Bet now with totesport - Free £25 bet!

Friday, February 06, 2009

The man who kept United going - a tribute to Jimmy Murphy

This article first appeared in RN144.

Arguments over the AIG logo and David Gill's name on the Memorial tunnel aside, I think we can all agree that the clubs commemorations for the 50th anniversary were exemplary and hit just the right tone in tribute and education, allowing what could possibly, and sadly, be the last significant anniversary for those who survived to be shared by old and young United fan alike so those close to the tragic events can mourn their friends, and those far away in terms of the distance of time can keep their memory alive.

The most heartening theme of all the tributes that took place were that the almost forgotten man of that era, Jimmy Murphy, received more mentions and accolades from his peers and the media than I can recall from any recent anniversary of the Munich tragedy. Of course he has never been totally forgotten - the bust at the Museum is just one recent example of the club finally beginning to pay their dues - and the passionate defence of his fathers record and quite remarkable work and achievements in 1958 (and before and after then of course) by his son Jimmy Junior mean those who go out and learn about United's history will know just how important he was to the survival and revival of the club. But it's fair to say in terms of a greater understanding and thanksgiving from all who have served or watched United, then not enough praise is heaped on the man behind the scenes whose influence upon all of the successes achieved under Sir Matt should never be underestimated. The man who by a quirk of fate wasn't in Munich as he was leading Wales in a World Cup playoff match against Israel in Cardiff and whose absence meant, thankfully, there was someone left to pick up the pieces as the terrible events unfolded in Germany.
This is neither a detailed historical record of Murphy's life and career, nor a thorough account of all his achievements. There are far better places to research that (starting with Murphy's own autobiography and Starmaker by Brian Hughes); but this is Red News' way of also paying its due to a man who not only kept United going when all could and did look lost, but was integral not just in the emergence and creation of the Babes themselves under his scouting network - “The first time I saw Duncan Edwards touch the ball was enough for me. It was the same with Charlton” - but the remarkable triumph that came 10 years after as a tribute in the 1968 European Cup Final at Wembley.

For sometime now I've been planning this 4 piece. I've had the honour in recent times to interview or chat to a host of United legends; from Paddy Crerand, Alex Dawson, David Sadler and Bill Foulkes (sadly not well enough to conduct a full interview), and with each I've asked them about Murphy, for use here. It is fair to say that nobody seems to have a bad word about him. They may admit he could be a right tough bastard and taskmaster, but the respect is clearly immense.

And his work at United covers decades. An incredible achievement. Of course it is to Sir Matt we rightly laud as the leader but reading between the lines it is also quite clear that like all great partnerships, the main man may not have been able to achieve all he did without the wingman by his side. As David Sadler admitted to me, it was Murphy they saw most often: “Certainly Jimmy Murphy was the one we saw a lot more of in the normal footballing week than we did Matt, who we only got to see very occasionally between matches.”

Too often hero worship is made into a one dimensional pastime where flaws or tough character traits are ironed out or erased when detailing all sides of a persons characters - their strengths, their weaknesses get condensed into a less descriptive praise of their entire character - when knowing about their entire make-up, the positives and negatives, allows you to see the person as a real human being rather than some invisible ghost you are unable to picture in your mind.

Murphy was clearly one tough bastard, who didn't suffer fools. It is certainly not my role to delve too deep into his personal relationships, but on the surface of all the comments made this February it seems as though everyone admitted that Murphy had one love, one passion, Manchester United, above anything, even his family. As his son said: “He had no hobbies; his job when he got up in the morning was to go down to United and produce football players. He was a driven man even before Munich”. Jimmy Sadler saw both sides as he told RN: “There were two sides to Jimmy, there was the very hard, tough, shouting and cursing one and there was the softer, gentler Jimmy Murphy”. Bobby Charlton hinted at Murphy's singular passion at the memorial service: “I was sorry for Jimmy when the accident happened, he always figures himself as Number 2, and he suddenly had to make decisions and he did a marvellous job. He was in love with the game more than he loved anything else and that's very difficult to say when his family are here. He knew exactly how to make you a better player. I become a professional from an amateur and that was all down to Jimmy”.

