Tommy Doc, by David Tossell

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Happy days for those who enjoy reading about controversial Scottish former managers of Manchester United: last week Sir Alex Ferguson unveiled the latest of his impeccably ghostwritten autobiographies, and a new biography of Tommy Docherty also appeared.

No prizes for guessing which received the greater publicity, but it would be a shame if David Tossell's book was lost in the tidal wave of Fergie fervour, because Docherty is an equally interesting and complex character, and is well served, though hardly flattered, by Tossell's diligent research and even-handed approach.

Such was Docherty's fame in the Sixties and Seventies that it comes as a surprise to be reminded just how insubstantial his managerial career was. Whereas Ferguson accumulated lorryloads of silverware, all Docherty had to show after 27 years and "more clubs than Jack Nicklaus" was a Second Division title and an FA Cup in his four-and-a-half years at United, plus a League Cup at Chelsea.

He built youthful sides brimming with flair both at United from 1972-77 and at Chelsea from 1961-67. But, as the future Chelsea chairman Brian Mears observed: "He was always a short trip away from the self-destruct button." Tossell makes it clear that Docherty's ready wit came with "a darker side… the jokes that could frequently be laced with venom, leaving rancour-infested dressing rooms". When his affair with the wife of the United physio was exposed, his sharp tongue had alienated too many at the club for him to keep his job.

He moved to Derby County for two years with little success, before a succession of short-term appointments, including three spells with semi-pro outfits in Australia, finally ended in 1988 at non-League Altrincham. Since then he has worked as a pundit, hammed it up as an after-dinner speaker and, at 85, is still a regular on the cruise-ship circuit.

"My reputation has maybe overshadowed whatever ability I had," he once said, and at his best he certainly displayed talent, energy and vision. Yet, as his long-term colleague Frank Blunstone remarked: "Trouble is, if you tell too many jokes people treat you as a joke."

Published in hardback by Mainstream, £14.99

Comments