JIMMY “Spud” Murphy did not, as the name might suggest, represent the Emerald Isle in international football, but instead made his name in the red shirt of Wales as an industrious wing-half who read the game particularly well.
His intuitive understanding of football and footballers was ultimately to keep him in the game throughout his lifetime, working as assistant to the great Matt Busby as they built one wonderful team after another at Old Trafford, Murphy also keeping the club together in the wake of the Munich air disaster in 1958 when his boss lay in a hospital bed.
Murphy came to the Albion as an 18 year old in 1928, but he had to be patient before he got his chance, playing only sporadically for the first three or four seasons until he finally replaced Tommy Magee, the only player to win both League Championship and FA Cup medals with the Throstles.
During his time in the Albion XI, Murphy played a couple of games in the famous “Double” winning season of 1930/31, though he missed out on the Wembley showpiece. That oversight was addressed in 1935 when he played for the Throstles against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup Final, though sadly Albion slipped to a 4-2 beating.
Meanwhile, Murphy was slowly accumulating caps for Wales, having made his debut in November 1932 in a 0-0 draw with England. Murphy could not have battled his way into the Welsh team at a better time, for more than 50 years after the Welsh had played their first international, against the Scots in March 1876, they ventured beyond the shores of Great Britain and Ireland to play their first “foreign” international, against France in Paris, Jimmy’s third cap, playing alongside Albion colleague Walter Robbins.
The 1-1 draw was to be the last such trip of Murphy’s playing career with his country, for they quickly reverted to playing just the home internationals. So infrequent were the games that despite being a regular for five full years, Murphy collected just 15 caps for Wales, his final appearance coming at Ayresome Park in November 1937 when the Welsh lost 2-1 to England, Stanley Matthews getting one of the goals for the home team.
His international career was already over by the time war came, as had his time at The Hawthorns, moving on to Swindon in March 1939. During the war, Murphy served with the Eighth Army, meeting Matt Busby while in Italy, beginning the partnership that would ultimately rebuild and transform Manchester United.
Murphy was the perfect foil for Busby, but he was also a decent manager in his own right, managing Wales from 1956 to 1963 – his legacy there will remain forever as the first, and still the only, man to take Wales to the World Cup Finals, in Sweden in 1958.
He guided Wales – including Albion’s Stuart Williams - to the last eight of the competition, where it took a teenage Brazilian called Pele to defeat them by a single goal. Whatever happened to him?