True blue who almost slept with the enemy

The Manchester derby: Old City hero Doyle conquers his demons to reignite the ultimate love-hate relationship
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The Independent Online

When a clutch of former Manchester City heroes paraded on the pitch before the club's final match at Maine Road last May, the cheers for Mike Doyle were loudest of all. He was not the only one there to possess winners' medals from the League, FA Cup, Football League Cup and European Cup-Winners' Cup, but the crowd were bestowing on him that special favour reserved for one of their own: a Manchester boy from a true-blue family who joined the club straight from school and, best of all, made public how much he loathed the Reds on the other side of town.

When a clutch of former Manchester City heroes paraded on the pitch before the club's final match at Maine Road last May, the cheers for Mike Doyle were loudest of all. He was not the only one there to possess winners' medals from the League, FA Cup, Football League Cup and European Cup-Winners' Cup, but the crowd were bestowing on him that special favour reserved for one of their own: a Manchester boy from a true-blue family who joined the club straight from school and, best of all, made public how much he loathed the Reds on the other side of town.

Perhaps, too, they knew something of what he had suffered for the cause, full details of which have now been revealed in an autobiography* that immediately went to the top of The Independent's weekly list of best-selling sports books. It describes how depression and alcoholism, all related to an injury suffered 20 years earlier, struck long after he seemed to have comfortably negotiated the difficult transition from football to the real world.

Leaving the dressing room for the last time can have a profound effect on those who have spent up to 20 years in it. Yet after winding down his career at Stoke City, Bolton Wanderers and Rochdale, while flourishing in the motor trade, Doyle suffered no immediate feelings of deprivation. Nor was he bothered that one half-hearted application for a manager's job, at Oldham Athletic, was rejected in favour of Joe Royle's.

"I'd played about 700 games and to be honest I'd had enough," he said at his modest home in north Manchester last week. Selling insurance to young players kept him in touch with football people, and 10 years of visiting golf clubs dealing in equipment felt almost like a busman's holiday; when a new manager ("an absolute idiot") took over and self-employment did not work out, he decided on well-earned retirement playing his beloved golf. His body had other ideas, especially the knee that had been damaged at West Ham one March day in 1977.

Doyle was a hard-working and heavy-tackling performer in defence or midfield; often both in the same game, for one of Malcolm Allison's most successful ploys was to have him alternate with Alan Oakes in springing forward, which also helped bring him 40 goals for the club. The injury came only a month after his fifth England cap and undoubtedly cost him more of them as well as his City career: "I came back too early and knew it wasn't right, I needed a bit more time. Peter Swales [the City chairman, not a man he admires] wanted some money, so they did a deal with Stoke and I went there. I started feeling the knee again about four or five years ago and it gradually got worse.

"I was playing golf off a handicap of one and when the specialist told me I'd have to pack it in, it was like somebody chopping me arms off - I'd retired by then and all I was doing was golf and walking the dog, that was the only pleasure I had. So when they told me, I just went haywire."

Drink seemed the only compensation. "It was easy, to be honest, and it got out of control. I was hiding bottles of scotch and brandy and goodness knows what. My wife got eventually fed up and moved out. Grant, my youngest lad, eventually said 'If you don't stop, dad, I'm finished with you'. And when he said that I finally twigged. If it hadn't have been for him, who knows?"

One daughter remains estranged to this day, but his wife eventually returned, and at 57 he now drinks in strict moderation, walks the dog for miles every day to exercise his knee and watches his old club, which he will do at the City of Manchester Stadium this afternoon. The dislike for today's opponents remains ("I'm delighted they went out against Porto") though Doyle's slightly guilty secret - the worst of his self-confessed extra-marital affairs - is that he once almost jumped into bed with the enemy.

At the time he had briefly fallen out with Allison (whom he greatly respected) after being dropped for Rodney Marsh (whom he didn't). Taking a phone call from a Mr O'Farrell, the name of his estate agent, Doyle barked: "Have you got rid of this bloody house yet?" only to be told in lilting Cork tones that he was speaking to the manager of Manchester United. "Frank O'Farrell offered me a three-year contract, which was almost unheard of at the time and about twice as much money as I was on at City. So I went into Maine Road in collar and tie expecting to move, and Malcolm told me I wasn't going. I thought the United board had turned it down because of all the things I'd said about them, but it turned out it was City's board wouldn't let me go there." It was probably just as well.

So unlike his former rivals-turned-team-mates Denis Law and Brian Kidd, he has no division of loyalties on derby days. Bitterly disappointed that the ascendancy City established in his time (between 1966 and 1978 United won only six of 22 League meetings) disappeared so quickly afterwards, he also expected Kevin Keegan's side to have narrowed the gap this season. "I played with Kevin for England and I've always admired his philosophy, but to me some of the players don't show enough passion. They wouldn't be in the state they were in if they had three or four more like Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who'd be the first two on my team-sheet. This [Daniel] Van Buyten looks like he's got a bit of authority, and [Sylvain] Distin's a good player but you never see him pointing a finger at somebody or shaking his fist."

If the television cameras home in on a grey-haired 57 year-old doing precisely that this afternoon, it might just be a former City wing-half who has conquered his demons and would love to do the same to the devils in red once more.

* "Blue Blood. The Mike Doyle Story" (The Parrs Wood Press, £17.99).

DOYLE'S DIARY

17 December 1969: United 2, City 2 League Cup semi-final; City won 4-3 on aggregate. "When Denis Law put United 2-1 up, the aggregate scores were level. Then the ref gave us a free-kick, but Alex Stepney didn't realise it was indirect. Franny Lee hit it and if Alex had let it go in, it wouldn't have counted. But he palmed it to Mike Summerbee, and we then beat West Brom in the final."

17 December 1970: United 1, City 4 League. "George Best's horrific tackle on Glyn Pardoe broke his leg. Glyn was and still is a great mate and when I saw Bobby Charlton holding Glyn's leg, I went after Best and had him round the throat. Had Tony Book and Brian Kidd not intervened, I would probably have killed him. The next three tackles I made on Best were explosive - but fair."

27 April 1974: United 0, City 1 League. "It was possible for United to stay up if they beat us and Birmingham lost. But it was unfortunate for them to be playing us in the last game, because we were a far better side than them. Denis [Law] scored near the end and we were a bit downhearted they got relegated because it meant four guaranteed points gone the following season."

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