Jimmy Murphy celebrating the 1968 European Cup win with Bobby Charlton, Matt Busby and Jack Crompton.

Why Murphy's importance must be recognised

“No-one outside the club will ever know how important he was to our success,” said a devastated Sir Matt Busby, when reacting to the death of his friend and assistant Jimmy Murphy in 1989, 30 years ago today.

Yet the Welshman's name lives on at Manchester United and his efforts, particularly in the wake of the Munich Air Disaster, will never be forgotten by anybody associated with the club. At the end of the season, the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year is announced at the annual ceremony at Old Trafford. The Jimmy Murphy Centre is one of the key buildings at the Aon Training Complex. His work for the Reds should always be recognised.

When hearing his friend had died, aged 79, Busby said: “The news shattered me. Jimmy and I worked together to bring greatness to Manchester United. He was my first and most important signing and, even though we both retired some considerable time ago, we continued to meet almost on a daily basis.”

Jimmy Murphy.
Jimmy Murphy had a huge influence in Manchester United's success.

Born in Pentre, a pit town in the Rhondda Valley, Murphy was a top schoolboy footballer but still worked as a telegram boy and in a local greengrocer's. A promising career with West Bromwich Albion and Swindon Town was cut short by the Second World War but he would meet Busby in Italy while both were in military service there.

It was the start of a special friendship and their partnership helped United achieve domestic glory, with the Busby Babes emerging as world-class players. The next step was achieving success in Europe, but tragedy struck in Munich in 1958 and, with Busby stricken in hospital, it was left for Murphy to try to pick up the pieces and rebuild the side when, surely, football was the last thing on everyone's minds. 

He had missed the trip to Belgrade to face Red Star in the European Cup, due to his commitments with Wales, but he travelled to Germany in the wake of the disaster, in a bid to try to come to terms with what had happened.

“Our plight is worse even than I thought,” he commented. “I can't see at the moment how we can pick a team for any sort of football. What a mess we're in.”

Yet, somehow, the Welshman was able to issue a pledge that United would continue, an emotional rallying cry that still resonates strongly today.

Nicky Butt and Marcus Rashford with the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year trophy.
Marcus Rashford receives the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award from Nicky Butt.
In the days after the tragedy, Murphy said:
“The Red Devils will rise again. It took Matt Busby, Bert Whalley and myself 13 years to produce the 1958 Red Devils. It was long, tiring, hard work. But we succeeded. We reached a perfect system. We had the best set-up in football.

“It will again be a long, tiring job to rebuild the Red Devils. This time, we have to start practically from scratch. But we'll do it.

“At the moment, I'm so confused, so tired, so sad, I can't think clearly. I haven't slept for three days. Cigarettes have kept me going.

“But this I do know. United was and will again be a great club. We have the greatest club spirit in the world.
Jack Crompton and Jimmy Murphy.
Jimmy Murphy points the way for Jack Crompton on the training pitch.

“The future? It will be a long, hard struggle. But the game must go on in tribute to all members of our staff who have left us and did their job so nobly and so proudly, to make the name Manchester United one of the foremost in the soccer world.

“Matt, I pray, will soon be back. Soon the world-famous partnership of Busby and Murphy will be reunited. Soon we will be working together again for the greatest club in the world.

”We have done it once. We will do it again in tribute to those wonderful Red Devils who tragically are no longer with us.

 
Jimmy Murphy leads the team out at Wembley in the 1958 FA Cup.
Jimmy Murphy leads United out at Wembley for the 1958 FA Cup final against Bolton.

Murphy was, of course, true to his word. The Reds kept playing in the 1957/58 season and went all the way to the FA Cup final, only to lose to two Nat Lofthouse goals.

A decade later, the team rebuilding had been finalised and it all culminated in a glorious night at Wembley when Busby's men became the first English side to win the European Cup, after defeating Benfica 4-1 in extra time. Previous to that, United had won another two league titles (in 1965 and 1967).

Murphy continued as assistant manager until 1971 and then became a scout for the club.

His sterling work will never be forgotten.

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