In Memory Of Mick Murphy: 1941-2019

Leigh Centurions are saddened to learn of the passing of their distinguished former player Mick Murphy (HN#721) at the age of 77.

Mick’s life became immersed in the game of Rugby League so how differently might things have turned out had he not accepted Leigh’s terms to sign professional in the summer of 1963?

Mick was playing rugby union in Liverpool at Waterloo and had trained as a schoolteacher when Leigh coach Alan Prescott persuaded him and his friend Mick Collins to switch codes.

It was one of the best strokes of business Leigh ever did. Collins went on to become an integral mainstay of the three-quarter line for over a decade and was a key member of Leigh’s 1971 Challenge Cup winning side.

But whereas Collins played out all his career at Leigh, making 408 appearances for the club, Murphy developed a wanderlust that took him far and wide.

Mick Collins remembers the lead-up to them both signing for Leigh. “The first time I met Mick Murphy was at the age of five at St Monicas Infants School in Bootle. From there we went to St Mary’s and played in the same school rugby team together,” he said.

“Mick went to Hopwood Hall Training College to train as a teacher. I started off in the civil service but then also decided to train as a teacher and went to Hopwood where we played in the same college team together and also for St Mary’s Old Boys.

“One day we were asked to play for Waterloo as they were short of a back and a forward. We played the last half dozen games of the 1962-63 season and did OK and we were part of the Waterloo side that won the Manchester Sevens.

“Ken Fletcher, who was a director at Leigh at the time, had a son who played at Waterloo and he was instrumental in us both signing professional.

“Coming from Liverpool we’d never really heard of Rugby League and I was hesitant to sign as I wasn’t sure I’d adapt to the game. But Mick was the opposite. His greatest strength was his amazing self confidence and he was very positive in everything he did.

“Mick took me to one side and it was him who persuaded me to sign.

“I was very fortunate in that I had Gordon Lewis as my fellow centre and he helped me enormously. I learnt so much from him and he made my transition a piece of cake. Mick had some experienced forwards alongside him the pack. He received a hard initiation and I remember a bruiser in the Wigan pack giving him a tough time in an early game and knocking out one of his teeth. But nothing was going to stop him. He was super confident and there’s nothing wrong in that. Mick was rugby mad and he loved playing Rugby League. He loved the crowds and revelled being in the limelight.”

The two pals made their debuts together in the opening game of the 1963-64 season, retrospectively earning heritage numbers #720 and #721. Bev Risman, a high-profile rugby union convert two years earlier, was the Leigh captain. Collins scored a try in Leigh’s 13-2 win over Doncaster at Hilton Park in front of a 4,500 crowd.

With packmates like mighty Mick Martyn, Derek Hurt, Stan Owen and Bill Robinson for company Murphy had plenty of role models to quickly learn the rudiments of the game. An imposing physical figure at 6ft4 and 16 stone, he lacked nothing in size, pace or energy and by playing in 37 of Leigh’s 42 games in his debut season quickly established himself in the pack. He started off in the back row before moving up to prop later in his career.

Team photo 1966-67
Back row (left to right) Rod Tickle, Colin Tyrer, Paul Grimes, John McVay, Mick Murphy, Bob Welding, Derek Higgs.
Front row- Joe Walsh, Mick Collins, Wilf Briggs, Gordon Lewis (captain), Charlie Winslade, Tommy Grainey.

Leigh reached the Lancashire Cup Final in that first season after beating Rochdale, Wigan and Oldham along the way both Collins and Murphy played in their 15-4 defeat against highly fancied St Helens in front of a 21,321 crowd at Station Road.

Gerry Helme and then Alex Murphy assumed the coaching reins during Mick Murphy’s time at Leigh and he was in at the start of the Murphy revolution at the back end of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ playing alongside Collins in the Leigh side defeated 8-5 by Castleford in the 1968 BBC 2 Floodlit Trophy Final. Four of the Leigh side that day went on to play at Wembley in 1971 but by then Mick Murphy was plying his trade elsewhere.

Bob Welding, who made his Leigh debut in 1964, played alongside Mick Murphy in the Leigh pack many times. “Mick started off as a second row like me before moving up to prop,” Bob said. “He was a big man who tackled and ran hard and he was a good footballer. He gave 100percent every time he went on the field.

“Like Paul Grimes and Derek Watts who also came from rugby union to play at Leigh in the 1960s he adapted very quickly to Rugby League. He wore a head band, just as I did. It was Gerry Helme who advised that as I was often getting the skin above my eyes split open during games and it gave more protection.

“Mick was a good mate of Mick Collins and they both went on to have great careers. He was a very clever lad and got involved in a lot of different businesses away from rugby and he was a great character.

“I remember he came from a large family and sometimes all his brothers and sisters would come from Liverpool to watch him play for Leigh. We used to have a nice drink afterwards.”

After 166 games for Leigh (7 tries) and building a reputation as a big, tough, ball handling prop forward with the pace to play in the back row Murphy was transferred to Barrow in January 1969 for a £3,000 fee and went on to become a firm favourite of the Craven Park devotees.

During his time in the shipbuilding town he was a popular figure, teaching at Howard Street College. He later returned to the Furness area where he ran a pub and coached Dalton ARLFC in the late 1970s. He made 106 appearances for Barrow before playing three successful seasons at St Helens (98 games). He was a member of the Saints side defeated 13-12 by Warrington in the 1974 Championship Final and when he left them to join Bradford Northern they were well on the way to winning the first division championship in 1974-75.

After enjoying his spell at Odsal in the mid-1970s (73 games) where he added to his earlier representative honours with Lancashire by playing for Wales in the 1975 World Cup, Mick then went travelling. He played for Tonneins and St Jacques in France and for Wagga Wagga in Australia and during his time at St Jacques took his number of Wales caps to five, playing for Wales against France. In 1978-79 he came back to England and, in his late 30s, played nine games for Blackpool Borough in their amazing promotion season to the first division and he wound down his career with a short spell at Dewsbury.

Mick Murphy developed a career in acting and had several walk-on parts in television while also becoming involved in the oil industry. But Mick Murphy’s involvement in rugby league was far from over and in the late 1980s he was an instrumental figure in rescuing the famous Huddersfield club when they were at their lowest ebb, heading for liquidation. Murphy headed up a three-man consortium and, after persuading Alex Murphy to become coach, oversaw a revival in the club’s fortunes that will never be forgotten by Fartown supporters.

Mick Murphy’s contribution to Fartown was recognised when he was made a life member of Huddersfield Giants and he attended last Thursday’s Super League match against his old club St Helens. He met his wife Rosemary during his time in Barrow. She became a noted, award-winning and visionary educationalist who was awarded the OBE and sadly predeceased him in June 2018. Together they opened Portland Nursery in Huddersfield, the first of the chain.

Mick leaves four children and four grandchildren and everyone at Leigh Centurions passes on their deepest sympathy at this sad time.

Mick Murphy, b Liverpool 30 Sep 1941, d Huddersfield March 2019;

An obituary by Mike Latham.

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