Remembering Jimmy Murphy : The Man Who Saved Manchester United, On His 108th Birthday

It might even be too simplistic to say Jimmy Murphy merely saved Manchester United; after all, this was a man who had spent years prior to the Munich disaster giving the Busby Babes their identity, and the months and years after helping to shape the club’s personality in the adversity.
I have written about Jimmy’s remarkable contribution to Manchester United history for the family authorised biography that was released earlier this year.
I wanted to add some little notes that readers may also find interesting. Jimmy was placed in charge of the reserve team right away. He was beaten just twice in his first 15 matches, but that isn’t the remarkable part. His first game in charge of the reserve side was, ironically enough, at West Brom where he had played most of his professional career. The score? 4-4!
If that has echoes of eerie familiarity with Sir Alex Ferguson then how about a run through of his first four home games? 3-2 against Preston, 9-3 against Newcastle, 5-1 against Stoke, 6-1 against Burnley and 4-2 against Derby County. Jimmy was setting his own trend.
It was around five or six years later when the work at that level began to bear its serious fruit. The 52/53 season saw these names perform regularly for the reserves:  Geoff Bent, Jeff Whitefoot, Mark Jones, Jackie Blanchflower, Dennis Viollet, Albert Scanlon and more. It was the start of a prolific run which was only disturbed by the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. Had Murphy’s attention not been needed at a senior level, it is likely he could have continued to work at that level with some success.
Of course, however, Jimmy was needed with the first team, and won many admirers for the motivational ability which inspired the patchwork United side to the 1958 Cup Final that season. In continuing, and demonstrating that commitment to the cause can be an even greater asset than quality, Murphy had given something to the club they were able to use forevermore; and, in the case of the game’s most successful manager, he certainly embraces Jimmy’s influence.
“I think it’s absolutely right to say that,” Ferguson told me in an interview for the book, when I asked him if a) he had used Jimmy’s response after Munich as a motivational tool for his own players, and b) if he therefore thought the club was shaped by the personality of Jimmy Murphy. “To play for Manchester United anyway you need certain qualities anyway, because every time they play, it’s a Cup Final for the opponent. You can’t have off days. You have to develop a character and a winning mindset… when you come out of that dressing room and you are representing Manchester United, you are taking some of Jimmy Murphy’s mindset with you. Jimmy instilled that winning mentality in the players.”
Paul McGuinness, who was coach of the youth team the last time they won the FA Youth Cup in 2011, treats Murphy as a hero and also spoke openly about using the Welshman’s work as inspiration. McGuinness said : “It’s an incredible asset for a coach to have and unique to United because of its history and their accomplishments; it’s part of the DNA, part of the culture and spiritually I don’t think it can be credited to anything other than the recovery after the Munich disaster.”
The accolades don’t stop there, of course. Bobby Charlton once said everything he had learned in football, he owed to one man and one man only : Jimmy Murphy, while Wales legend John Charles described Jimmy as the best coach he ever had. George Best attributed the decline of the club not to the day Sir Matt Busby retired, but the day when Murphy was moved from a coaching role into a scouting role.
The biography of Jimmy Murphy – which became a number one bestseller before it was released earlier this year, and is a nominee for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award – is available for just £11.64 in hardback on Amazon, or £6.99 on Kindle. You can order your copy here.

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