Whilst you get ex players playing against Manchester United, ex managers is a much rarer situation. Matt Busby, as he was then, had careers with both Manchester City and Liverpool, but managers since would rarely have played against United, although, incredibly, two of them Tommy Docherty and Frank O’Farrell were both in Preston North End sides against the Busby Babes.
Tommy had a fine career with Preston and then Arsenal, where he played alongside another Manchester United connection in David Herd, and of course representing Scotland before turning to management. In that he was a very high profile figure, with his time at Manchester United still fondly looked at by followers of that period. You can only take people as you find them and I like Tommy Docherty, no airs or graces or an I am type, and very, very interesting to talk to!
As you would expect, he is a very capable after dinner speaker, quick on his feet always a funny quip, still much in demand now in his 80’s.I always loved being alongside him on the top table. He goes back to his time as manager of a very fine, young Chelsea side of the early 1960’s as England was rocking in the swinging sixties with the King’s Road there a well known street which attracted all the in crowd of the time(including our own George Best!) That Chelsea side had players such as John Hollins, Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti, Terry Venables and Peter Osgood.
Tommy Doc, being Tommy Doc, did not let names influence him and talks of the famous incident when the team stayed overnight at Blackpool for a must win match and he sent half of them home for being out late! This was the start of Chelsea blowing up and of Tommy being replaced as manager.
When Tommy arrived at Old Trafford in December 1972 from managing the Scotland National side, he took over a side still coming to terms with the retirement of Sir Matt Busby, having had the period of Wilf McGuinness as boss. There then followed relegation, promotion and FA Cup Finals both of a losing and of a magnificent victory nature over Liverpool. That he is still married to the lady he was then having an affair with Mary Brown, which cost him his job, tends to get forgotten. It was not a one night stand.
When Tommy talks about football and the players he has been involved with, one name always keeps cropping up, the late Sir Tom Finney. Tommy simply idolises him both as a player and a man. I also have to say that Tom Finney was as good a player as I have ever seen in any other than a Manchester United shirt. I saw him play at 7, 8, 9 10 and 11 and he was quite simply a magnificent forward. He was able to play with both feet, great crosser of the ball and a goal scorer. Another ex Preston great was also somebody Tommy speaks highly, Bill Shankly the former Liverpool manager legend.
Tommy recalls a big London dinner where Bill was guest and the London scribes were all over him for a quote. Now, the bright lights of the capital was not what Bill appreciated and with the air full of cigar smoke, he was asked how Mick Channon, then the flavour of the month would compare to Tom Finney . ‘Well Mick is a fine player, and yes, probably level with Tom Finney, but then again Tom is now 60!’
I well remember a couple of dinners alongside Tommy. One at The Cresta Court in Altrincham he had them eating out of his hands with his stories of the game. After his talk we went on with an Irish comedian called Paddy Green and then got to the raffle and auction. Now around this time, Tiger Woods had just won his first major and one of the auctions was a picture of Tiger, autographed in its frame. As I say, Tiger Woods was only just getting well known so we started at about £25 but a couple of the punters really wanted this picture. As the price exploded towards £500, Tommy said to Paddy Green, ‘I hope you have spelt Tiger right Paddy, there is only one g in it you know!’ Thankfully it was an original and one bloke went home with his prized possession for £550!
Another time we were both at this little club directly opposite Bloomfield Road in Blackpool. Again, Tommy’s view of football and footballers put the audience in a good mood. We both decided to go to a local hotel after the show for a drink, when the club secretary asked if we could just go behind the curtains for a couple of minutes whilst he asked us something. There was about about four strippers in various state of undress and he said, ‘Do you fancy earning a bit more and introducing the girls later?’ Tommy looked at me, burst out laughing and said ‘I think we will be safer going for that drink Roy!’ as we declined the offer!
Now, as I said earlier, you can really only take people as you find them and other Manchester United personnel I have been at dinners with have a different view of Tommy. None of George Best, Denis Law and Pat Crerand for example speak well of him. For my part, I look forward to seeing him again soon as he is bound to have something to say about current affairs at Old Trafford. Sorry about the pun!