Written by John White for Manchester United Then & Now
Thirty-two years ago today one of the most important men in the history of Manchester United passed away aged 79.
Names such as Harry Stafford, John Henry Davies, James W. Gibson, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson are iconic figures in the history of the club since it was formed as Newton Heath Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Football Club in 1878.
However, one man has gone unrecognised despite the huge contribution he made in making Manchester United the world’s greatest football club.
That man is Jimmy Murphy.
A Patriarch is the male head of a family or a tribal line. He is a person regarded as the father or founder of an order, class, etc. Originally, a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family.
Sir Matt Busby is regarded by the vast majority of Manchester United fans as “The Father of Manchester United,” an accolade the Great Man so rightly deserves. Busby built three great teams during his 25 year reign as Manchester United manager, 1945-69 & 1970-71, and guided the club to 5 First Division Championship titles, 2 FA Cup wins, 5 FA Charity Shield wins (2 of them shared) and the Holy Grail for Manchester United, victory in the 1968 European Cup final. But, Sir Matt’s achievements were not solely down to his own personal managerial capabilities. Many of the players who brought these trophy successes to Old Trafford were not bought in the transfer market or signed on a free transfer. Busby’s three great United sides, 1945-55, 1956-63 and 1964-68 would never have achieved the feats they did had it not been for one man. That man is Jimmy Murphy, the Patriarch of the Busby Babes.
The Welsh word for a Wizard is “Dewin.” Translated it means: “Someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field.” Jimmy Murphy was Matt Busby’s right hand man, but more importantly he was a Dewin, because he was the Sorcerer in charge of the Manchester United Youth Team who, when he believed one of his apprentices was good enough, would have a word in his good friend’s ear and suggest to Busby that: “I have a boy who is ready to become a man.” Time and time again these words from Murphy rang true when one of his young charges was not only was given his chance in the United first team but then went on to cement his place in a Busby side, often usurping a more experienced, but crucially in Busby’s mind, an older player in that position on the pitch. Busby was loyal to his players but held no sentiment when it came down to who was the best-fit in his starting eleven. Busby’s mantra was that if you were good enough, then you were old enough to play in his team. As far as Busby was concerned, without loyalty, you win nothing. And, if a young player, who Murphy said was good enough to play in the first team, performed well in his debut for the club, Busby had no hesitation in investing his trust in that individual and giving him every chance to show him that he merited his place among the starting eleven for a game. Busby was above all else, loyal to the club’s young players. He was never a manager who looked for a quick fix to produce results on the pitch and spend the club’s money, particularly after the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958, which claimed the lives of eight of his brightest stars. Busby, guided by Murphy, looked to the youth of the club that they had been nurturing for many years to take the club forward season by season, and their unequivocal faith in the trainees reaped dividends.
“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done.” G. M. Trevelyan
James Patrick Murphy was born on 8 August 1910, in Pentre, Rhondda, Wales. He attended Ton Pentre Village School and as a young boy played the organ in his local Church. At primary school he played football for Ton Pentre Boys, Treorchy Thursday Football Club, Thursday Football Club, Treorchy Juniors and Mid-Rhondda Boys. Aged 13, he represented Wales in a schoolboy international against England in Cardiff, Wales. On 1 February 1928, the boy from the Rhondda Valley signed for West Bromwich Albion, aged 17. The Baggies, the nickname of West Bromwich Albion, were a Second Division team at the time after being relegated from the top flight the previous season. They had finished rock bottom, in 22nd place. The young Murphy was welcomed to The Hawthorns by their long standing manager, Fred Everiss (club manager from 1902-48) and made his debut in a 1–0 defeat away to Blackpool on 5 March 1930 in the Second Division. He played one further League game in season 1929-30. The following season, 1930-31, The Baggies won the FA Cup after defeating local rivals, Birmingham City, 2-1 in the showpiece final at Wembley Stadium, London, and were promoted to the First Division when they finished runners-up to Second Division Champions, Everton. However, the 20-year old Murphy was still trying to gain a starting position in the West Bromwich Albion side, being limited to just two League games.
Season 1931-32 was his breakthrough season when he ran out 27 times in the First Division (finished in 6th place) and played one game in the FA Cup, the Baggies exiting the competition in the Third Round as holders. From 1931-35, Murphy made 149 appearances for West Bromwich Albion in the League and FA Cup, helping the club to achieve four consecutive Top 10 finishes which included fourth place in season 1932-33. In season, 1934-35, he won an FA Cup runners-up medal when Sheffield Wednesday beat West Bromwich Albion 4-2 under the famous Twin Towers. Jimmy was the only player in the side who was not English.
