Big Interview part two: Tommy Docherty
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Tommy Docherty was infamously sacked as Manchester United manager.
When the Red Devils boss was joyously parading the FA Cup around Wembley in May 1977 after masterminding an unexpected victory over the mighty Liverpool, few people would have predicted that just a over a month later The Doc would find himself out of work.
Beating the otherwise all-conquering Reds – who went on to win the European Cup a few days later to add to the league title that they had already claimed that season – should have been enough for Docherty to open up negotiations on a bumper new contract at Old Trafford.
Instead, Jimmy Greenhoff’s 55th-minute winner in front of 100,000 fans at the Twin Towers would prove to be the final defining act of his five-year tenure as manager.
He was removed from office amid a blaze of publicity as news of his affair with Mary Brown – the wife of United’s then physiotherapist Laurie – made headline news.
Although the episode caused considerable pain at the time – with the end of two marriages and the subsequent strained relationship with his children – 88-year-old Docherty feels some vindication that 40 years on, he and Mary are still together – happily married.
And there are certainly few regrets as far as he is concerned at the way he departed Old Trafford.
“I am the only man to get sacked for falling in love,” the former Preston North End player and manager said.“But she has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. She is worth 20 Manchester Uniteds.
“My marriage to my first wife – God rest her soul – it was just one of those things that happens.
“I would never have seen it happening in a million years, but it did.
“You can imagine getting the sack for bad results – you would expect that.
“But to get sacked for your personal life...I don’t know, it’s just one of those things I suppose.
“By the way there was no severance pay back then– no £3m!”
Although Docherty paid the ultimate price for his extra-marital affair, he can – some four decades later – laugh about the circumstances which brought about his downfall.
Indeed in many respects the episode has added to his own legend, especially as he went on to become an accomplished after-dinner speaker when his colourful football career finally came to an end in the late 1980s.
“Of course there are some funny little sides to it all as well,” Docherty said.
“As people know I do a lot of after-dinner speaking.
“I remember doing a dinner in Altrincham – a sportsman’s evening about five years ago.
“My present wife’s ex-husband was at the dinner.
“I came home and Mary said to me, ‘How did the dinner go, love’.
“Me: ‘Great thanks yes.’
“ Mary: ‘What you laughing at’.
“Me: ‘You’re not going to believe this, but guess who was at the dinner? Your ex-husband!’
“Mary: ‘You’re joking! Did he say anything to you?
“Me: ‘As a matter of fact he did’.
“Mary:“What did he say, will you tell me?
“Me: He didn’t say much – he just asked, ‘How’s the wife?’”
Docherty can look back at his last act as United manager as arguably his greatest triumph.
After inheriting an ageing squad who were well past their prime, he rebuilt the team.
He faced adversity along the way of course, including the unthinkable in 1974 when United were relegated from the top division.
He led the team straight back up the following season and over the next few years formed a side which played with verve and flair.
They lost the 1976 FA Cup final to Southampton, before going one better the following year.
Remarkably however, Docherty now regrets his decision to join United in the first place.
At the time, he was the manager of Scotland, but turned his back on the national job to take up the opportunity at Old Trafford.
“I should never have left the Scottish national job,” he said. “I was doing very well with Scotland. We had a lot of good players and we could see great things were coming
“It was a mistake because when I came to Old Trafford, United had a lot of players who had been great players... Denis Law, Bobby Charlton...players like that to name just a few.
“Denis Law was always injured during the week, but fit to play on the Saturday. That went on for too long. It was a case of replacing some players.
“Bobby Charlton was brilliant though.
“I remember him coming to see me and saying, ‘Boss, can I go and see the chairman? I am retiring at the end of the season and I want to tell you and the Board first’.
“During my time, we went down of course, but that was always going to be on the cards.
“But we came straight back up mind and got to the two cup finals in ’76 and ’77.
“We actually lost the first final against Southampton, when everybody had us down to win.
“Southampton were managed by big Lawrie McMenemy, who is a great lad.
“I still keep in touch with him now. They beat us 1-0 with Bobby Stokes scoring the winning goal. I remember receiving a nice telegram from Lawrie.
“It said, ‘Sorry for beating you Tommy – go and win it next year’, which we did of course but then I got the boot for my matrimonial experience.”
Managing United was without doubt Docherty’s most high-profile job, although the list of clubs he has been in charge of runs into double figures.
“You’re better off listing the clubs I haven’t been with,” Docherty joked.
He is famous for managing the same three clubs as Jose Mourinho – United, Chelsea and Porto, of Portugal.
But he has enjoyed stints in charge of Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Derby County, to name just a few, as well as a short ill-fated spell at Deepdale in 1981.
It was at Chelsea where The Doc cut his managerial teeth and he admits his time at Stamford Bridge was probably his happiest time as a manager.
He joinedthe Blues as player-coach initially, working under Ted Drake, in 1961 after a playing career spent predominantly with North End, but also including spells at Arsenal and Celtic.
He took over as manager a year later although was unable to prevent the club from being relegated from the top flight.
However, he built an exciting team with an emphasis on giving young talent such as Terry Venables, Bobby Tambling, Peter Bonetti, Barry Bridges and Peter Osgood a chance.
Known as ‘Docherty’s Diamonds’, the Blues won promotion at the first attempt and won the League Cup in 1965, beating Leicester in the final on aggregate.
“It was a great club Chelsea – they were right into giving youth a chance in a big way,” he said.
n Next week: Title and cup heartbreak with PNE and why I should never have come back to Deepdale.
Read part three of the Tommy Docherty story.
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 [email protected]
Night starts at 6. 30pm for 7pm. Dress code is lounge suits or smart casual.