60 years of Loving Rugby League: Alex Murphy OBE

Rugby league has been part of Alex Murphy OBE’s life for as long as he can remember. It was just over 60 years ago last week that the young ‘Murph’ signed his first professional deal with St Helens, in 1955.

He was just 16 back then, and with a glittering career in front of him. ‘The Mouth’, as he was sometimes called, was raised in Thatto Heath, but went on to win everything that it was possible for him to win in the sport, as a player and coach.

Murphy would play professionally from 1956 until 1975, playing over 500 professional games, with 319 of those coming for St Helens.

He played 27 tests for Great Britain, and was part of the World Cup winning team in 1960.

During his 60 years involvement in the game, Murphy has clearly picked up a wealth of knowledge, and is not slow to share his enthusiasm for the sport.

“I love rugby league,” he said.

“I know everything about it. I know more about rugby league than anybody in rugby league.”

But Murphy’s famous self-confidence is tempered to some extent by his clear appreciation for what the sport of rugby league has brought him.

“I’m pinching myself, first of all, because I’m here,” he smiled.

“I’m still about, I’m still living, I’m still healthy, I’m still happy, I’m still watching the greatest game in the world – rugby league.

“Everything that I set out to do – touch wood – I have achieved.”

Murphy was successful not just as a player, but also as a coach at Leigh and then Warrington, Salford, Wigan, St Helens and Huddersfield.

When he was first approached to be a player/coach by Leigh in 1966, he admits that his knowledge of coaching was limited.

“I was coached by probably the greatest coach in the world who has ever coached, Jim Sullivan,” he explained.

“I played in a great side, which was probably the greatest side that ever played – St Helens.

“When I left St Helens, I had never coached in my life, only what Jim Sullivan had taught me to do as a player.

“But I did know how to handle people.

“When I went to Leigh and Tommy Sale said to me, ‘We want you as a coach,’ I nearly fell of the chair.

“I didn’t want to go to a team who were bottom of the league, which Leigh were, and I also thought, ‘Can I do that?’

“Then I thought to myself: ‘Yeah, that’s just the thing I need.’

“And, believe or not, that gave me the incentive to keep myself alive and happy.”

Murphy played in an era when Great Britain could take on and beat the Australians on a regular basis. He was part of some legendary tours, including the one that featured the famous second test at Brisbane in 1958.

That was when prop Alan Prescott played on with a broken arm, and Dave Bolton was forced to leave the field with a broken collar bone.

Three other players were injured, but the British side won the test to level the series. They went to claim the series 2-1 with a win in Sydney.

“To have the privilege of saying that I’ve never lost a Test match in Australia, there’s not a lot who can say that,” Murphy aded.

“And to have done it some style and done it with some class. People like Vince Karalius, Alan Prescott, we’re talking about brave men.

“We’re talking about a man who played through a Test match with a broken collar bone for all but 10 minutes of the game.

“We’d nine fit men on the field, and we still won the Ashes. That’s how proud of that side I played in I am.

“That’s why I’m so proud of rugby league.”

Murphy is also now a president of Leigh, the club he coached in several spells between 1966 and 1991. He also served as football director in the early 2000s.

He thinks that the Centurions are progessive force for the sport as a whole, and that their model should be copied elsewhere in the game.

“I’m so delighted. I think Paul Rowley’s doing a magnificent job,” he said.

“I think the whole club, from the chairman down to the supporters, though they need a little bit more help supporter-wise, are playing the kind of rugby which I would go and watch.

“It’s entertaining, enjoyable, professional players, young players.

“I just hope now that Super League look at that and take a copy of it, and say, ‘That’s going to happen throughout rugby league.’

“We’ve got to start competing with what’s happening in rugby union.”

When it comes to looking back over his career as a whole, Murphy insists that there are no stones left unturned in a life which he clearly continues to love.

“I have no regrets whatsoever,” he said.

“If someone had said to me when I was 16 years of age, that I’d achieve everything, I’d have said, ‘No, that can’t happen.’

“But I’ve got a statue at Wembley, I’ve got an OBE, I’ve met the Queen, I’ve won everything that there is to be won, I’ve helped other people to win things.

“I love supporters. I don’t think I can ask for any more.”

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