Jimmy Murphy: 'He was a brilliant teacher but didn't want to command'

Jimmy Murphy battled his nature to lead stricken Manchester United after Munich

When Jimmy Murphy's son unveiled a memorial to his father in the Old Trafford museum's Munich room a few years back, he told how the unassuming Welshman would have insisted on being left at the pub down the road, had he lived to see the day. Not the most memorable line ever, but it brought the house down because that is how people remember the man who became de facto manager as Sir Matt Busby fought for life after the events of 6 February 1958. Murphy was, as Sir Bobby Charlton put it, "a brilliant teacher of players, but he didn't want to command".

Perhaps that explains, as United prepare to mark the 50th anniversary, the sense among some around Old Trafford that Murphy has not been remembered as he might for his part in managing United through the days of impoverished struggle and, as Charlton remembers it, "panic" when the club attempted to rebuild after Munich. "If you talk to a lot of Manchester City fans they'll talk about 'Mercer and Allison' but [at United] they talk about the Matt Busby years," says Murphy's son, also Jimmy.

Murphy, Busby's assistant, had missed United's fateful trip to Red Star Belgrade to guide his nation successfully through a World Cup play-off match against Israel in Cardiff, and the role he assumed in its aftermath ran against the grain of an individual who would train a team through wind and rain but could not tell a man he hadn't made the grade. If the sheer devastation of the aftermath was not enough for Murphy to contend with – "he missed some funerals because you can't go to eight all at once," recalls his son, who remembers the death of Bert Whalley, United's chief coach and Murphy's great friend, hitting him hardest – then there was also the parlous state of United's finances at the time.

The club was destitute compared with rivals City, who in the aftermath of the disaster quietly took on roles that United with their full-time staff of just 11 simply could not handle. As City's director Sidney Rose, a surgeon, discreetly arranged medical help for returning players, United appointed Ken Ramsden, now club secretary at United, on £2.15 a week to provide administrative back up.

Ramsden, hired because he lived in the same Salford street as Les Olive, who stepped up to the club secretary's job after Walter Crickmer died at Munich, recalls how United used the Old Trafford gymnasium to lay out of the coffins of players and asked his own mother and aunt, laundry room staff at the club, to polish them. "We bought nothing new," he says. "Everything was second-hand. We were skint."

In this scene of devastation, Jimmy Murphy's great powers of judgement and humanity were to serve him well. Busby would be able to sign Denis Law from Torino for a club record £115,000 in 1962, but Murphy had to decide which youth team players to cast into the fray as United struggled to fulfil fixtures and which to buy when the league gave them special dispensation to bring some in. Ernie Taylor, Blackpool and England inside forward and Stan Crowther, a tough tackler from Aston Villa, were shrewd buys.

Murphy also convinced Billy Foulkes, who survived Munich, he could make the step up to club captain after Roger Byrne's death. "Billy said: 'I can't do it and I won't do it'," Murphy's son recalls. "My father said: 'You can and you will'. That's what my dad was like. He had this knack of picking people and he was usually proved right."

Within three months Murphy had taken United to the FA Cup final at Wembley, an achievement perhaps as great in the circumstances as the win over Benfica there a decade later.

Murphy was assistant manager until 1971 and died in 1989. His family never really knew how the tragedy affected him. "I never saw that side of him, because I didn't see much of him at all," his son says. But Charlton, in his biography written by The Independent's James Lawton, tells a different story of what Murphy went through. "One day he was discovered in a back corridor of the hospital," he said, "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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue