WITH his induction to the Scottish Hall of Fame at Hampden, yet another line has been added to Tommy Docherty’s extraordinarily long and varied CV.
At 85, he is as lucid, ebullient and outspoken as ever. He continues to be in demand as an after-dinner speaker, now mixing business with pleasure by performing his familiar but still hugely entertaining repertoire of anecdotes on cruise liners.
Having lived such a remarkable life, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that Docherty harbours any regrets about his time in football.
It is not his controversial sacking as Manchester United manager in 1977, for his affair with physiotherapist Laurie Brown’s wife Mary, which causes ‘The Doc’ any rueful contemplation. He remains happily married to Mary and describes her as “worth 20 Manchester Uniteds”. Instead, it is his brief but promising tenure as Scotland manager which he reveals still leaves him wondering what might have been,
Docherty lost just three of his 12 matches in charge of the national team from October 1971 until the end of 1972, when he received what proved an irresistible offer to take charge at Old Trafford.
He passed up the chance to finish what he had started with Scotland, a successful World Cup qualifying campaign which Willie Ormond would complete and lead the team to an unbeaten campaign in the 1974 finals in West Germany.
“One of my biggest regrets was leaving the Scotland job when I did,” admitted Docherty. “As Scotland manager, I went down to watch Crystal Palace play Manchester United at Selhurst Park. It was basically the 1968 European Cup winning team who were past their best and lost 5-0 that day.
“Matt Busby pulled me aside in the Palace boardroom afterwards and asked if I fancied being United manager. Well, who wouldn’t? I pointed out they already had a manager in Frank O’Farrell and Matt just told me he wouldn’t be manager by the following Wednesday. I knew Frank well, he was a lovely man and godfather to one of my kids. I told him what had happened and he advised me to take the job, because someone else would if I didn’t. But I still regret, to this day, leaving the Scotland job at that time.
“I had a great Scotland team, with some wonderful players. I didn’t go to the finals in Germany, I watched some of it on television.
“Funnily enough, I was at Coventry for a match one day in the build-up to the finals and Willie Ormond was down watching Jim Holton play.
“He said ‘Hello Doc’ and I wished him all the best for the finals. I’d handed over the keys of my SFA Rover car to him when I left the job.
“The first question he asked me was how you fill in your expenses at the SFA! I told him not to do it through Willie Allan, who was SFA secretary at the time – if he’d been a ghost, he wouldn’t have given you a fright. I told him to do it through Ernie Walker, who was assistant secretary at the time. Willie Ormond was a nice wee man. He started chopping and changing the Scotland team, which is every manager’s privilege.”
Chopping and changing was the theme of Docherty’s itinerant and chequered managerial career, rarely staying in one post for very long for a variety of reasons.
“One of my biggest faults was that I was too impatient in terms of managerial jobs,” he adds. “I went to Rotherham United on the recommendation of Jimmy Hill. It was a nice little club with nice people, but you make promises you can’t keep – either through your own fault or someone else’s.
“I promised I would take Rotherham out of the Second Division – and I took them into the Third. The old chairman said ‘Doc, you’re a man of your word!’.
“At QPR I worked with a chairman called Jim Gregory. When you shook hands with him, you counted your fingers afterwards.
“I had the best start there I ever had in my managerial career. We had 20 points from our first ten games, when there were only two points for a win.
“He sent for me on a Sunday, which was normally your day off. I lived in Cockfosters at the time and went over to see him in Shepherd’s Bush. He had a bottle of champagne with him and I thought ‘Ya beauty, I’m getting a new contract’.
“He said ‘Mr Manager?’. I said ‘Yes, Mr Chairman?’. He said ‘I’m calling it a day’. I said ‘Don’t be daft, you’re doing a great job’. He said ‘You’re fired’. He wanted to bring Terry Venables in who was birds of a feather with him.
“He asked me how much I was owed in severance money and I said ‘£40,000’. He offered me £20,000 and I said ‘I’ll take it’. He said ‘Why are you taking £20,000 when I owe you £40,000?’. I told him if I didn’t take £20,000, I’d get nothing and he said I was right.
“He counted the money out in notes into my hand and said ‘How did you get over here today?’. I told him I’d come over in my club car and he snatched the keys out of my hand. I said ‘How am I going to get home?’ – he said ‘Get a taxi, you’ve got £20,000!’. I just burst out laughing and he told me I would have made a great car salesman.”
Stand-up comic would have been more suitable alternative employment for this force of nature from the Gorbals. But there is, occasionally, a serious side to Docherty and it shows when he talks about his Hall of Fame inclusion.
“I was surprised when they called to tell me about it,” he said. “I thought they had forgotten about me. I was absolutely delighted, it’s a great honour. The hardest part was not telling anyone before the event – you are sworn to secrecy.
“This even surpasses my caps for Scotland – and playing for my country meant everything to me.
“When I look at some of the names in the Hall of Fame, it puts it into perspective. It’s something which will be there forever and can’t be obliterated.”