For all United fans it’s obviously a poignant time approaching what will be the 63rd anniversary of the clubs darkest day on Saturday at exactly 15:04 to be precise. I’m sure the team will be paying their respects with black armbands in the game against Everton. I wanted to also pay tribute to somebody who is sometimes forgotten in the role he played for our great club during and after the Munich air disaster.
I was thinking about this recently and thought it would provoke some good debate for an article. Given modern day football, is there a modern day Jimmy Murphy out there? A truly worthy number two?
First I think it’s worth recapping on the great Jimmy Murphy to put things into context.
Jimmy Murphy’s contribution to pulling the club through our darkest days post Munich should not be underestimated. He his often referred to as the man who saved United.
Murphy’s contribution to the very survival of the club is so often overlooked by many, the man named “the giant of Munich” by Martin Edwards so often just a man in the background. Yet without Murphy, United would undoubtedly have closed, perhaps never to reopen. Instead Murphy rebuilt a shattered team, a shattered club, a shattered set of supporters and, although United’s league form faltered, led the team to the FA Cup final of 1958, where they were beaten by Bolton Wanderers.
Jimmy handling club business in the aftermath of Munich
He basically kept hold of the reigns and steered a sinking ship back into the arms of Sir Matt when he recovered. A true United legend if ever there was one.
When he started at Old Trafford, Jimmy coached the first team, walking them through moves in the temporary gymnasium (this was later to be used as a makeshift morgue after Munich). It’s fair to say it took a while for a youth culture to be developed.
The extent to which Busby was or was not involved in the youth development work is a tangled subject, and the one which late at night Jimmy Murphy always returned. Busby’s charisma was a strange thing; for although most of the ideas that he expressed in ghosted articles or carried out in management where ahead of their time, what he said in conversation was bland and conventional. His secret was that you believed that he understood you and shared your dreams. His calmness seemed to have raised him above doubts. He embodied an ideal, and people wanted his approval, his magic no longer worked. It become obvious that what he thought was hidden, what he said unremarkable and what he did pure realpolitik. For the club, he said, in those desperate years in the 1970’s when he made and broke four managers.
Jimmy Murphy knew this and it hurt. He was after all the romantic above all others who wanted Matt to be a hero.
In fact, Busby’s first newspapers life story, reprinted after Munich as a paperback, mentions Murphy in generous terms. It also puts a subtle spin on things. Matt never said anywhere in so many words that Murphy was not just a talker about beautiful football, but the man who could make it happen. He never talked about Murphy’s work with the first team, then or later. He never brought out the sheer drudgery and concentration of coaching. The amount of work put in by Murphy, the energy and emotional drive that he produced several nights a week for an entire decade after working with the reserves in the day.
Some of the stories are awe inspiring and can only be grasped when we put together the accounts of people like Sir Bobby Charlton, Tommy Doherty and Wilf McGuinness.
Once when Doherty had played a silly cross-field pass that gave away possession and a goal, Jimmy took him out alone and spent literally hours with him. Jimmy kicked the ball across the field; Johnny retrieved it. Jimmy explained why it was wrong, why you only give a cross-field ball when the play is condensed in your own side of the field. Then he kicked again and Johnny retrieved again and Jimmy explained again. If you do not find a spare man with a cross-field pass all that your are doing is playing the ball across the front of the opponents defence without threatening them, Jimmy kicked. Johnny retrieved. Jimmy explained. A cross-field pass is not the same as a square ball, which you will often need to make at the beginning of a move to allow your own players to move ahead or around you. Then he kicked again and explained again from the beginning, and to this day you will see in a decent United team this understanding of the cross-field pass.
Or look at what he did with Bobby Charlton. He had Bobby repeat again and again his instruction “Just hit the ball. Don’t look up for goal. Just hit it!”. He would roll balls from different angles for Bobby to hit again and again, until the action became instinctive and turned him into the most spectacular striker of a ball in his day, the goal against Mexico being the classic instance.
The energy of this, the determination, the willingness to impose and reimpose ones personality in the pursuit of small faults and of making another person perfect is nothing short of extraordinary. It is this energy that was poured out, night after night, week after week, year after year; the energy that after Munich he never quite recovered; the energy that was barely acknowledged in public but was taken from granted and then forgotten in the myth that Matt allowed to grow around himself.
In Matt’s defence, much of his achievement lay in the creating the conditions in which Jimmy (and Bert Whalley) could work. Since league football began in the 1880s the pursuit of short term success had been as chronic as it is today
Matt generated huge personal publicity. He showed the United board how their financial and youth policies needed time to develop and insisted that there must be no interference. Could he have delivered the goods on the field without Jimmy Murphy? Probably not. Could Murphy have done what he did without the protection afforded by a Busby figure? Almost certainly not. Again, for Jimmy to manage Wales in short term bursts was one thing; to have coached in detail as he did and at the same time undergone the day-to-day stresses of club management would have been quite another and probably impossible for anyone.
Such where the grief and emotions with which Murphy wrestled after Munich when he did not even know whether Matt would live or be able to work again. He was like a musician having his scores destroyed, or a painter his canvases, while another artist got the rave reviews.
Jimmy knew after Munich that everything would be different. “We where set up for 10 years”, he said. What he did for the club after Munich (along with the likes of Harry Gregg) should not be forgotten by any United fan.
Jimmy and Sir Matt in the dugout together
Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy a match truly made in heaven. This is what we have been missing at United, even under Ferguson. Maybe times are different these days. The set up under Ole involves a number 2, 3, 4 and 5 so more confusing and less transparency on how each combined strengths add to the greater good and how.
Will we ever see the likes again? Who is the modern day Jimmy Murphy, the perfect number 2?
Remember the Babes today and pay your respects but also pay some thought to Jimmy Murphy. An absolute legend of the club, fiercely loyal to Busby and hugely respected by everyone of those lads on that fateful day.
RIP Flowers of Manchester The Busy Babes
Manchester United players
Duncan Edwards (survived the crash but died in hospital 15 days later)
Liam “ Billy ” Whelan
Manchester United Staff
Walter Crickmer – Club Secretary
Bert Whalley – Chief Coach
Tom Curry – Trainer
Alf Clarke – Manchester Evening Chronicle
Don Davies – Manchester Guardian
George Follows – Daily Herald
Tom Jackson – Manchester Evening News
Archie Ledbrooke – Daily Mirror
Henry Rose – Daily Express
Eric Thompson – Daily Mail
Frank Swift – News of the World (former Manchester City & England goalkeeper)
Flight Crew Members
Kenneth Rayment – the British co-pilot (survived the crash but died in hospital 21 days later)
Tommy Cable – Steward on the flight
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