Jimmy Murphy was Sir Matt Busby’s assistant throughout Busby’s years at Old Trafford. He served MU for twenty-six years as coach and assistant manager.
Murphy came from the Rhonda valley in South Wales. He was born at Ton Pentre in 1908. As a young man he played football for West Bromwich Albion and Wales, before his playing days were ended by the second world war. It was during the war, in Italy, that he met Matt Busby. Busby overheard Murphy talking about football and was impressed by both content and manner. After the war, when Busby was appointed the new manager of MU, Murphy was his first signing. He served as coach between 1945 and 1955, then as assistant manager until 1971. In 1958 he was in sole charge between February and August, while Busby recovered from the injuries he sustained in Munich. When Busby finally retired in 1971, Murphy did so too - although, even after that, he continued to scout for Manchester United.
Jimmy Murphy’s great talent was working with players. He could communicate and motivate. He had a genius for realising raw potential, preparing numerous young apprentices for eventual promotion into the first team. In the 1950s, when the media talked about ‘Busby’s Babes’, Busby himself would talk about ‘Murphy’s Golden Apples’. Murphy encouraged them to play fast, flowing football. For hours, under his direction, they would practise ‘pass and move’. He believed in simplicity, often criticising players for a ‘glory ball’ when a simple pass was the better option. Murphy lost a number of his ‘apples’ at Munich. Murphy himself missed the trip. As well as his Manchester United responsibilities, he was also the part-time manager of Wales. Wales had a World Cup qualifying game the day before Manchester United’s match in Belgrade. It was only on his return to Old Trafford on the Thursday afternoon that Murphy learnt of the tragedy. Busby’s secretary imparted the news - and Murphy wept. He soon travelled to Munich, saw the survivors, and took charge. Incredibly, Murphy got the broken team to the FA Cup Final that year. (They lost the final 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers.) A short time later he was happy to hand back the team to his friend and boss for the start of the following season.
Murphy never wanted the top job. He was happy to be number two, as he hated being the focus of attention. He was content working with the players, developing top-class footballers. Various other clubs tried to persuade Murphy to manage them (including Arsenal, Juventus and the Brazilian national team) but all failed. Jimmy Murphy was a great servant of Manchester United for more than twenty-five years. He may not always have got the recognition he deserved, but he doubtless derived much personal satisfaction from the part he played in one of the most successful eras in Manchester United’s history. Murphy died in Manchester in 1989, aged 81.