Jimmy Murphy is one such individual, and he will be forever revered in the history of Manchester United and Cymru for what he achieved in the tragic circumstances which he only avoided through an incredible series of events.
A professional player with West Bromwich Albion, Murphy played in the 1935 FA Cup final, but his side were defeated by Sheffield Wednesday. Born in the Rhondda in 1910, the Second World War brought Murphy's playing career to a premature end following his brief switch to Swindon Town, but he still made 15 appearances for Cymru.
A trusted assistant to Sir Matt Busby at Manchester United, Murphy played a key role in nurturing and developing the talented group of players known as the 'Busby Babes'. In conjunction with his position at Old Trafford, Murphy became Cymru manager in 1956, and it was through the bizarre series of events in qualifying for the 1958 World Cup that he missed the fateful flight that resulted in the Munich air disaster.
To understand the twist of fate that resulted in Murphy leading Cymru out against Israel, we have dedicated a chapter in this edition of FC Cymru to explain the bizarre detail of how the fixture that kept Murphy from Munich came about. From the Suez Crisis to FIFA’s refusal to let Indonesia play at a neutral venue, the list of political and sporting decisions that culminated with Cymru playing that match on that date are quite incredible.
While Busby was overseeing Manchester United against Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup, Cymru were playing Israel in Cardiff for a place at the 1958 World Cup. But as Murphy and his country celebrated the 4-0 aggregate victory, news emerged of the horrific events that had unfolded as Manchester United failed to return.
With Busby fighting for his life in a German hospital, Murphy took control of Manchester United through the club’s darkest period. Ensuring the team would continue against the odds while mourning the loss of the young players that he had coached and developed, he was also preparing Cymru for their first appearance at the finals of a major tournament.
Murphy showed his quality as a coach and his strength of character as he guided a young and makeshift Manchester United side to the FA Cup final that season. The defeat to Bolton Wanderers had little relevance in the bigger scheme of things. The following month, he took Cymru to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. Murphy continued as Cymru manager until 1964, and passed away in 1989 at the age of 79, while still working as a scout at Manchester United. However, his legendary status lives on.