That drive, that commitment is obviously something we can relate to nowadays with Fergie, but there are so many stages of United's history under Busby (and Murphy) that it's hard to know where to start. Of course the days after Munich will always be the ones mentioned the most, not just managing to keep the survivors going and somehow to get the team playing again, but to find the time to bring half a team in, whilst attending funerals of his and Matt's boys, and of course heading to Munich to see how they were doing in hospital. All this as other top sides eyed their opportunity to bag him as their own manager.
The following tale is not a myth, or urban legend. Sir Matt asked Murphy in that Munich hospital to ‘keep the red flag flying high’, and it's exactly what he did. So he took Gregg and Foulkes back with him, by train, just days before a game where the emotional baggage must have been unbearable. “I travelled back with Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg and, amid all the tragedy and all the sorrow, I had to get a team together again. I had to find players from somewhere... My heart ached for these two players... I don't mind admitting I felt like crying... Ten years work and planning had been wiped out in a flash.”

It is difficult to imagine how Murphy coped upon his return to Manchester. “How can I describe what it was like? I was completely alone, isolated. There was no Matt Busby, no Bert Whalley. No one I could talk with on my level as far as the team was concerned. Then the coffins started to arrive at the ground. We put them in the old gymnasium. And there were all the funerals. And all the time I was wondering where I could get players. The League game against Wolves had been postponed, but things had to be done quickly. No one knows what I went through during that time.” But not only had Matt asked him to keep the red flag, and club, going, but Director, Harold Hardman spoke to him on his return: “You have got to keep it going, Jimmy. Manchester United is bigger than you...bigger than me...bigger than Matt Busby. It is bigger than anybody. The club must go on”.

However uneasy it feels to bring up any negatives at this point, you have to proportion blame to some at the club who seemed culpable for not giving Murphy the credit he deserved. It isn't just in making sure he's detailed in our history, it's what they did to him as a person (and he was not alone, the sacking of John Aston senior another such example). It is perhaps symbolic of the Louis Edwards era, as Starmaker details the sad period at the turn of the decade from the 60s to the 70s where though promised by Busby a ‘high and honoured’ position when Wilf McGuinnnes was appointed, that did not materialised and he retired in September 1971 when he clearly did not want to. His son Nick explained that Murphy still went to OT every single day: “It was his whole life. Manchester United was his whole life. He loved the place, loved going there, he couldn't keep away”.
As Hughes explained in his book: “It would seem that United never repaid the loyalty Jimmy had given them since joining in 1946. Jimmy did not drive and had a regular taxi which picked him up at his home and took him to Old Trafford. The club suddenly ceased paying his taxi fare and stopped paying his telephone bills. Jimmy... felt very sad, disenchanted and let down by Matt Busby... Matt blamed the Board but everyone knew Matt was the Board”. Hughes later explains that there was never a fall out between the two whose inspiring partnership had achieved so much: “Obviously things were never the same again between the two men... the two men simply drifted further apart. Matt was busy with his boardroom duties while Jimmy was basically a footballing person, happiest mixing with the players, trainers and coaches”.

But his United career was not over. He'd still go in ever day - how could he not, it was all he knew after all. McGuinness was later to admit: “Of course I would have loved it if it had been possible for Jimmy to have worked alongside me when I was put in charge of United”. Tommy Docherty did bring Murphy back on board though, and it's also here where history forgets what Murphy achieved in his later years in continuing to scout players as he had done in 4 help finding the Babes. As Docherty explained: “Jimmy quickly found Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill, two brilliant wingers. To be straightforward, I never saw Coppell play before he joined United. I just followed Jimmy's advice... Matt was wonderful but he would not have been half the man without Jimmy”. He also scouted Pancho Pearson for United, but sadly his advice to sign ‘at the earliest opportunity’ the young striker in Leicester's reserves, one Gary Lineker, was ignored.

Norman Whiteside remembers his early days: If I ever saw Busby or Murphy, around Old Trafford, they were wonderfully encouraging and complimentary. I wouldn't have thought they would have bothered giving someone potentially so insignificant the time of day, but whenever I bumped into them they would say: ‘I hear you're doing well’ and ‘keep going’, building me up all the time.”

