Big Interview: Tommy Docherty

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‘I don’t think one night will be long enough,’ Tommy Docherty quipped in that unmistakable Glaswegian lilt of his.

The former Preston North End player and manager was referring to the special dinner in his honour next month when he will be the subject of a biopic-style celebration of his amazing 70-plus year career in football.

Tommy Docherty played right-half for Preston during a nine-year stint with the club

Tommy Docherty played right-half for Preston during a nine-year stint with the club

“Tommy Docherty – This is Your Life” is sure to be one night nobody, particularly of a PNE persuasion, will want to miss when it takes place at the Guild Hall on April 20.

‘The Doc’ spent the vast majority of his playing career at North End before returning many years later for a short, ill-fated spell in charge of the club in the early 1980s.

He also managed a whole host of clubs, most notably Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as enjoying a stint in charge of Scotland.

One of the game’s most colourful and eccentric characters, Docherty has hit the headlines both on and off the pitch over the last half-century or more.

And incredibly just over a month ahead of his 89th birthday, the legendary football figure remains compelling company with his forthright views on the game, as well as the many effortless one-liners he produces from his ‘after dinner’ repertoire.

“If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have looked after myself more,” he said before breaking out into a fit of laughter.

But back to the dinner, Docherty continued: “I think they will need a year maybe to fit all my life story in. But seriously, it all depends on what kind of questions I get asked.

“I’m looking forward to it – it should be a great occasion at the Guild Hall.”

Surprisingly, Docherty was never a subject of the original hit television programme ‘This is Your Life’ .

Hosted by Eamonn Andrews and in later times Michael Aspel, the programme was a staple of family entertainment particularly during the 1960s,70s and 80s .

But he does remember making a grand appearance on the show when the ‘big red book’ was being handed to former Liverpool striker, the great Kenny Dalglish.

“I had given Kenny his first international cap in 1971 when I was Scotland manager,” said Docherty. “I flew all the way back from Australia to be on the show because I was managing Sydney Olympic at the time.

“I was picked up by motorbike at the airport in London and I rode to Shepherd’s Bush where ‘This is Your Life’ was being filmed.

“Kenny could not believe it when I walked through the door to greet him.

“Twenty-seven thousand miles I had flown to appear on the show.

“And I was back in Sydney for our game the following Sunday.”

Despite the stories, the jokes and the wisecracks, Docherty is genuinely moved by next month’s special evening in his honour, especially as it is all part of the annual Sir Tom Finney Tribute Dinner.

Organised as a lasting tribute to Preston’s – and arguably England’s – greatest ever player, Docherty’s admiration for his former North End team-mate, who passed away in 2014, is well known.

The pair played together at Deepdale during a golden era in the club’s history which saw North End reach the 1954 FA Cup final as well as finish runners-up in the old First Division twice.

As a footballer, Finney is incomparable according to The Doc – only modern great Lionel Messi, of Argentina and Barcelona, can run him close.

“Sometimes I think that people believe that I exaggerate about Sir Tom,” said Docherty.

“But he really was that good. Tom, God rest his soul, was the Lionel Messi of his day.

“As a player there is just one word to describe him – genius! For my money, he was better than Diego Maradona or Pele.

“It was not just the way he was as a player, but the way he would conduct himself too.

“He was a great example to the younger players at Preston and was really just too good to be true.

“I would always remember during games, if he got involved in a skirmish with another player, I would be straight up there trying to defend him.

“But Tom would just say, ‘Nay lad, he’s just trying to do his best’.

“He would always come out on the side of the defender who was trying to foul him. That’s the way he was – very forgiving, a gentleman.

“Him and Messi would be my top two players of all time.”

Docherty arrived at Deepdale in 1949 when he was signed from his boyhood team Glasgow Celtic. He went on to make more than 300 top-flight appearances for the Lilywhites in a nine-year stay before being transferred to Arsenal in 1958.

“I arrived from Celtic for a massive transfer fee of £3,000 cash,” he said.

“I was playing for Celtic’s reserves against Greenock Morton at Cappielow.

“I remember getting a phone call on Monday morning from the chairman Desmond White to go and see him in his offices in the centre of Glasgow.

“He told me that the Preston chairman James Taylor had made a bid for me and they had accepted £3,000

“What tempted me to go was not so much that I would be getting a regular game in the first team, but I was about to get married in Govan.

“Money was not the problem but I was going to be renting a house on Lincoln Street, in Preston, for 25 shillings a week – and that was the bait which got me to Deepdale.”

The lure of playing in the English top flight was a massive draw for Docherty, but he admitted it was a wrench to leave Celtic, whom he had joined immediately after completing his National Service at the age of 18.

Although it was a big change to move from Glasgow to Lancashire, Docherty had already spent time away from his native Scotland in the Middle East as part of the British Armed Forces.

“I had the choice of doing my National Service or going down the pit – and there was no way I was going down the pit,“ Docherty revealed.

“So I did my National Service and went to Palestine for two years.

“I came out on demob in York and my beloved Glasgow Celtic were waiting for me when I got home.

“I signed for eight quid a week. I was only a reserve team player for Celtic though – not much in the first team, if at all.

“James Taylor impressed upon me that I was the kind of player that Preston were looking for.

“I could come along and play with another good player called Tom Finney.

“I didn’t need much tempting to come to Preston. I had nine fantastic years at Deepdale.”

The fourth Sir Tom Finney Tribute Dinner will celebrate the life of one of the game’s biggest ever characters Tommy Docherty at the Guild Hall in Preston. “Tommy Docherty – This Is Your Life” will take place on April 20 and tickets are priced at £50 per person, with a table of 10 costing £500. VIP table of 10 can be purchased for £700 with individual VIP tickets priced at £75. All proceeds from the evening will go towards the Sir Tom Finney Soccer Development Centre in Preston. A few tickets remain, please call organisers Tom Roe on 07813 678 889 or email Maureen Rothwell on maureen.rothwell@gmail.com.

The night starts at 6.30pm for 7pm. Dress code is lounge suits or smart casual.

Next week: Read part two of the Tommy Docherty story – only in the Lancashire Post.