Tommy Docherty has passed away at the grand old age of 92. A proud Glaswegian to the end, Tommy started his career in Scottish football with Celtic before going on to have an exceptional playing and management career south of the border.
In 2006 I attended an ‘audience’ with Tommy in the Citizen’s Theatre. Basically it was Tommy with a microphone and people asking questions from the stalls. Tommy was overjoyed to be back in the Gorbals, having been born in Crown Street before moving to the east end in his formative years. Tommy talked affectionately of his early football days in Glasgow with the Catholic Guild leagues. He paid tribute to the priests of his parishes who gave up their time to give boys from under privileged areas something worthwhile to do with their time and perhaps to keep them from trouble they may otherwise got involved with.
Tommy was proud of his Celtic connections and was honest enough to say that the best thing he did was to leave Parkhead. As a right half he was in competition with the great Bobby Evans and knew he had to go elsewhere to forge himself a career. And that he did, with great distinction, at club and international level.
Tommy has his successes with many teams as a manager and, it has to be said, was involved in many controversies and even court cases. He recalled with affection his short spell as Scotland manager between 1971 and 1973 where he deeply regretted not being able to take the country to the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany, on the biggest football stage of all. He recalled the talents available to him, Jimmy Johnstone, Denis Law, Kenny Dalglish, Peter Lorimer, Bully Bremner and Martin Buchan and said it was a huge regret to leave Scotland for Manchester United but the lure of Old Trafford was too much.
He was very bitter when discussing Matt Busby. After he had left his wife for Mary Brown (the wife of the Manchester United physio) in 1977, he felt that Matt Busby had morally judged him over the matter. Busby, a devout Catholic, had huge influence at Old Trafford as a director and Tommy’s services were no longer required. He said that this was no sordid affair and that he and Mary married and were still happily together after all those years. He also mused over the shenanigans of Ron Atkinson at United and rued how judgements at Old Trafford had changed by the late 1980’s.
Ironically, on the day Tommy appeared at the Citizens in 2006, the Champions League draw had just been made with Celtic being paired with Manchester United. He was asked who he thought would win and he said that the head said United, but the heart will always, always say Celtic. He then confessed that every Saturday at ten to five he still looked for Celtic’s result first every week. As he said, ‘old habits die hard’.
He may have been playing to the audience that night but there’s no doubt that Tommy’s faith and upbringing were a huge influence on him, particularly his experiences of the Catholic Guild teams. It was clear from hearing him speak that this had left a huge impression and he appreciated the fact people had given him a helping hand in life, towards a better standard of living than he otherwise may have had.
Tommy was reckoned to be one of the oldest living Celtic players and was a huge personality and influence in British football for many decades.
May eternal light shine upon him.