The Big Interview: Tommy Docherty

Tommy Docherty's face breaks into a wry smile when he recalls the time, as a fearless 23-year-old defender with Preston North End, he thumped on the manager's door to demand a Deepdale pay hike.

"I'd just won my second Scotland cap against England at Wembley and I was pretty pleased with life, so I thought I'd give it a go," chuckled Docherty.

"I went to Deepdale on my day off, tapped on Billy Scott's door, sat down and said 'right, boss, I've come about my pay rise.'

"'Preston are one of the leading teams in England,' I told him, ' and from now on I want as much money as Tom Finney.'

"'Tom Finney gets 14-a-week in the season and the same in the summer. I only get 8 in May, June and July.'

"The manager was aghast. He couldn't believe what he was hearing and just said, 'What are you talking about, lad, you're not as good as Finney, no player in the world is.'

"Quick as a flash, I replied : 'I am in the summer, though, gaffer.'

"Needless to say I never got my rise for a couple of years!"

It is a wonderful recollection and for Docherty, who notched up 323 games for North End and three decades later managed the famous old club in starkly different circumstances, it marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Finney, a man he sums up as simply the greatest all-round player he ever saw and played alongside.

"People talk to me about Diego Maradona, Pele, George Best and Stanley Matthews, but Tom was simply the best.

"He had everything. He could measure a pass to the inch, had tremendous balance and ball control.

"He could head the ball as accurately as anyone I have ever seen and could shoot with either foot.

"Today you would have to sell a club to buy him.

"Most of all, though, he is the humblest, nicest human being I've ever met in football.

"He was a true gentleman, on and off the field. He had a genuine love for football and still does.

"Players would deliberately target him, though, trying to stop him any way they could and I'd get furious.

"On the rare occasion they caught him, he'd just dust himself down and say 'Eh, never mind Tommy, the lad is just trying his best.'

"Bill Shankly used to say that the opposition would have two players marking him in the warm-up.

"I found out the hard way, playing against Tom for Scotland and I was given the job of marking him.

"It wasn't very pleasant I can tell you, but I kicked Tom up in the air a few times.

"It was Scotland v England and no prisoners were taken, but we were best mates again at the final whistle. When I got back to Deepdale, though, I got a fearful rollicking from the chairman, Nat Buck. He told me I was out of order roughing Tom up and it must never happen again.

"When I told Tom the next day we just fell about laughing.

"A couple of years ago I got asked by a television reporter if a certain highly rated winger in the Premiership was as good as Finney.

"Yes, probably, but Tom's 81 now."

Irrepressible, colourful, outspoken and often outrageous, Docherty, now 75, is still wonderful company and lines up as many one-liners as Ken Dodd in full flow.

Just try these for starters.

"I was captain of Scotland and proud of it, but Scottish football's gone to the dogs.

"When Scotland qualify for the World Cup they're back before the postcards.

"Ron Atkinson was meant to be here today – but his hairdresser died – in 1946!"

Unforgettable

One of football's greatest characters and just as keen to talk about a fascinating footballing odyssey that never left him short of headlines.

Docherty's first move into management was with Chelsea where his young skipper Terry Venables, Peter Osgood and George Graham led them to unforgettable triumphs in the First Division and then Europe.

He left Stamford Bridge behind to join unfashionable Rotherham. With typical good humour he promised to take them out of the Second Division and duly did so – into the Third !

There followed journeyman spells with QPR, Aston Villa, Oporto and Hull City, but his passionate belief that individual physical fitness combined with hard work and skill were the essential ingredients for success never wavered.

He was appointed team manager of Scotland in 1972 before the Doc took charge at Manchester United two years later where a string of would-be managers had failed in Sir Matt Busby's giant shadow.

We meet at Tommy's Cheshire home, hours before United's Champions League home tie against Glasgow Rangers. Yet, amazingly, Docherty, who brought the FA Cup to Old Trafford in 1977, is forced to borrow a pal's season ticket to gain admission to the match.

"The last time I asked United for a couple of tickets I got an invoice for 44 in the post the next day, so I don't bother now.

"Football has changed so much and some of it I don't like. There are some terrific professionals in the game, like Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Paul Scholes, but the majority are just pampered, over-paid yobs and not fit to lace the boots of a guy like Finney.

"I listen to Fabien Barthez at Manchester United, griping on about the stress of not getting a game and saying his life as a goalkeeper is a misery.