Crerand explained Murphy's time - of the man who loved a few pints talking football and life, with a smoke, who called everyone ‘son’ and admitted: “I found it hard to make out with the small talk” - as such in his recent autobiography: “Munich didn't just destroy Jimmy's life in seconds, he lost his great friends including Whalley. He virtually ran the club during Matt's recovery in hospital, re-arranging fixtures and signing players. A proud Welshman from a little village in the Rhondda Valley, he still took Wales to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in the summer of 1958. He stayed loyal to United despite lucrative offers from Arsenal, Juventus, and the Brazilian national team. High profile jobs were never for Jimmy, he was far happier teaching youngsters”.

On Murphy's treatment, Crerand added: “Jimmy was cut out and clearly very upset at his diminishing role at the club. It seems that no-one at United gave much thought to what Jimmy would do and while he stayed on at Old Trafford, he didn't really have a role. He should have been treated better by a club he had served so well. Jimmy had even camped outside players' houses, refusing to leave until their parents signed United's forms.”

That isn't to say behind the deep respect from the players - his players - there wasn't fear. Crerand: “Jimmy was a more aggressive foil for Matt. He would say, ‘Fucking sort so and so out, Pat’, Bobby Charlton: “My whole career from the age of 15 was linked with Jimmy Murphy. He was so intense he used to frighten me. He was hell to work for and at times I used to hate him but I owe more to Jimmy than any other single person in football. Everything he did was for a purpose and I am grateful to him. The success of Manchester United is a testimony to his work”.

Alex Dawson is too much of a gentlemen to repeat in print the swear words Murphy aired at the time but I loved his tale to Red News from that FA Cup game against West Brom in 1958: “I don’t know what came over the West Brom manager, Vic Buckingham, saying things like: “We’re sorry for what happened to United. But we won’t stop at 10 goals” before the game. Jimmy was right up! He gave us this team talk, well the words, ‘effing’ this, he was really going, Jim! ‘Now I’ve told you how to beat them and when we do, I’ll go in there and I’ll pee all over then”. You never saw Matt really angry, but you knew, you knew he wouldn’t show it but underneath he was annoyed. Jimmy gave us team talks, and when the game was finished he’d say: “Well done, I tell you, that’s how to do it”.

And of course to the 50th anniversary, where mentions of Murphy littered the memorial service. At last! Harry Gregg stole the show, with his description that Murphy's tongue “could cut teeth” and the coaching set up was described thus by Jimmy Junior: “Matt was the architect, my Dad the masterbuilder, who went out to get the materials with Bert Whalley laying the foundations.” David Meek later that week admitted: “I don't think he was appreciated enough after Munich. There was a real danger of the club going out of existence.” and Paul Mcguinness - (a great speech) himself - talked of Murphy's legacy: “Jimmy's special one was the Youth Cup, winning five in a row, Jimmy's legacy is the way United (youth to senior) play now”. Gregg ended with a tale that had everyone smiling: “I owe Jimmy a lot, he could laugh with you, cry with you and fight with you. Jimmy and Matt were like hand and glove, wonderful people. I hadn't a clue what they were talking about though! Matt would say 'Up together, back together,' Jimmy would say “Attack in strength and defend in depth”.

But of course it will always be to 1958 where we identify his inspiration at work. On turning down the chance to manage elsewhere: “My heart was at Old Trafford. I wanted to help Matt pick up all the pieces and start all over again. Just like we did in 1946.” Murphy was at the ground when fans flocked to it upon hearing news of the tragedy: “Thousands hurried down to the ground to see if they could help; the police threw a protective cordon around relatives and friends who had lost their loved ones. Those of us left at the ground did our best to calm and console the grief stricken. But what word of sympathy could I find to comfort the bereaved. There was nothing to lift the blanket of despair”. On his return to Manchester from what must have been a heartbreaking trip to Munich: “I have seen the boys. Limbs and hearts may be broken, but the spirit remains. Their message is that the club is not dead – Manchester United lives on.”

