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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 08:02 GMT
No 2 who kept United flag flying
Jimmy Murphy
Jimmy Murphy died in 1989 aged 79
As the country mourned the Busby Babes lost in the Munich air crash, one man had to battle against his own grief to hold Manchester United together.

Rhondda-born Jimmy Murphy, assistant to Matt Busby was called to the manager's hospital bed in Germany and urged to "keep the flag flying".

Eight players died after the crash on 6 February, 1958, but the team would be back on the pitch just 13 days later.

Murphy's son Jimmy Jr said: "It must have been horrendous for him."

His father would have been on the fateful flight returning from Belgrade, but for his other role as Wales manager.

Murphy had stayed behind for a World Cup qualifier against Israel in Cardiff.

Football had been Murphy's passion since his childhood in Ton Pentre where he was selected to play for Wales schoolboys team as a young teenager.

A scout spotted him and he joined West Bromwich Albion as a wing half, playing for them throughout the 1930s, including an FA Cup Final.

His first of 15 Wales caps came in 1932 and Welsh football historian Ceri Stennett said he was looked upon as "a key member of the team."

The outbreak of World War II led to Murphy, whose father was Irish, meeting Matt Busby, then a well-known Scottish wing half.

Munich Clock
A clock at Old Trafford is frozen at the time of the 1958 crash

Post-war, Busby became United manager, taking on Murphy as assistant as he built them up from fairly ordinary side to legendary team.

Two years before the Munich disaster, Murphy became Wales manager.

On the day of the tragedy, after a tie against Red Star Belgrade, he would normally have sat next to Busby but was given leave of absence because it clashed with the Wales match.

His son, Jimmy Jnr, recalls: "I was listening to the radio at home at four o'clock when it came through about the Manchester United air crash.

"My mother said 'oh dear God, your father' but we quickly realised he wasn't on that plane - he was with the Welsh team in Cardiff because he was manager of Wales.''

Murphy visited the survivors at Munich's Rechts der Isar hospital where Busby implored him to take the reins.

Among the patients was Duncan Edwards, one of Murphy's proteges, who at 21 had already won 18 England caps.

Mr Murphy Jnr recalled: "The most common story about that [visit] is Duncan Edwards asking my father 'what time is kick-off Jimmy?' and my father telling him to forget about it and for him to get himself fit and well".

Edwards would die from his injuries on 21 February.

Sir Bobby Charlton
He loved the game passionately but he always figured he was a number two rather than a number one..and suddenly he had to start making decisions himself
Sir Bobby Charlton

Once home, Murphy faced "leading Manchester through the carnage and try and rebuild team to carry on with the season," said Mr Stennett.

All this despite the intense grief he must have been feeling.

His son said: "My father would have them in the youth team and then the reserves and when they were ready, he'd say to Matt 'this player is ready',''

"My father knew all these boys from the age of 15 and it must have been horrendous for him."

Mr Stennett said: "Jimmy Murphy had been at the club so long, those players had come up through the ranks as youth players. Murphy was like a father figure to them.

"It was a little bit like Jimmy Murphy losing eight sons in one foul swoop."

Murphy himself recalled later: "Amid all the tragedy and all the sorrow, I had to get a team together again. I had to find players from somewhere."

But he somehow found the strength to push on in the emergency to sign new players, bring in youngsters and others who had not travelled to Belgrade.

Munich crash in 1958
Players, journalists and the chief coach were among the 23 who died

All the while he had to attend the funerals of the players he had mentored.

In their first match, they beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in an FA Cup fifth round tie and went on to reach the final.

"They lost but it did not matter," said Mr Stennett. "It was a remarkable achievement."

Murphy continued as caretaker boss until Busby was well enough to return. He also managed Wales until 1963, reaching the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals.

He also regularly returned to the Rhondda, bringing Manchester United youth players to play local sides.

Munich survivor Sir Bobby Charlton, in his recent autobiography and again yesterday, paid tribute to the role Murphy had in his development as a young player - and the time when he took over.

"He loved the game passionately but he always figured he was a number two rather than a number one...and suddenly he had to start making decisions himself," said Sir Bobby.

"He did a marvellous job for a short period before Matt Busby came back - he loved the game."

Goalkeeper Harry Gregg, another survivor, added: "He would laugh with you, cry with you and fight with you - a wonderful man."

The fact the extraordinary story of this Rhondda boy, who died in 1989, is not better known is perhaps explained by his modest character.

Mr Stennett said: "He himself would not have been looking to blow his own trumpet. Over the years Matt Busby achieved so much, I understand Jimmy Murphy was happy to be in a back seat."

He added: "Jimmy deserves to be remembered...those people within the football who know their history do know about Jimmy Murphy."

SEE ALSO
Munich crash: Survivors' memories
06 Feb 08 |  Manchester
Manchester - a city 'United in grief'
06 Feb 08 |  Manchester
Gregg's 'greatest save' - Munich remembered
04 Feb 08 |  Northern Ireland
Waiting for news from Munich
04 Feb 08 |  Magazine

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