A Character Like No Other

RIP Tommy Docherty

Tommy Docherty with Jim Barron, a man who he fired at Wolves and replaced with his son, Mick.

True as it is that Wolves saw nothing like the best of him, we should not allow the passing-away of Tommy Docherty to slip by without due mention.

Football has lost one of its most colourful characters with his death this week at the age of 92.

He was a controversial, abrasive but always engaging individual whose best work as a manager came with a vibrant young Chelsea team in the early 1960s and then when taking Manchester United back to the top flight at the first attempt and immediately reaching the FA Cup final and finishing third in the First Division.

He also had a promising spell in charge of Scotland and created great interest in his time at Villa half a century ago, although he was poised to repeat there what he had overseen at Rotherham. He promised his Millmoor employers he would take the club out of the Second Division – and promptly led them to relegation and the Third!

The indignity of presiding over much of Villa’s slide into Division Three formed part of his slick after-dinner material over the years, as did his relationship with Doug Ellis, and there were traces of famous humour after he was appointed at Wolves in 1984.

He spoke of a Japanese prisoner of war jumping out when he opened the door of the Molineux trophy cabinet and frequently talked of individuals being deceptive – ‘even slower than they look’ – or being able to trap a ball further than most could kick it.

It would have been good fun had results not quickly become a nightmare following a promising start to life back in Division Two.

The Doc lasted for all of that season and half the summer break, then threw a champagne farewell at Newbridge Tennis and Squash Club when he was sacked.

David Harrison was the Express & Star’s Molineux correspondent during the Scot’s unhappy reign and was one of those in on the unusual leaving party, my own dealings with him coming much, much later.

I was despatched to his home near Glossop in 2012 to interview him for Backpass magazine and was flattered that the feature was deemed worthy of being used over two issues, five pages in all.

He was great, not only accommodating in standing at the side of the road on my arrival to help me find his hidden lane but providing a wealth of stories and even sharing with me his excitement when he received a call in mid-session from his old Chelsea captain, Ron Harris.

But he was no-one’s fool. Already 83 and with his complimentary ticket to Old Trafford underlined as a thing of the past after he was asked £88 for two seats at a game, he was enthusing over earning by speaking on cruise ships – and even charged for the interview he was giving me.

There was always a rogueish side to him. Ray Crawford revealed to us long ago how Docherty had tapped him up while Wolves and Chelsea were in the Caribbean together for several weeks in the summer of 1964.

He was candid about his various fall-outs and once described the perfect board as one made up of five men – one dead, four dying. So dismissive was he of the waning powers of Chelsea’s title-winning manager Ted Drake that he said at the time of his recruitment to the Stamford Bridge backroom staff in 1961: “It’s not a coach you need…..it’s a hearse.”

Among those to express their sadness in the last couple of days have been Jim McCalliog, who was groomed by his fellow Glaswegian at Chelsea and then said thank-you by scoring one of the decisive Sheffield Wednesday goals in the FA Cup semi-final clash between the clubs in 1966.

Jimmy Mac reported to The Doc again several years later, this time at Manchester United, and repaid him this time in the 1976 final by making Bobby Stokes’s winning goal for Second Division Southampton against the Reds.

Tommy inspired United to the lifting of the same silverware 12 months later, only to be sacked within days when revealing that he was in a relationship with the wife of club physiotherapist and former Molineux physio Laurie Brown. “Mary is worth 20 Manchester Uniteds,” he told me of the woman serving us tea and biscuits. The fact that they were still together 43 years on shows that this was no shabby affair.

We would probably have seen the manager back in the West Midlands when Sammy Chapman passed away almost a year and a half ago but he was already into his 90s and apparently with health problems looming.

That being the case, I was delighted when Tommy allowed me last winter to send two of his books – one of them his highly entertaining 2006 autobiography, My Story – so I could have them signed by him.

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