Jimmy Murphy, the man who saved Manchester United from the jaws of destruction, is now unfortunately a forgotten chapter in the history books. Manchester United, a club which has produced some of the finest legends of the beautiful game, produced a legend during its greatest adversity, who not only saved the club from being shut down but also gave the will to rise from the ashes of Munich and create history in Wembley 10 years later. A legend that was somehow lost in the books of history, only to remain as an untold story. It’s sad to see that a man whose contibution to the club was at par with Sir Matt, who epitomised Manchester United, is now just a mere name in the history books. Here we recall the contribution of this great man.
Murphy was brought to Manchester United by Sir Matt as an assistant manager, after seeing him give a passionate team talk to a group of troops in Bari, Italy during the second World War. Murphy was Sir Matt’s first signing as a United manager and he hailed him as his most important signing of his managerial career. Jimmy Murphy arrived in Manchester during the period when Old Trafford was bombed, part of it crumbling and United had to play at their rival Manchester City‘s home ground, Maine Road. While Sir Matt looked after the tactics and prepared the team for its fixtures, it was Murphy who instilled the passion and the fire to win in players’ hearts. Murphy had the role of the chief coach during his initial years with club. He worked alongside coach Bert Whalley and scout Joe Armstrong. Murphy’s job was to scout and train the youngsters. He looked after the youngsters, nurtured the raw potential in them and developed them into world class players. He won a record six youth cups with the youth team and these same youngsters were later immortalised as the “Busby babes”.
Murphy made the youngsters practice longer; only total perfection from them would satisfy him. He used to work eighty hours a week with the youth team. The hard work paid off when the likes of Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton and Byrne made it to the first team in 1952. Jimmy Murphy was given the post of assistant manager in 1955. These youngsters, under the guidance of Sir Matt and Murphy, would then embark on a journey, conquering England by winning multiple league titles and FA Cups.
Sir Matt, not satisfied with the domestic dominance, wanted the club to compete for European glory. The English FA initially didn’t allow Manchester United to participate in the European Cup but Busby and United chairman, Harold Hardman, with the help of the Football Association chairman Stanley Rous, defied the league and United became the first English team to venture into Europe. Manchester United reached the semis in the first attempt but were knocked out by eventual winners Real Madrid. United again won the domestic league which meant they secured qualification for next season’s European Cup. They were labelled as one of the favourites to win the competition that year but as fate would have it, their dreams came to brutal end on a cold dark evening on February 6th, 1958 when a charter plane carrying United players and officials crashed after refuelling, claiming the lives of 23, including 8 United players and 3 club officials. The team which would have gone on dominate Europe for years, was turned into ashes.
Sir Matt Busby and Sir Bobby Charlton survived the crash with minor injuries, while the talents of Duncan Edwards, Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, David Pegg, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones and Billy Whelan perished.
Fortunately, Jimmy Murphy missed the tragedy as he was away managing the Wales national team in a World Cup qualifying match. He heard the news of the tragedy only when he returned to Old Trafford. A usually hard nosed man, he broke down in tears when he heard the tragic news from his secretary, Alma George.
Saddened, Murphy visited Sir Matt in the hospital, where Sir Matt urged him “to keep the flag flying high”.
But who knew that it was just the beginning of the woes for united. Some of the board members decided that it was in the best interest of the club to be temporarily shut down. Apart from the 8 who died that day, the ones who survived, including Sir Busby himself, were suffering from deep trauma. It felt as if all hopes were lost.
Then came a ray of light in the form of Jimmy Murphy himself, as inspired by Sir Matt’s words, he stood against the idea of shutting the club down, and said,
“Don’t tell me what can’t be done. When Matt Busby brought me here, they told me we’d never make a go of it, that it couldn’t be done. That Manchester United would never make a success. Told us we couldn’t win the league, playing kids. Told us we couldn’t match the best teams in Europe. And every bloody time we proved them wrong, so with respect sir, it can be done, it will be done, I’ll make sure of it.”
