The Welsh Rhondda valleys have always bred a special type of person. Poets, fighters, singers and politicians. True leaders of men. Plenty have emerged from those grim black hills. An upbringing harsh but one that defined a certain kind of personality when growing up.
You never moaned. Tears only shed in solitary silence and nothing ever stood in the way of getting the job done.
Jimmy Murphy was of such stock and never were these traits required more than in the immediate aftermath of the Munich Air disaster. Murphy should have been on the Elizabethan aircraft that crashed through the end of that runway perimeter before finally coming, amid raging fire and leaping flames to a deathly shuddering halt.
So much blood in the snow.
It was only at the insistence of Busby that he travelled to Cardiff instead of Belgrade, in his capacity as team coach to manage Wales against Israel in a vital world cup qualifier that saved his life. The seat where Murphy would almost inevitably have sat, next to Busby was taken by Bert Whalley, who was killed outright.
Fate taking a helping if dark hand in the lives of men whom awoke that long gone Thursday morning, fifty seven years ago, not knowing come the end of the day, their lives would either have been ended, or changed inextricably forever.
It was a joyful Murphy who returned to Manchester wholly unaware of what had occurred in Southern Germany. It was only on arrival at Old Trafford, clutching a bag of oranges, courtesy of the Israelis, that he was informed of the horrific events. One cannot even imagine the thoughts of this man whom along with Matt Busby had reared this team of boys into arguably one of the two or three top sides in European football at that time.
And with an average age of twenty one, they were only going to improve.
But more importantly the babes were like sons to Murphy. He taught them with a curse and a kind word. A bark and a smile. He hammered them, he praised them. He made them laugh, he made them cry. He made them rage with a grim determination to prove to him they were good enough for the United first team. They loved him and it must be said at times must have loathed and hated Murphy.
For their own good he taught them how to fight the good fight.
And he made them listen.
The poet and the fighter from the grim hills installed into them the basics of professional football. And he also taught them something infinitely more important. The Manchester United way of playing football.
You pass the ball to a red shirt. You help your mate. You pass and move and you never stop running. You never give up.
With a passion and a clenched fist Murphy drummed home his message that to succeed at Old Trafford you needed so much more than just simple talent.
You needed heart and guts and the desire to die for the cause.
But not on airplane in a far off country returning home from a football match.
Not on a plane in a raging snowstorm where a third take-off should never have been attempted.
Not on a plane.
Not at Munich……
Once he had downed a bottle of whisky, shed the needed heartbreaking initial tears, Murphy got on with the job of keeping Manchester United alive. A visit to the Rechts de Isar hospital where a still gravely injured Busby pleaded with him to ‘Keep the flag flying to till I get back Jimmy,’ was almost too much for the emotional Welshman to take. He promised to do so whilst clutching his old friend’s hand.
And then he saw Duncan Edwards. His prodigy and favourite son amongst the babes. Duncan’s body badly broken and beyond repair but his spirit raging on. The thirst for one last battle was still there in the boy from Dudley.
‘What time’s kick off Jimmy? What times ki…..’?
It was all too much. A breaking down alone on a hospital stairway, when he thought no one was listening, but secretly witnessed by United goalkeeper and hero of Munich Harry Gregg.
‘Jimmy cried and wailed. I could feel his great huge Welsh heart breaking.’
In his efforts to keep United going amidst the unfathomable weight of sadness and depression that had engulfed Manchester, Murphy achieved miracles and wonder to honour his promise to Busby.
The flag was kept flying and Jimmy Murphy, the most undervalued man in the history of Manchester United scraped, argued, fought, cursed and battled to keep his beloved club afloat. So many funerals were attended. Devastated husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons. All handled with dignity and tenderness. Rare in Rhondda, but a trait Murphy possessed in abundance as he hugged, embraced and wiped away tears on the faces of the grieving.
Jimmy cried along, they were his boys too.
All of them.
To this day I’m not sure people are fully aware of just what Jimmy Murphy achieved in ensuring Manchester United did not die in the immediate aftermath of Munich. The idea of closure and winding up the club was discussed at board level but swiftly knocked down by Murphy who raged at such an idea.
And so ranting furiously against the dying of the light and led by Murphy United stood their ground. And they came back and how. But at one time it was close.
So very close. ‘If I hadn’t seen such riches’ goes the line in the James song ‘Sit Down. Well it was through Jimmy Murphy that ultimately we did.
That there is no statue of him amidst the many that now stand at Old Trafford could simply be because of an embarrassment of when Jimmy was all but forced out of the club in the early seventies. Quietly retired. Hints were dropped that he was no longer wanted around the place.
They took his taxi away?
That a man who saved this football club from extinction was treated with such indignity is a disgrace. At Manchester United never mix the myth and the legend with the reality. Never more true than in Jimmy Murphy’s case.
The man from the Rhondda valleys who loved to tinker on the piano is the greatest of red heroes in my opinion.
And should never be forgotten.