Obituary: James Thomas Docherty, rugby player

Jimmy 'JT' Docherty: Scottish international rugby player who was part of a golden era at Glasgow High
Jimmy 'JT' Docherty: Scottish international rugby player who was part of a golden era at Glasgow High
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Born: 5 June, 1931, in Glasgow. Died: 18 October, 2014, in St Andrews, aged 83

The death of Jimmy “JT” Docherty has robbed rugby union in Glasgow and Scotland of a true stalwart of the game who personified the virtues of gentlemanliness and modesty that the modern sportsman could well copy.

Docherty was one of the band of great Scottish internationalists who emerged from Glasgow High School FPs in the 1950s, and he played a seminal role in putting an end to the most dismal era in the history of the Scottish national team.

That he was capped only eight times was entirely due to him being so prone to injury, and though forced to bring his playing career to a premature end, he turned to coaching with considerable success.

He was born to James and Jean Docherty in Rutherglen during the Great Depression; his father had a tailoring business in Glasgow, but had also been a good enough footballer to be a professional on the books of Rangers, Clyde and Ayr United. Docherty attended Fairy Street Primary School in Rutherglen before going on to Glasgow High School at Elmbank Street.

Excelling at sport, Docherty was a candidate for the First XV at a much earlier age than usual, and also went on to become a low handicap golfer.

Rugby was his great love, however, and though the premature death of his father meant he had to join the family business straight from school, he was soon able to devote more time to his sport and began starring for the High School FPs at stand-off and occasionally at centre.

He joined the side at a propitious time, with the likes of Hamish Kemp and British Lions vice-captain Angus Cameron and his brother Donald being full internationalists.

Scotland’s national side in the early 1950s was a disaster area. They had a run of 17 consecutive defeats from 1951 to 1955, before the national selectors cried enough and introduced 12 new players in 1955 alone. Docherty was one of them, making his debut at stand-off against France on 8 January, 1955, sadly a 15-0 defeat in Paris.

On 5 February, at Murrayfield against Wales, the Scots were serious underdogs against a Welsh side containing numerous British Lions including Cliff Morgan and Ken Jones.

It was the occasion of the late great Arthur Smith’s debut for Scotland and he scored a superb try. At a scrum shortly afterwards, the ball was fed out to Docherty and he dropped a sweet goal with his left foot – his only points for Scotland. The score was captured by Pathé newsreel and can be seen on YouTube, with Docherty wearing the number 6 shirt in the old style of numbering.

Scotland went on to win 14-8 and the hoodoo was broken, and he and Morgan exchanged shirts afterwards, a sure sign of recognition from the great Welshman.

There is an amusing anecdote from that match. Later in life Docherty decided to become a rugby referee, so he dug out Morgan’s scarlet jersey, covered over the patch and cut off the number to make himself a refereeing shirt – it resides now in a drawer in his son Craig’s house.

His old bugbear of a knee injury immediately struck and Docherty missed several matches that he would almost certainly have played in, though he returned at centre for the 1958 season and featured in Scotland’s 11-9 victory over France at Murrayfield and a superb 12-8 win over Australia when his adroit kicking made a try for Thomas Weatherstone.

Selected for Glasgow to play the Australians, Docherty was also invited to play for the Barbarians, then a much greater honour than it is now. He also captained Glasgow High in 1956, one of three seasons in which they won the unofficial Scottish championship during Docherty’s spell in the XV.

Docherty’s last international appearance was the Calcutta Cup match of 1958 when Scotland gained a merited 3-3 draw against England in front of a 60,000 crowd at Murrayfield.

He retired from playing and took up coaching, not then the science it is nowadays, and was immediately successful as Glasgow High again won the “championship” in 1961.

Docherty would stay in the backroom at Glasgow High for many years, becoming president in 1980. He was a much-loved and respected figure at Old Anniesland, and stayed through the heady days of the merger with Kelvinside Academy FPs that formed GHK, later itself subsumed into Glasgow Hawks.

He was always the most pleasant of company, and people often needed to be told that here was a man who had played eight times for Scotland as he never volunteered the fact, so modest and unassuming a man was he. He was delighted that his sons Craig and Graham followed him into rugby and in the family business before branching out on their own, the former playing for Hong Kong in the colony’s Sevens tournament which his uncle Glen helped to found.

Docherty retired from business and moved to St Andrews some 15 years ago, and latterly his health was poor due to the disease multiple system atrophy.

He is survived by his wife of nearly six decades, Pat, née Milne, and his sons Craig and Graham, and their children Ben and Scott and Ailidh and Jenny.

Craig Docherty is the former chief executive of Edinburgh Rugby, and now works in the commercial side of the SRU. He said this week: “He was a very gentle and very modest man who always tended to downplay his achievements.

“He was part of a golden era at Glasgow High, and sadly so few are left now.”

Jimmy Docherty’s funeral will be at Old Dalnottar Crematorium, Clydebank, on Monday, 27 October, at 1:30pm and thereafter, most appropriately, to Old Anniesland.