Charlton explained the toll that it must have taken on Murphy: “Jimmy, typically, was the strongest presence in those days when the Old Man was surviving only with the help of an oxygen tent. He said that we had to fight for our existence – and the memory of the teammates we had lost. He had been through a war when men had to live with the loss of so many comrades, had to fight on through the suffering and live with what was left to them. It was the same now at Manchester United, Jimmy insisted. But later I heard that it was just a front that Jimmy put on. 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.” Bill Foulkes: “The doctors told me that I should go away and have a long holiday away from it all, but how could I? I couldn't stop thinking of poor Jimmy Murphy on his own at Old Trafford”. Murphy admitted: “I suffered. I said cheerio to Tommy Taylor, Duncan (Edwards) and all the lads in the gym and told them I would see them on Friday... when they came back they were in coffins.” 10 years on he said: “The heartache of Munich is still there. To the generation which has grown up since then, those may be just names, but to me they were Matt's boys. My boys!”"

It is testimony to Murphy that so many participants of the era suggest without him United wouldn't be who they are today. Colin Webster: “If Murphy had not been at Old Trafford, the Busy Babes would never have existed. He brought in 80 per cent of them – I don’t think Matt Busy could have done it on his own.” Albert Scanlon on his inspiration: “I woke up again later in Munich to hear a voice saying: ‘Albert Scanlon will never play football again.’ Jimmy Murphy came in and I was crying and I told him what I had heard. He said: ‘That's not true, Albert, you are all right.’ Given that it came from Jimmy, it was enough for me.” Frank Taylor, the journalist: “Three men saved Manchester United from oblivion. They are Jimmy Murphy, Bobby Charlton and Matt Busby. But Murphy was the key figure.”"

And the most known tale of all. Murphy's promise to keep the red flag flying high. “The surgeons felt Matt might live, but no one except those of us close to him, ever felt he would be a force again in football. But I knew. In one of his conscious moments he whispered: ‘Keep the flag flying Jimmy. Keep things going until I get back.’ At that moment Matt didn't even know how many of his boys had been killed. I did. As I stumbled out of the hospital into the snow which still lay as a thick carpet over the city of Munich I was close to tears”.

Matt Busby recalled his Assistant as: "A kindred spirit, together we have shared the triumphs as well as the heartache and tears of Munich. When all seemed lost, Jimmy took over the reins and not only kept the club going, but took it to the 1958 Cup Final. Jimmy's superhuman efforts then were typical of the man, who shuns the spotlight of publicity...his unflagging4 efforts and optimism in those dark and tragic weeks concealed his heartbreak over the loss of such wonderful boys, and gave us the time and opportunity to rebuild Manchester United again until by the 1960s we were once more a power in the game”. And Murphy ended his own book: "I know in my heart I made the right decision those many years ago in Bari. And if it were possible to turn back the clock I would still give the same answer: ‘Sure Matt...I'll be happy to join you’. That's what Matt and United have meant to me. I would do it all over again”.

Murphy's son will never stop beating the drum for his father - “My job is to keep my family memories alive. He deserves credit for what he did. I've got a list of people I'm going to write to who have got things wrong recently in the press, and those that (also) got it right” - but the hope is that more younger Reds, and all at the club, listen to it. If there are wrongs to be righted, it is too late to point fingers or lecture on what should and should not have been done for Murphy in his latter years, but what can be done now is something which sounds a radical suggestion but one that I have long since felt would be the most fitting and telling tribute to Murphy and his contribution to United.

To have a statue erected next to the one of Sir Matt. The men who built United into a dynasty, who kept it going after the crash and the partnership that should be seen - in permanent display - for the crucial dual relationship that it so clearly was. As Matt said: “It must have been a terrible time for Jimmy and everyone at the club after the crash. It needed someone who, though feeling the heartbreak of the situation, could still keep his head and keep the job going. Jimmy was that man.” Later, in 1968, Matt, looking back, described bumping into his old friend Murphy and seeing him coach some army lads in Bari in 1945 as “one of the most fortunate things that has ever happened to me. This was the man for me! And for nearly 23 years we have marched shoulder to shoulder as comrades in sport, working for a common ideal: to make Manchester United the finest club in Britain, in Europe and the best in the world”. That they did, and shoulder to shoulder is where both should be hailed for all to see at Old Trafford in lasting legacy.



Post a Comment

<< Home