He finally convinced the board to change their mind. He took the responsibility of the wavering club on his shoulders and assumed the managerial role under immense emotions. Murphy’s great power of judgement and will to rebuilt the squad literally saved United. He convinced Billy Foulkes, who was in depression following the Munich tragedy, to become the captain. Over the next few days, Jimmy, with a very limited backroom staff and secretarial team, fended off the FA who were just as adamant that United could not continue. They initially refused to postpone any of United’s games but changed their minds later.
After 13 days, Manchester United took to field, and faced Sheffield Wednesday. Murphy, under immense emotions, took charge of the squad. Nearly 60,000 fans gathered to show their support and pay tribute to the Lost Babes. Murphy had assembled a side that included two survivors, 5 reserves players who had barely played for the first team, two youth players making their debuts and two new signings, Ernie Taylor and Stan Crowther. Against all odds, this squad defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-0. Murphy took his warriors, wearing Phoenix on their shirts to the FA Cup final, where they were beaten 2-0 by Bolton. This achievement of taking this shattered side to the final was as good as the famous European Cup triumph 10 years later.
The following season, Sir Matt Busby recovered from his illness and took charge of the squad. With the help of Murphy, he rebuilt the squad from scratch. Bobby Charlton, Albert Scanlon and Dennis Viollet recovered from their injuries. Soon, talents like Johnny Giles, Nobby Stiles and George Best came through the ranks. They would eventually win the European Cup in 1968, rising from the ashes of destruction just like the Phoenix they had on their shirt, 10 years earlier.
Murphy remained as the assistant manager at Old Trafford till 1971 despite being offered managerial posts by Brazil, Arsenal and Juventus. He loved Manchester United and couldn’t see himself related to any club other than United. He hated the limelight, was a very humble man and always wanted to give his 100% in whatever he did; in every sense, being a true professional. He passed away on 14th March, 1989.
Manchester United paid tribute to this great man by immortalising him, with his statue erected inside the stadium with a mini bio next to it. The award for being the best young player at Manchester United is called Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award.
Some Quotes on Jimmy Murphy
Sir Bobby Charlton:
“One day he was discovered in a back corridor of the hospital. Sobbing his heart out in pain at the loss of so many young players he adored for their talent and who he loved like sons.”
“I learnt a lot from Matt Busby and Alf Ramsey but everything I achieved in football I owe to one man and one man only; Jimmy Murphy. Matt and Alf were good to me, but Jimmy got to my guts. Jimmy was simply sensational.”
“If it wasn’t for the young lads who came into the team under Jimmy, the club would have folded. He was very important, he deserved more praise. He was such a lovely fella and could get something extra out of players.”
“If it hadn’t been for Jimmy, there wouldn’t have been a Manchester United. It was a pleasure knowing him because he had a passion for the game – he liked me because I got stuck in! He was a lovely man.”
“I was scared to death when he signed me… if you didn’t listen he would crucify you! He knew everything about everybody at the club – it was all in his head. Jimmy and Matt complemented each other; you couldn’t have one without the other.”
Sir Alex Ferguson:“When I arrived down here I went to see Jimmy Murphy. Both Matt and Jimmy were at stages in their careers where they had time to offer me advice. Jimmy was still scouting for the club and I went and had lunch with him and he expressed this great desire to see youth coming back into the club. He was a very emotional man, a great servant to the club, and I would have liked to have listened to him more over the years”
In the history of football, there is not another story more inspiring than Murphy’s achievement in getting United to the final of the FA Cup just months after the Munich tragedy. I’ll conclude the article with a heart wrenching quote by Jimmy Murphy on his Lost Babes:
“I know those lads better than anyone. I found them. I nurtured them. I was there with them every morning, noon and night, piss and rain and gales and snow. They let me mold their lives from the ground up. They repaid me, they repaid this club with their skill, their passion and now their lives. It’s not about honouring their memory. It’s about showing who we are to the world. Showing we’ll not be bowed by tragedy. Because how we are in the future will be founded on how we behave today.” – JIMMY MURPHY