and score, so a bit of good play has to come from somewhere.”
Despite the folklore that surrounds the partnership, the 50-goal promotion season is the only full campaign the pair spent on the pitch together. It was officially brought to an end when Ormerod moved to Southampton for a then-club record fee in December 2001.
“The playing side of it wasn’t as long as people might think because of my broken leg and then joining Southampton in the third season we had together, but we were prolific. Playing up front with him was a pleasure,” Ormerod added.