Prior to the start of the 1939-40 season, Murphy left The Hawthorns and signed for Swindon Town. The badge on his shirt went from a Throstle to a Robin. However, within weeks of joining The Robins, the outbreak of the Second World War meant his football playing career came to a premature end when he was at his prime, aged 29. From 1933-38, he was capped 15 times by his beloved Wales.
During the Second World War, Murphy was giving a speech about football to a band of troops, and Matt Busby was in attendance. Busby was so impressed by Murphy’s speech that, when he accepted James W. Gibson’s (Chairman of Manchester United) offer to become the manager of Manchester United in February 1945, he made Murphy his first signing. Jimmy was given the title of “Chief Coach” from 1946 until 1955, during which period he was in charge of the club’s trainees. He became Busby’s assistant manager in the summer of 1955 after he guided the club’s Youth Team to a third consecutive FA Youth Cup final victory.
“Youth has no age.” Pablo Picasso
In August 1948, Murphy welcomed his first trainee to Old Trafford when he greeted a 15-year old boy who had just left school in the hope of fulfilling his boyhood dream of playing for Manchester United. That boy was Geoff Bent who was born in Salford, Manchester on 27 September 1932. One of the next trainees to arrive was a boy born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jackie Blanchflower, who joined the club as a 16 year-old in May 1949. The Belfast teenager, younger brother of Danny Blanchflower, who famously captained Tottenham Hotspur to the First Division Championship title and FA Cup glory in season 1960-61, the first club to win the coveted “Double” in the 20th century, was quickly followed by Dennis Viollet and Jeff Whitefoot. In the summer of 1949, a 19-year old who was born in Gorton, Manchester on 8 September 1929 signed on trainee terms. His name was Roger Byrne. In the early 1950’s, Manchester United became the team in England to sign for if you were a young player who wanted to learn the game and develop your skills with a view to playing football for a living.
“You have to grow from the inside out.” Swami Vivekananda
Jimmy helped his young players become men, to grow from the inside out. In 1950, Bill Foulkes, David Pegg and Albert Scanlon left school to be tutored by Murphy. At the end of the 1950-51 season, Busby signed Johnny Berry (aged 25) from Birmingham City for £15,000. Within a year after Berry’s arrival, 15-year olds Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman were taken under the genial Welshman’s wing. In season 1952-53, Murphy was able to select a Youth Team side which now had two new 15-year old additions, Bobby Charlton and Wilf McGuinness, who both signed as trainees in January 1953. Busby also had a new centre forward in the shape of Tommy Taylor, aged 21, who was signed from Barnsley Football Club in March 1953, for a new British record transfer fee of £29,999. At the end of the 1952-53 season, 18-year old Liam “Billy” Whelan joined Murphy’s talented Band of Brothers when he left his local club, Home Farm in Dublin, Republic of Ireland to move to Manchester.
“They hadn’t come here to fear. They hadn’t come to die. They had come to win.”
Stephen Ambrose, from the book “Band of Brothers”
Four more future first team players arrived at Old Trafford in season 1954-55, when Shay Brennan (aged 15), David Gaskell (aged 14), Kenny Morgans (aged 15) and Mark Pearson (aged 15) joined the club as trainees. Nobby Stiles from Collyhurst, Manchester, aged 15, joined Murphy’s Boys in September 1957, and three months later Harry Gregg was signed from Doncaster Rovers for a new world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper when Manchester United paid £23,500 for the 25-year old Northern Ireland international goalkeeper. The 14-year old kids and 15-year old kids who left school to embark on a new journey, a path to becoming a professional footballer and Jimmy Murphy was their father figure at Manchester United.
