James Patrick Murphy (8 August 1910 – 14 November 1989) was a Welsh footballer who made over 200 appearances for West Bromwich Albion and won 15 caps for the Wales national team, which he later managed. Murphy is most famous for being an influential figure at Manchester United from 1946 until the 1970s, as assistant manager, first-team coach, reserve team manager and a full-time scout, although he disliked the limelight and preferred to work quietly behind the scenes. Following the Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958, Murphy temporarily took over as Manchester United manager until the end of the 1957–58 season, steering the club through its greatest crisis. Murphy had not been on the Munich aeroplane, as he had missed the trip in order to take charge of Wales against Israel in Cardiff on the same night as Manchester United's match against Red Star Belgrade in Yugoslavia. Wales' win that night ensured they qualified for the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden.
Born in Ton Pentre, Glamorgan, Murphy attended Ton Pentre Village School and as a boy played the church organ. As a youth he played football for Ton Pentre Boys, Treorchy Thursday F.C., Treorchy Juniors and Mid-Rhondda Boys and in 1924 represented Wales in a schoolboy international against
against England in Cardiff. He turned professional in February 1928 when he joined West Bromwich Albion as a 17-year-old.
Murphy made his debut in a 1–0 defeat away to Blackpool on 5 March 1930 and played one further league game during his first season. In the following season, 1930–31, West Bromwich Albion won the FA Cup and promotion from the Second Division, but Murphy had yet to establish himself in the team and again made just two appearances. He became a regular in the Albion side upon the club's return to the First Division; from 1931–32 to 1934–35 he appeared 149 times in league and cup, helping his team to achieve four consecutive top ten finishes, including fourth place in 1932–33. The 1934–35 season saw Murphy miss just one match all season, and he helped Albion to reach the 1935 FA Cup Final, which they lost 4–2 to Sheffield Wednesday.
Murphy played more than 200 times for Albion, before moving to Swindon Town in 1939, but the Second World War ended his spell at Swindon almost as soon as it had begun. Murphy was also called up to the Welsh national team during the 1930s, winning 15 caps.
During the Second World War, Murphy was giving a speech about football to a band of troops, and in attendance was Matt Busby. Busby was so impressed by Murphy's speech that, upon his appointment as manager of Manchester United, he made Murphy the first signing of his tenure at the club.
Murphy had the role of "chief coach" from 1946 until 1955, and became assistant manager in 1955 after Manchester United won their third FA Youth Cup in a row. It was Murphy's responsibility at the club to train the young footballers who were to become the "Busby Babes", which included Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton. Prior to this the larger teams had mainly bought rather than developed their players but instead Busby decided to slowly replace the older and more experienced players in his team with their youth players.
After the Munich air disaster of 6 February 1958, he temporarily took over as manager while Matt Busby recovered from his injuries and, having assembled a substitute team, steered United to the 1958 FA Cup Final. Murphy had not been on the fatal flight because he had been away managing the Welsh team in a World Cup qualifying game. Murphy managed Wales at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden when they reached the quarter-finals in their only appearance to date in a World Cup finals tournament. They lost 1–0 to Brazil (the eventual winners), to a goal by 17 year-old Pelé.
Despite being approached to manage Brazil, Juventus and Arsenal, he remained as assistant manager at Old Trafford until 1971. Murphy chose never to become manager of the club because of his hate of the limelight, he loved working in the background but never aspired to fulfil the job of manager.
From 1973, Murphy did scouting work for Manchester United, most famously during the managerial reign of Tommy Docherty, when Murphy urged Docherty to sign wingers Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill. Murphy died in November 1989, aged 79. In Murphy's honour, Manchester United commissioned the "Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award", to be given to the best player in the club's youth system in the previous season. It was first awarded the summer after Murphy's death, with Lee Martin receiving the inaugural award.
On 23 March 2009, a blue plaque was placed on his former family home in Treharne Street, Pentre.
He was portrayed by Philip Madoc in the 2000 film Best, and by David Tennant in the 2011 BBC Two film United, which centred on the Busby Babes and the Munich air disaster.
Roles at Manchester United
Manager (temporary) (1958) – took over for five months after the Munich air disaster
Assistant manager (1955–1971)
Chief coach (1946–1955)
Reserve team manager (1946–1964)
Full-time scout (1946–1969 and 1973–1977)
Scouting office clerk (1971–1973)
Part-time scout (1977–1989)