Alex Murphy (rugby league)

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Alex Murphy
Personal information
Full name Alexander James Murphy
Born (1939-04-22) 22 April 1939 (age 75)
St. Helens, Lancashire, England
Playing information
Position Scrum-half
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1956–66 St. Helens 320 175 42 609
1966–71 Leigh 118 33 96 291
1971–75 Warrington 67 9 12 28 107
Total 505 217 150 28 1007
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1958 Great Britain 27
England 2 1 1 5
Lancashire 14 12 2 40
Coaching information
Years Team Gms W D L W%
1975–78 Warrington
1978–80 Salford
1982–84 Wigan
1985–90 St. Helens
1991 Huddersfield
Total 0 0 0 0
Years Team Gms W D L W%
1975 England

Alex J. Murphy OBE (born 22 April 1939 in St. Helens, Lancashire)[1] is an English former professional rugby league footballer and coach of the mid to late 20th century. Known as 'Murphy the Mouth' (or "Yapper" by some referees) and regarded as one of the greatest half backs in the history of the British game,[2][3] he represented Great Britain in 27 Tests[1] and his club career was played at three clubs, St. Helens, Leigh and Warrington. Murphy assumed a player-coach role of the last two clubs and expanded his coaching role toward the end of his playing career to include clubs such as Wigan, Salford and Huddersfield. He later returned to both Warrington and Leigh respectively as a football manager. He was the first player to captain three different clubs to victory in the Challenge Cup final.[4]

Playing career[edit]

Brought up in Thatto Heath, at ten years old Murphy played in both the junior and senior XIIIs at St Austin's School, and he had town and county schoolboy honours by the time he signed with his native St. Helens for £80 on his 16th birthday in 1955.[5] The signing itself was almost akin to a military operation. St. Helens representatives smuggled Murphy 'under cover' to a nearby house until the clock struck midnight to signal Murphy's 16th birthday, and his eligibility to sign professional terms.[6] He was coached from an early age by Jim Sullivan.

During his national service Murphy played rugby union for the Royal Air Force,[7] frequently playing for an Air Force team the same week as playing rugby league for St. Helens.

St. Helens[edit]

Murphy began his career at St. Helens playing reserve team rugby (known then as the ‘A’ team). After several "A" team games, Murphy demanded a place in the first team. This demand was refused and so he promptly demanded a transfer. The dispute was settled and Murphy’s first team début was against Whitehaven at Knowsley Road.

Murphy's career at St. Helens went on to be long and successful. While still a teenager, he was selected to tour Australasia with the Great Britain side in 1958, becoming the youngest touring player at the time,[8] and helping Great Britain to victory in the famous second Test in which they were down to ten men. He scored 21 tries in 20 appearances on that tour.[9]

He won the Championship with St. Helens in 1958-59 season. The following year he played in Great Britain's World Cup-winning side. With his club he claimed the Challenge Cup in 1961.[10]

On the 1962 Ashes tour he suffered a shoulder injury which caused him to miss three months of the domestic season[1] and there was some speculation he would never play again.[11] On this tour he scored 9 tries in 11 appearances.

Murphy became the first British rugby league footballer to have two testimonial matches. They were at St. Helens in 1965, and at Warrington in 1976.


Murphy left St. Helens to become player-coach at Leigh,[when?] when he became unhappy at being moved to the centres to accommodate the signing of Tommy Bishop. As the 1966-67 season began, Murphy declined to play for St. Helens. The Australian club, North Sydney indicated their interest in signing him. At the end of September, Murphy submitted a written transfer request to the St. Helens board who accepted it, putting him on the list at £12,000.

North Sydney tabled a bid of £8,000 for Murphy which was accepted. However, at the last minute, Murphy agreed to a 5 year deal with Leigh to become the highest paid coach in the Rugby Football League.

Murphy's first game in charge of his new team was against his former club in a league match at Hilton Park. Murphy’s Leigh overcame a depleted St. Helens side by 29-5. Murphy later recounted in an issue of the Rugby Leaguer some 20 years later that:

"It never entered my mind to leave Saints in the first place. But events took over and there was a lot of pride involved on both sides and the situation reached the stage where a parting of the ways became inevitable."