“These kids are looking for direction, for identification. Kids join gangs because they need a father figure or they want to be part of a group.” Jesse White
Gregg made his debut on 21 December 1957, a 4-0 home win over Leicester City in the English First Division (scorers: Scanlon 2, Charlton & Viollet). Busby’s team that day was Gregg, Foulkes, Byrne (captain), Jones, Edwards, Colman, Morgans, Scanlon, Charlton, Taylor and Viollet. Incredibly, only Gregg and Taylor had not been promoted to the first team on Murphy’s recommendation, after starring in his famous Youth Team. Jimmy Murphy had an eye for a Manchester United player which was very similar to an Amsterdam based diamond merchant using a Loupe to examine the quality of the stone under the microscope. A diamond merchant uses a Loupe, a magnifying device, to see small details more closely. Expert Watchmakers also use a Loupe, such is the highly professional requirement for the attention to detail which is paramount when making the perfect timepiece. Jimmy’s Loupe was his football brain. He didn’t need a magnifying glass to show him that he had a trainee under his charge who was good enough to play for the Manchester United first team. Murphy’s Loupe just came down to one simple fact, which was, did he have a young player, a flawless diamond, who he considered to be good enough to replace a more senior player in Busby’s starting eleven. Obviously, Murphy’s recommendations to Busby coincided with a first team players’ performances over a certain number of previous games which had Busby thinking about changing things around in his squad. But when a Youth Team player was given his big chance to impress in the first team, it was Murphy who made the young boy’s dream come true.
“You have to believe in your dreams, to reach out for your dreams.” Lailah Gifty Akita
Jimmy Murphy knew only too well the abundance of talent which he was so privileged to have at his disposal. Although he would never admit it, Murphy’s FA Youth Cup final winning side in season 1953-54, would probably have beaten Busby’s starting eleven in United’s last English First Division Championship game of the 1953-54 season as the Welshman’s junior team included Charlton, Colman, Edwards, McGuinness, Pegg and Scanlon. He taught them how to win.
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Vince Lombardi
Busby’s team which defeated Sheffield United 3-1 at Bramall Lane, Sheffield on 24 April 1954 was: Jack Crompton, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne (captain), Allenby Chilton, Henry Cockburn, Jeffrey Whitefoot, Johnny Berry, Jackie Blanchflower, John Aston Snr, Dennis Viollet and Jack Rowley. Scorers: Aston Snr, Blanchflower & Rowley. Crompton joined United as a trainee in 1944; Chilton was purchased from Liverpool; Cockburn signed as a trainee in 1943; Berry was signed from Birmingham City, Aston Snr joined United as a trainee in 1938 whilst Rowley was acquired from Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic. Foulkes, Byrne, Whitefoot, Blanchflower and Viollet were all products of the club’s nursery system and were nurtured in their football upbringing by Murphy. Jimmy believed in his Boys.
“There is no greater power and support you can give someone than to look them in the eye, and with sincerity/conviction say, ‘I believe in you.” Ken Poirot
One of the top rated movies during the 1950s was called “Angels in the Outfield.” On 6 February 1958, six of Jimmy Murphy’s Boys became Angels when the Munich Air Disaster instantly claimed the lives of Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg and Liam Whelan. Fifteen days after the crash Jimmy lost a seventh Angel when Duncan Edwards took his last breath as he lay very badly injured in his hospital bed in the Rechts der Isar Hospital, Munich, West Germany. Seven shining stars from his Youth Team lost forever along with their teammate, Tommy Taylor.
“Only in the darkness, can you see the stars.” Martin Luther King Jr
Jimmy was heartbroken, in pain following the loss of the eight Manchester United players. All young men who just wanted to play football. Young men who Jimmy trained with, ate with, talked to but most of all, young men he was a Patriarch to.
“There have been so many times I have seen a man wanting to weep but instead beat his heart until it was unconscious.” Nayyirah Waheed
Sadly, Jimmy passed away on 14 November 1989 aged 79. He is the only Assistant Manager to take a team to the FA Cup final, which he did three months after the Munich Air Disaster (Manchester United lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers in the 1958 FA Cup final). Jimmy is also the only Assistant Manager to take a national team to the World Cup finals (he coached Wales at the 1958 tournament in Sweden) and during his Manchester United career, he was offered the manager’s job at Arsenal, Juventus and a top coaching job in Brazil. However, he turned all of these down for his friendship and loyalty to Matt Busby and his love for his Boys in his Youth Team.
“He was the best coach I could have wished for. Jimmy was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and had a passion for the game that few others possess. All of his work turned me from an amateur into a professional and a team player.”
Sir Bobby Charlton
Did You Know That?
There is a Blue Plaque on the wall of Jimmy Murphy’s childhood home, at 43 Treharne Street, Pentre, Rhondda, Wales. There are plans to name the K Stand at Old Trafford in honour of Jimmy overlooking the part of the pitch where he used to play