"For goodness sake, the guy is on 50,000 a week.

"Look at the boy at Spurs, Darren Anderton. He would get injured on an episode of 'A Question of Sport'.

"And a lot of the time the managers are to blame, though. It is an absolute disgrace the way Alex Ferguson behaves towards the Football Association, questioning their authority. Does he think he is bigger than football?

"How can he expect his players to behave if he doesn't show any example.

"The way Ferguson and Arsene Wenger argue in public is pitiful. They're like babies fighting over candy and they should just grow up.

"I used to be great mates with Ferguson, but one day he heard me on the radio, criticising a signing he had made, a lad called Ralph Milne from Bristol City.

"The following week he gave me a verbal blow-torching at a club function, effing and blinding and this and that, but I gave as good as I got back because that's the only thing he understands.

"You might have a constructive point to air, but if it doesn't coincide with Alex Ferguson's views about the game then you're finished.

"It seems incredible now, but when I took over at United they paid me 15,000 a year. Some of the players then thought Old Trafford was a holiday camp. They were taking big money out of the club but giving nothing in return.

"There were many household names at Old Trafford, but some were coming towards the end of their careers and they obviously didn't like being told so.

"Manchester United was stagnating. I had to change that or the club would have become a laughing stock. But I turned it around after the relegation, getting United to the FA Cup final in 1976 and winning it a year later against Liverpool with Lou Macari, Martin Buchan, Stuart Pearson, Jimmy Greenhoff and Gordon Hill forging a great team."

It proved the height of Docherty's tempestous career at Old Trafford, and within days of that Wembley triumph he was forced to resign over his affair with physiotherapist's wife Mary Brown.

"I really thought I'd cracked it at Old Trafford, but I was forced out. I was leaving a young side that had just won the FA Cup and I knew we could have gone on to greater honours.

"Yet meeting Mary was the best thing that ever happened in my life.

"For my part I believed my only crime was that, although I was married, I had fallen in love with another woman.

"I still believe what happened to me at Manchester United was unnecessary, though. I wouldn't be sacked for falling in love nowadays."

Miserable

If you needed results, though, you sent for the Doc – but sometimes there was a price to pay as North End found to their cost when they persuaded Docherty to quit his post with Australian club Sydney Olympic and answer their SOS call just weeks after relegation to the wilderness of Division Two in 1981.

The Doc lasted just 17 games of North End's centenary season when the directors called time on his brief spell in charge following a throughly miserable 3-0 defeat at Oxford.

"My heart and soul is at Preston and always will be, but I was devasted only to get 16 weeks because I so wanted to be successful at North End.

"They paid Sydney 30,000 to buy up my contract and another 18,000 to get rid of me four months later.

"To this day, I don't know why I got the sack. Results were not desperate and I was building a decent foundation.

"But one day they just called me into the board room and said that's it.

"I told the chairman he wanted success in 48 hours, and as a parting shot told him he should have left me in Australia.

"I was doing an after-dinner speech at the Tickled Trout Hotel that night and I turned up late, telling a room full of people that Preston had sacked me.They were the first to know.

"The first thing I did when I took charge at Preston was to sell the late Mick Baxter to Middlesbrough for 400,000 and that was good business because it raised a small fortune for the club.

"It was a great move for the lad and for Preston, but I saw very little of the money to strengthen the team.

"When I walked back in through those Deepdale gates in the summer of 1981 it felt like my career had come full circle, because when I signed for Preston from Celtic for 3,000 in 1949 the next decade was the happiest of my playing career.

"I'd just got married and Preston gave me a club house for 25 bob a week in Lincoln Street, opposite the old Preston Royal Infirmary. I was on 10 a week, with an extra 4 for a win and 2 for a draw and blissfully happy.

"I'd bought the Olympic Cafe on Canon Street, which is a chip shop today, and I wanted to make Preston my home because I loved the town and I felt proud to be back amongst those wonderful people.

"I'd planned to finish my playing days at Preston. My ambition was to buy the Lowthorpe Road Post Office which had come up for sale.

"I asked North End for 300 as a deposit, but they wouldn't give it me. It changed the course of my life because I packed my bags and went to Arsenal for 30,000 instead.

"But I think that much of Preston still that if won 20m on the lottery I'd give North End 10m.

"Wearing that Proud Preston shirt and playing with that great man Tom Finney was the greatest honour a footballer could ever have."