The Big Interview: Karen Murphy

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The Big Interview: Karen Murphy
"I don’t like football. It bores me to tears, sorry.” Coming from a landlady who successfully fought a six-year legal battle against the Premier League for the right to show cheap televised football in her pub, these words were somewhat unexpected.

However, it was as we sat in Karen Murphy’s pub, the Red, White & Blue, a stone’s throw away from Portsmouth FC’s Fratton Park home, when this extraordinary revelation came to light.

Indeed, asking Murphy if she ever gets to see any games herself was more of an afterthought.

One could have reasonably expected her to respond along the lines of: “If I could I would, but there is never enough time in the day, let alone the week, when you are running a pub.”

Nevertheless, more revelations were afoot as we settled down for a drink in the corner of the bar, which was predictably quiet for a Wednesday afternoon — after all, it is still a traditional wet-led local, which depends heavily on strong evening and weekend trade.

It emerged from the ensuing discussion that Murphy was conspicuous by her absence at the pub as her case with the Premier League rumbled on, spending more than three years as restaurant manager at a local KFC, before becoming wardroom mess manager at HMS Sultan, a navy base in nearby Gosport.

“To be honest I only stayed in the trade while this battle was going on because it would seem ridiculous not to have had the pub when the battle was over,” she explains.

“The main point for me was to get the equipment back in that they (the Premier League) had said I couldn’t have.”

The equipment she was referring to was a commercial Greek satellite box, provided by the broadcaster Nova, the use of which the Premier League believed to be unlawful.

Murphy lost her appeal against the 2007 conviction for using the system to show football in her pub, and was ordered to pay £12,000.
High Court judges ruled that the satellite signal was broadcast from England and that the fee should therefore be paid to Sky.

But Murphy was determined to prove she had not broken the law and so, with a dedicated legal team (and most of the UK’s licensees and foreign satellite providers) behind her, the case was eventually referred to the European Court of Justice in October 2011, where, pending its approval by the High Court, her appeal was quashed.

The European ruling claimed that a system of exclusive licences broke EU competition law and that prohibiting the sale of foreign satellite cards was contrary to the freedom to provide services.

The High Court judge concluded that Murphy was “wrongly prosecuted” by Media Protection Services (MPS), which represents the
Premier League.

Needless to say, Murphy moved swiftly to re-install Nova in the Red, White & Blue.

“It was found not to be illegal, they [the Premier League] were told they unlawfully took me to court, they tried to stop the import of these systems, so I have taken back what I was legally entitled to.”

Strong words indeed and, as revealed in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser earlier this month, Murphy may now look to take her own action against the Premier League. “You have got to understand that the judges said they [the Premier League] wrongfully prosecuted me,” Murphy points out.

“Now that is a claim in itself, and there has certainly been some loss of trade. There has been some loss of reputation, if you like.
“They’d had no qualms in calling me a criminal in their press regularly — in Sky’s press, whenever they sent it out to pubs, or on the MPS website, they called me a criminal time and time again.”

Quite what her legal team will make of that still remains to be seen, but Murphy confirmed last week that they were aware of her views
on the matter.

What is clear is Murphy won’t have to keep hold of the pub during that next potential court battle, and she is already firmly focused on a move away from a trade which is “too highly taxed”.

“Beer prices have gone up ridiculously, and it is a hard game to be in at the moment,” Murphy reflects.

So what next?

“I’d like to go into the restaurant trade really, because I think that is where the money is.”

Indeed, you could say that Murphy is a jack of all trades. Born in Yorkshire, she lived in Lancashire until her late teens, at which point she went to art college.

Her first job was on the vegetable counter at Morrisons in Southport. Upon moving to Portsmouth in 1982, she spent four years working with circuit boards as a retoucher, before becoming a signwriter in the dockyards in 1986.

Three years later, Murphy set up her own signwriting business called Colour Company, which also included some event catering — this was her first foray into the hospitality industry.

Not one to get tied down, Murphy entered the lighting business in 1993, but she would  stay in this trade for the best part of a decade, working her way up from an engineer to a role in technical sales and marketing.

And there was still time to travel the world before finally entering the pub industry, yet another string to her bow.

“Sitting at my desk after having worked there (in lighting) for 10 years, I looked out of the window and decided I wanted to do something else, so I sold my house and went travelling for a year. Then I came back and got this place.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, not quite. Murphy appears to have found herself a new enemy.

“I am fighting a new battle at the moment — residents’ parking schemes,” she says.

“They have started up by the station because residents have been complaining that people park there when they go up to London for the day, and the schemes are slowly creeping down this way.”

Murphy goes on to explain that nobody will be able to park around the pub and she would have to pay an extra £400 a year to park outside as her car is registered to her house a few miles away.

“I could re-register it but it’s a ridiculous system because then you would lose the right to park outside your house.”

One thing is for sure: Murphy won’t go down without a fight. Her victory over the Goliath that is the Premier League has made her
something of a heroine in the eyes of many licensees.

“I happened to be the person, you could say, in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at  the wrong time, but I happened to be the person at the forefront. I get a bit determined when I think I’m right about something.”

And as for Murphy’s knowledge of football?

“I don’t even know who’s playing. I put it on for your benefit,” she says, as we discuss the match currently airing, through Nova, on her pub TV (a Europa League semi-final).

One thing is for sure — Karen Murphy wouldn’t be the landlady she is today without football.

My kind of pub

Meeting point: the Duke of Devonshire pub in Portsmouth

“My favourite meeting point in Portsmouth is the Duke of Devonshire. It is just a nice place to meet and have a few drinks before going out.

“It is run by a woman who must be in her 80s — she has been there about 40 years. It is nicknamed Molly’s after her name.”  

Key dates

Karen Murphy worked on the vegetable counter at a Morrisons supermarket

Moved to Portsmouth with her boyfriend, and worked as a retoucher of circuit boards

Worked as a signwriter at Portsmouth Dockyards

Set up her own signwriting company, Colour Company, which also incorporated some event catering

Joined a Portsmouth-based lighting company, where she stayed for nearly a decade

Travelled the world

Took on the Gale’s (now Fuller’s) lease of the Red, White & Blue

Installed Nova satellite equipment at her pub

Acquitted of using a foreign satellite system in her pub after judge ruled Murphy had not acted dishonestly

Convicted and fined £12,000 for using a foreign satellite TV system in her pub. She appealed

Became restaurant manager at KFC in Portsmouth

Became wardroom mess manager at HMS Sultan, Gosport

European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Murphy over the satellite football case

High Court quashed Murphy’s conviction

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