Mike Doyle: Combative and talented footballer at the heart of the great Manchester City side of the 1960s and '70s

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:50

It's not easy to imagine a footballer being more passionate about a club than Mike Doyle was about his beloved Manchester City. The fiercely loyal, jaggedly combative Mancunian, who contributed mightily during the most successful interlude in the Blues' history to date – under Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison in the late 1960s, then on into the following decade – was warrior, talisman and richly accomplished all-round performer rolled into one.

Yet even that collection of compelling attributes did not encompass the full extent of Doyle's appeal to the Maine Road faithful. As a bonus to City fans infuriated by the perceived superiority complex of their illustrious neighbours, he hated Manchester United with a vengeance. Better still in the eyes of his admirers, he was always ready to trumpet that loathing of the Old Trafford institution, a mindset which was entirely genuine and stretched back to childhood.

When Doyle was in his prime, no build-up to a local derby was complete without a rash of inflammatory outpourings from the vituperative City loyalist. However, it would be shameful if Doyle's reputation as a rabid United-baiter was allowed to obscure his considerable talent as a player. Whether operating in midfield or, later in his career, as a central defender, he wielded immense influence. There was courage and commitment aplenty – he was once voted City's hardest-ever footballer in a supporters' poll – but there was skill, audacity and remarkable consistency, too.

Doyle was a central figure as the Blues won the League title in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup-Winners' Cup and League Cup in 1970, then he skippered the side which lifted the League Cup again in 1976. It was a time of glittering achievement, often referred to as the Lee, Bell and Summerbee era in tribute to the team's extravagantly gifted attacking trio, but the work of cult hero Doyle and other doughty bulwarks such as Tony Book and Alan Oakes should never be underestimated.

Doyle, a policeman's son who was taught unarmed combat as a youngster so that he could look after himself in a tough city, was determined to become a professional footballer. When he was nine he outlined his ambition in a letter to the Manchester Evening News, an earnest declaration of intent which was tucked away in the filing system of City's chief scout, Harry Godwin. A few years later, after Doyle had impressed as a defender for Stockport Boys, Godwin dug out the cutting, found his target's address and soon, in May 1962, the young City fanatic joined the Blues' groundstaff.

At Maine Road the tall, slim but physically resilient rookie made rapid strides, but there was no disguising an emotional, even confrontational side to a personality which had been rendered even more prickly by enduring taunts from crowing United fans for as long as he could remember.

He was confident, too, as illustrated by an incident involving City's talismanic goalkeeper Bert Trautmann which has passed into club folklore. The giant German had just conceded eight goals against Wolverhampton Wanderers and as he was getting changed, young Doyle, sweeping the dressing-room floor, inquired into the condition of the great man's back, implying that it must be aching after bending down so frequently to retrieve the ball from the net. The precocious kid paid for his cheek, being sentenced to wash Trautmann's car for the rest of the season, but a colourful character had made the first of many indelible marks with his new employer.

After launching a lasting mutual emnity with George Best in an FA Youth Cup semi-final which was lost to Manchester United in the spring of 1964 – the pair just rubbed each other up the wrong way – the 18-year-old Doyle made his senior debut, as a wing-half, in a Second Division game at Cardiff in March 1965 and by season's end was laying claim to a regular place.

That summer City's world was turned upside down by the arrival of Mercer and Allison, whose inspirational approach rapidly lifted the side from mid-table mediocrity to promotion at the head of the second tier in 1966. During that season, and the one that followed consolidating among the élite, Doyle was never quite a fixture in the side, but did more than enough to underline his potential, usually in midfield but occasionally, and successfully, as an emergency centre-forward.

But it was in 1967-68, which climaxed with City pipping reigning champions United to the League title on the last afternoon of the season, that Doyle made the No 4 shirt his own. Aggressive in the tackle, effective in the air and capable of joining in smoothly with the flowing movement of a wondrously entertaining team, he shone brightly, his lustre particularly noticeable as United were cuffed aside at Old Trafford in a crucial springtime encounter.

The glory continued with Doyle prominent as Leicester were beaten 1-0 in the 1969 FA Cup final; then he scored an equaliser as West Bromwich Albion were overcome 2-1 in the 1970 League Cup final, and he was a dominant figure as City defeated the Polish side Gornik Zabrze by the same score to lift the European Cup-Winners' Cup a few weeks later. Soon afterwards Mercer stepped aside, albeit uneasily, to leave Allison in control.

City seemed to be on course for another title in 1972 until the signing of the gifted but enigmatic Rodney Marsh appeared to disrupt the balance of the side and they fell away to finish fourth, although only one point behind champions Derby County. Doyle never liked Marsh, seeing him as a flashy southern poser, and didn't trouble to hide his feelings, which was typical.

In 1973 there came a watershed when Doyle switched to central defence, initially alongside Tommy Booth and then in partnership with newcomer Dave Watson. He proved majestic in the new role, which he occupied as City lost the 1974 League Cup final to Wolves, and on the last Saturday of that season he was on top form and exultant as a City win at Old Trafford confirmed the relegation of what had become an extremely poor United side.

A year later Doyle was handed the task for which he might have been born, the captaincy of Manchester City, by his former team-mate Tony Book, by then the manager. He proved a splendid leader and was practically bursting with pride after leading his charges to League Cup final triumph over Newcastle United in 1976. Such was his command and reliability that term that Doyle earned what the Maine Road faithful maintained was woefully overdue full international recognition, Don Revie calling him up to face Wales at Wrexham. However, his top-level tenure was to be short-lived, his final game for his country ending in dismal defeat by the Netherlands in February 1977, when he was one of three centre-halves fielded by Revie against opponents with no recognised centre-forward.

Still, Doyle collected five caps to add to his eight under-23 appearances and two outings for the Football League, and might have gained further senior honours had he not been forced to withdraw from England's provisional World Cup finals squad in 1970 because his wife was seriously ill. For most of 1976-77 Doyle remained at his best, but he was never quite the same again after an ankle injury in the spring. City missed him, then, in a series of crucial games, which might have been a decisive factor in another tense championship race, the Blues finishing as runners-up, this time a point adrift of Liverpool.

Thereafter he struggled for fitness and in July 1978, having entered his 30s and played more than 550 times for the Blues – more than anyone else except Joe Corrigan and Alan Oakes – he was sold to second-tier Stoke City for £50,000. At the Victoria Ground, despite often playing through pain, Doyle gave magnificent value for money as the Potters were promoted in 1979 and he was voted the club's player of the year. After helping Stoke adjust to life in the First Division, he stepped down a level with Bolton Wanderers in January 1982, then gave the last season of his career to Rochdale of the Fourth Division in 1983-84.

Later Doyle, who worked as a representative for a sports equipment company after retiring from football, drank heavily, and in 2007 he spent a spell in the Sporting Chance clinic set up by Tony Adams through the Professional Footballers Association. Thereafter he shunned alcohol for 18 months but the problem resurfaced and his premature death, at the age of 64, was due to liver failure.

Ivan Ponting

Michael Doyle, footballer: born Manchester 25 November 1946; played for Manchester City 1962-78, Stoke City 1978-82, Bolton Wanderers 1982-83, Rochdale 1983-84; capped five times by England 1976-77; married (two sons, two daughters); died Ashton-under-Lyne 27 June 2011.

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