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Last Updated: Friday, 22 April, 2005, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Murphy clocks up half century
By Julian Shea

Murphy holds the Challenge Cup trophy aloft in 1974
I played rugby because I loved it and it's the best spectator sport in the world
Alex Murphy

In top-flight sport, a common reply to unwanted criticism or advice is "show us your medals".

Woe betide anyone ignorant enough to say that to Alex Murphy.

On Friday, Murphy celebrates his 66th birthday.

It will also be 50 years to the day he signed his first professional contract with St Helens, starting one of the most colourful, successful and controversial careers rugby league has ever seen.

In the coming years, the man known as "Murphy the Mouth" won 27 caps for Great Britain, played on two Ashes-winning tours and remains the only man to have captained three different clubs to victory in the Challenge Cup final.

In 1998, he was awarded the OBE for services to the game and was also an inaugural member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame. He has also won numerous other accolades.

Now he is in his fourth spell at Leigh and, despite their current plight, is still as much in love with the game and the club as ever.

"St Helens will always be my first love but Leigh will push it very close," said the Centurions' director of football.

"They're the best supporters and nicest people in the world and they're respectful and proud - that's what makes a difference."

Back in 1955, St Helens went to great lengths to ensure they signed Murphy once he was old enough to turn professional.

"There were more scouts at my final amateur game than in the Wild West," he told BBC Sport.

"After the game I was taken straight up to the board room, then smuggled to a director's house where I signed on the stroke of midnight.

I knew how good Shaun was going to be because he had the same love of the game as me
Murphy on Shaun Edwards

"It was only afterwards that I found everyone else was outside waiting."

Nearly three decades later, Murphy employed exactly the same tactic to sign teenager Shaun Edwards for Wigan.

"Shaun's dad Jackie was an old friend of mine and Saints offered him more money to sign for them, but Jackie told me 'he wants to sign for you'", said Murphy.

"I knew how good Shaun was going to be because he had the same love of the game as me."

Of all his many honours, Murphy says Great Britain's 1958 Ashes tour win in Australia remains his finest hour.

"We'd lost the first Test and we only had 10 fit players on the pitch in the second Test in Sydney," he said.

"Alan Prescott had a broken arm, Jim Challinor dislocated his shoulder, David Bolton had a dislocated elbow and we had to win that Test match to stay in the series.

"To do that was the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. At 19, it blows your mind away."

It was like having one of the Kray twins as your best mate, he was that hard
Murphy on Vince Karalius

Over the years, Murphy played with and against many of the greats, and has no trouble naming his toughest team-mate and his hardest opponent.

"Vince Karalius was my best team-mate," said Murphy. "If a player got past you, you didn't worry because you knew they'd have to get past him next.

"It was like having one of the Kray twins as your best mate, he was that hard.

"Wigan's Micky Sullivan was the toughest to play against. He was a great mate of mine and had huge talent. But if you had a duel with him, he'd shoot you in the back.

"We roomed together for two-and-a-half months on one Ashes tour. But in the next game between Saints and Wigan, he was moved to stand-off and we both lasted 11 minutes before being sent off.

"He'd done what he had to do. He got me sent off and Saints lost the game. We then sat in the bath for the next 15 minutes talking about whose fault it was."

Murphy also played rugby union during his time in the Royal Air Force and is typically blunt on Andy Farrell's recent code switch.

Andy Farrell on the charge for Great Britain rugby league team against Australia
Andy Farrell will find union very tough - I wouldn't have his job for all the money in the world

"I don't think union will ever be in the same ball park skill-wise as league but it's a very exciting game and there are very good players in their own, different way," says Murphy.

"Farrell will find it very tough, though. At 29, you're not going to get any better and I wouldn't have his job for all the money in the world."

Murphy is similarly forthright on the current debate over standards of refereeing.

"I believe 99% of referees are honest and do their best," he says. "But at the moment, I wouldn't be one if you gave me a golden pig."

Murphy has made a good living out of the game he loves, but he says he does worry about the increasing importance of money in the game these days.

"I played rugby because I loved it and it's the best spectator sport in the world," he says.

"I love seeing world-class players and want them in my sport, but not at any price. I never thought I'd hear of the salaries people get now.

"I'm pleased to see people get good money but they're getting so much more than they need.

"It's a professional game and it's their living, but they've got to enjoy playing it. If you're only playing for the money, and not for the love of the game, then something has gone wrong."

Take care of your kids, and they'll take care of your future - that's how we did it when I was Wigan coach
Alex Murphy

Having burst on the scene at 16 and toured Australia as a teenager, Murphy is a great believer in giving youngsters their chance.

"Take care of your kids and they'll take care of your future - that's how we did it when I was Wigan coach," he said.

His bullish approach won him plenty of friends and enemies over the last 50 years - and Murphy admits he may have benefited from a bit more tact.

But deep down, some things have not changed.

"If I had my time again, I don't think I'd be as cocky as I was," he says. "The trouble with me was that everything I said, I then had to go and do.

"I'm not the same bloke I was 40 years ago, I've mellowed a bit. But I know what the difference between good and bad is, and I still know what it takes to win."

Cup heroes: Alex Murphy
27 Feb 04 |  Challenge Cup
Dream over for Centurions
23 Mar 05 |  Leigh

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