Jimmy Murphy

Football's Pioneers: Jimmy Murphy

Dr Andy Dawes – from De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture – recalls Jimmy Murphy, who guided Wales to the World Cup Finals in 1958.
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As well as being a Manchester United legend, Jimmy Murphy was a pioneering figure in Welsh World Cup history. West Bromwich Albion spotted his talent and he succeeded at the club as a wing half. In 1933, Murphy was selected for Wales at the age of 22. He was then a key player in Wales’ home international successes of 1934 and 1937.

During the Second World War, Murphy served in the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy. In Italy, Matt Busby witnessed Murphy’s passion for football and invited him to be his assistant at Manchester United.

While Man Utd had a reputation for attacking football, Murphy ensured there was also an aggressive and perseverant side to their play. His mantra was to ‘attack in strength’ and to ‘defend in strength’ too so as to win the ball back and quickly start another move.

They won the FA Cup in 1948 and First Division titles in 1952, 1956 and 1957. Murphy was noted for being inspirational and showed great man management. He was especially outstanding at developing young players. 

Murphy became Wales manager in 1956 and immediately made plans to get them to their first World Cup finals in Sweden in 1958. Wales eventually qualified after beating Israel in a play-off tie.

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Jimmy Murphy
Jimmy Murphy

Jimmy Murphy is a legend both at Manchester United and in Wales.

Elation at Wales’ qualification quickly turned to despair. That Murphy had been in Cardiff meant he wasn’t on the plane carrying Manchester United players back from Belgrade which crashed in Munich. Busby instructed Murphy from his hospital bed to ‘keep the flag flying’.

Despite the tragic deaths of eight first team players, Murphy led Manchester United to the final of the 1958 FA Cup with a side consisting of mostly reserve and youth players.

Murphy achieved great things in Sweden, taking Wales to the quarter-finals. John Charles stated that Murphy ‘was one of the game’s great motivators’ and ‘had a fantastic World Cup, taking us to within a goal of beating eventual winners, Brazil, with a squad scarcely big enough to do the job’.

Juventus, Brazil and Arsenal all made offers to Murphy to be their manager but he stayed loyal to Manchester United and Busby. Jimmy played a fundamental role in the rebuilding of United after Munich which culminated in winning the European Cup in 1968.

He passed away in 1989 but is remembered through the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award at Manchester United and a plaque standing at the house in the Rhondda where he grew up.

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