Remembering A Mossley Legend Bob Murphy
Monday 29th February 2016 @ 10:01 by Martin Frost
Comment Football Longform Mossley & Saddleworth Sports

My travels around the non-league scene generally lead me to Mossley half a dozen times a season. I was last at Seel Park a couple of weeks ago to see Manchester Premier Cup win over Trafford. Peter Band has clearly put a side together which could well feature in the promotion play offs this year – last Saturdays postponed game against high flyers Northwich saw the Lilywhites miss out on the opportunity to put more pressure on the front runners.

But each and every visit to Seel Park takes me back nigh on 40 years. To younger readers the idea that Mossley could be a leading light in non-league football would more than likely be dismissed as a fantasy. But make no mistake, at the end of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s the Lilywhites were arguably the finest team outside of the Football League. Goals aplenty; league titles; divisional cups and of course a Wembley appearance. They were a team that both excited and entertained, whilst at the same time being more than successful. And the architect of this was Bob Murphy, whose death was announced at the weekend.

Murphy was the driving force behind turning Mossley into a club which challenged the then received wisdom that Altrincham were the pre-eminent non league team in the north west if not nationally. He had first become connected with the Lilywhites after recommending Alan Brown, an integral part of the Wembley team, to the Club. In 1972 he stepped up to Assistant Manager, and following George Sievwright’s departure in 1974 he initially became Caretaker then full Manager. At this point the Lilywhite’s rise had begun.

The 1974-75 season saw Mossley finish 6th in the League, had a good run in the FA Trophy, and won the Reporter Cup beating Stalybridge Celtic 6-4 on aggregate in the final. But it was two signings which were fundamental to future success. For the paltry sum of £100 Dave Morre was secured and shortly after Leo Skeete arrived at Seel Park. Skeete was a charismatic figure who went on to score 174 goals in 350 games for the club. A good friend of mine still recalls Skeete as “simply the finest, most rounded and effective player I have ever seen at non league level”. The big man was a leader amongst men.

Whilst the building blocks had been put in place, these were put temporarily on hold when Murphy was sacked in late 1976. A 14 month spell away from Seel Park saw Murphy take the helm at both Stalybridge and Northwich before the call came to return in early 1978. What followed was simply sensational.

In 1978/79 Mossley romped to the NPL title. Murphy picked up countless Manager of the Month awards as the team scored 117 goals and won the NPL League Cup as an added bonus. As an attacking force they were unstoppable, with the quality of football absolutely outstanding. In all competitions, the forward line scored an unbelievable 137 goals between them that season: Moore leading with 41, Ian Smith 38, Eamon O’Keefe (later sold to Everton), 32 and Skeete 26.

But that was just the appetiser. The following season they retained the title. A 31 match unbeaten run secured the championship, but that season Murphy did what no other Tameside manager has done before or since – he took “little Mossley” to Wembley in the the FA Trophy. The history books record that they fell at the final hurdle – losing a tight game to Dagenham 2-1. Disappointment indeed, but nothing can take away from the achievement.

The following three seasons saw Murphy lead Mossley to the NPL runners up spot in each campaign, and for the first and only time in the Lilywhite’s history take the scalp of a League club as they saw off Crewe in an FA Cup tie. In Murphy’s last full season at the Seel Park helm, they were extremely unlucky to exit from the FA Cup in a game at Huddersfield.

I have many fond memories of watching Mossley at that time. A personal favourite was an FA Trophy tie at Moss Lane Altrincham. The home team had recently been elevated to the Alliance Premier FL, (now the National League). It isn’t unfair to say that there was, without doubt, a real feeling of superiority from the Altrincham support, as they sought to gain election to the Football League – something that they had been denied many times in the days before automatic promotion. Mossley came into the game as underdogs, but to say they absolutely destroyed Alty is an understatement. In a compelling game they were unlucky not to win by more than the eventual 5-1 outcome – the only home defeat for the home side all season. Moore with a superb hat-trick and Smith, with a brace, were the goal scoring heroes, but it was simply a staggering all round team performance.

Bob Murphy brought Mossley a golden period, and for that not only Mossley supporters but followers of the non league scene in Tameside should be grateful. Those fortunate enough to have seen that team will no doubt agree. Entertainment; excitement and high class football were the hallmarks. Thanks for the memories Bob!!

For more memories of that day at Wembley try “Mossley goes to Wembley” as a search on You Tube.

Picture courtesy of Mossley’s Official Website