In 1971, Leigh reached the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and Murphy won the Lance Todd Trophy for being voted the man-of-the-match as Leigh defeated Leeds, 24-7. This was a match where Murphy's ability to attract controversy was once again exemplified. He was involved in an altercation with Leeds' Syd Hynes which resulted in Hynes being sent off for headbutting Murphy. Murphy was carried off the pitch on a stretcher, but later returned to the bench and was able to lift the trophy at the end of the game. Over the years, tales of Murphy winking to his team mates as he was carried from the field have endured, and Hynes always maintained his innocence. [4]


Murphy left Leigh shortly afterwards to become player-coach at Warrington. In 1973 a 20-match unbeaten run in the league helped Warrington win the League Leader's Trophy. The 1973–74 season was the most successful at Warrington, with the club winning the Challenge Cup, Captain Morgan trophy, John Player trophy and Club Merit trophy. The highlight was when Murphy captained them to a 24-9 win in the Challenge Cup Final against Featherstone Rovers at Wembley.[12] Warrington returned to Wembley in 1975 but Murphy missed the match through injury and Widnes won the Challenge Cup. Murphy retired as a player shortly after but remained on as coach of the club until 1978.


Murphy became coach of Salford in 1978.

Coaching career[edit]

Upon retirement, Murphy built upon the experience he had acquired as a player-coach by taking up the reins as a full-time coach. He was co-coach of England with Bill Oxley during the 1975 World Series.

After Warrington, Murphy was appointed to high-profile roles at Salford (May 1978 to November 1980), before taking the role of coach of Wigan in 1982. There, he led them to victory in the John Player Trophy in 1983, and took them to the Challenge Cup Final in 1984, where they lost to Widnes. He left at the start of the next season, following a row with vice chairman Maurice Lyndsay.

In 1988 Murphy was an inaugural inductee into the Rugby League Hall of Fame.[13]

He took over St. Helens in 1986, taking them to Wembley in 1987, against Halifax, and again in 1989 where they played Wigan. St Helens lost by one point to Halifax, and were humiliated by Wigan in an error-ridden performance two years later, losing 27-0, becoming the first side ever held scoreless in a Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. In 1991, he joined Huddersfield: within a year, promotion to the Second Division had been achieved.

After a six-year absence from rugby league, Murphy returned to the game in 2003 as football director of Leigh after the National League One club sacked coach Paul Terzis.[14]


  • In 1998 Murphy was awarded the OBE for services to the game of rugby league
  • In 2000 his autobiography, Saint and Sinner was published.[15]
  • Murphy was also employed as a commentator by BBC television for a number of years working alongside long time league commentator and former dual rugby international Ray French. He also worked for Australia's Nine Network as an expert commentator during the 1994 Kangaroo tour.
  • He was also employed to write opinion columns for newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and the Manchester Evening News. One was known as ‘Murphy’s Mouth.’
  • In 2006 he became Chairman of Oxford Cavaliers Rugby League Club.

Honoured at St Helens RLFC and Warrington Wolves[edit]

Alex Murphy is an inductee in both the St Helens RLFC Hall of Fame,[16] and the Warrington Wolves Hall of Fame.[17]


  1. ^ a b c "Saints Heritage Society". Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  2. ^ "RL legend Murphy must rest up after heart scare". The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (UK: Trinity Mirror North West & North Wales Limited.). 5 August 2005. Retrieved 24 April 2010. 
  3. ^ Ray French (5 September 2003). "'The Mouth' returns". BBC Sport (UK: BBC). Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Cup heroes: Alex Murphy". BBC Sport (UK: BBC). 27 February 2004. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  5. ^ Barker, Neil (22 September 2010). "Murphy joins thousands for Saints farewell". Manchester Evening News (UK: MEN Media). Archived from the original on 26 September 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  6. ^ Beaton, Lyle (17 April 2007). "Let's not forget the Great Alex Murphy". Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Shea, Julian (22 April 2005). "Murphy clocks up half century". BBC Sport (UK: BBC). Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  8. ^ "Rugby league's greatest ever players". (Orange). p. UK. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  9. ^ Ledger, John (22 June 2007). "Vote for rugby league's greatest ever British XIII". Yorkshire Post (UK: Johnston Press Digital Publishing). Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  10. ^ "Murphy pays tribute to Karalius". BBC Sport (UK: BBC). 18 December 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  11. ^ "Career in jeopardy". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 Oct 1962. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  12. ^ Skentelbery, Gary (23 February 2010). "Murphy signs for Wolves!". Warrington Worldwide (UK: Warrington News). Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  13. ^ "Alex Murphy OBE". (UK: The Rugby Football League Limited). Archived from the original on 11 November 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  14. ^ "Murphy returns to Leigh". BBC Sport (UK: BBC). 4 September 2003. Retrieved 24 April 2010. 
  15. ^ Murphy, Alex (2000). Saint and Sinner: The Autobiography of a Rugby League Legend. UK: Mainstream. 1840183098, 9781840183092. 
  16. ^ "St Helens Hall of Fame". 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  17. ^ "Hall of Fame at". 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 

External links[edit]