On Friday, I was honoured to have a man sit in my living room who is a hero to a great many people and admired by many, many more. I refer, of course, to the man in the picture; Tommy Docherty, a legend in so many ways. And the reason he was there at all is simple; my old man and I were having a lengthy discussion on who the oldest living ex-Celtic player is and Tommy was one of the names on our shortlist. He may even be right at the top of it.
The discussion itself arose from the chats I often have with my folks about the great moments from their own Celtic supporting lives; the history of our great club is inexorably woven with that of my family. My folks met at a taxi rank at Glasgow Cross one night, when my dad offered my mum his scarf because it was raining. My gran on my mum’s side got to know King Kenny when her son, James, who I’m named after, got cancer and, sadly, died in his teens; Kenny was a frequent visitor when James was sick. When my granny on my dad’s side passed away (both my grannies died on Christmas Day just a few years apart; how unusual is that?) the funeral was held on the day of a Rangers game and every one of us went from the crematorium to a nearby hotel and sat down to cheer on the Bhoys to a famous victory.
Every one of us reveres this club and the impact it’s had on us.
So when my dad started thinking about who the oldest living player might be it sparked an interesting discussion. He spoke to a few of the guys on the CSA committee, and John Andrews, who knows Tommy well, said that he’d be coming to town and he would get him to pop over and do a piece for the blog.
And so he did and it was a thrill, I have to say.
My old man and Tommy go back a while too, and there’s a story about Tommy which highlights the sort of man he is and why he’s so well liked amongst our fans. Let me give you some background to this tale first, for a nice comparative.
A few years back, Tommy wanted to attend a match at Old Trafford with his family and so he got them to make a call to the club for some tickets. He’s a previous boss there, of course, and they fixed him up with them no problem. Or so he thought. About a week or so after the game though, he got an invoice in the post; they were actually charging him £88 for the tickets. Needless to say, Tommy, who’s not shy about speaking his mind, was not happy.
Fast forward a year or two, and he got in touch with my old man and the CSA boys about finding tickets for a Celtic game up at Hamilton. My old man got him some for the main stand, next to the big-wigs there. A party of four travelled to the match, and they took their seats, enjoying the view and the day out.
But Tommy is not exactly the kind of guy you can miss; Hamilton fans sitting near him quickly recognised him and were soon surrounding him asking for his autograph, shaking hands, pleased and delighted to see such an esteemed figure.
And at that point, Hamilton’s directors twigged as to who they had in the stand. They immediately came over, and offered to lay out the red carpet, pointing out that if they’d known he was going to be there they’d have rolled it out a lot quicker.
As grateful as he was for that – and how great a contrast between their reaction and that from the behaviour of the richest club in the world eah? – Tommy thanked them and said “maybe next time.” That day was already taken up with his first love, the reason he’d gone to the game in the first place; he was only interested in watching Celtic.
This is why I love all this stuff; this is what makes Celtic special. Guys like Tommy. Guys like Rod Stewart coming over for games. Guys who for all their success, for all their fame, when it comes down to it are just ordinary fans like the rest of us.
No airs or graces; just blokes in the stand, just guys who care about the team and the players on the park.
Tommy came down to see us and to talk about himself and the club; I decided not to ask him formal questions because I didn’t want it to be formal. Instead, I said “just talk.” And he did. It’s not for nothing that he’s popular on the after-dinner circuit!
As many of you will be aware, he was born here in Glasgow, in the Gorbals, and raised for a time in the Gallowgate. Tommy will be 90 on his next birthday; that is incredible and almost unbelievable when you meet the man and see how fit he looks and listen to how sharp he is. This guy has a tremendous memory, going all the way back to when he was a kid.
Back then, as he tells it, families took their washing “down to the steamie”, the old steam rooms in the tenements, and there they’d all meet up and chat, especially the wives. He recalls sitting reading the paper one day, about the crimes of Glasgow’s most notorious serial killer, Peter Manuel, and commenting to his mother that “they should hang this b@stard.”
And for his use of bad language he got a clip round the ear. “Hanging’s too good for him,” his mother said. “A slap in the face, that’s what I’d like to give him.”
Back in those days, the church played a real role in people’s lives. “The priest was never out of the house,” he said. “He enjoyed a cup of tea and a slice of toast.”
He was always a keen footballer, and was quickly tapped up by Shettleston.
In 1946, he got the call for National Service and he joined the Highland Light Infantry, where he became a top footballer from the army. It was there that he was first spotted by the professional clubs and his dream came true in 1947 when Celtic offered him a deal.
Years later, he was to say that there, Jimmy Hogan was the greatest influence of anyone on his career. But he wasn’t to be at Celtic long; he struggled to break into our first team squad and he got the bad news, in 1949, that the club had accepted an offer from Preston.
Amongst his memories in a Celtic shirt was a day at Ibrox, when he saw another player about to leave the pitch in tears. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “The crowd keeps shouting that I’m a f@nian so-and-so,” the guy told him. “Ach, they shout that to me all the time,” Tommy said, scornfully. “Aye,” his team-mate said, “But you are one!”
The Preston deal never sat right with Tommy. He always felt the club had made a mistake. “They told me I was too wee,” he said. “Too wee. And then they went out and signed (Bobby) Collins. He was only bloody 5’3.” He always felt he could have made it at Celtic.
Certainly, his size didn’t hamper his time at Preston; he played over 300 games for them, and he got to an FA Cup Final. He went to Arsenal after that and then Chelsea. It was whilst at Preston that he won his first caps; he considers the best of them to have been at Wembley, where he played so well that the Preston chairman asked to speak to him after the game.
He was offered a new deal on the spot. “My contract at that time was for £10 during the season and £8 in the summer,” he said. “Their offer was £12 in the season and £10 in the summer. I told them I wanted the same deal as Tom Finney. I knew they wouldn’t give it to me, but I was chancing my arm,” he said. “They came back to me and said, ‘Well, you’re not as good a player as Tom Finney.’ ‘I am in the summer,’” Tommy replied.
All the lessons he learned as a player enabled him to have one of the most diverse managerial careers of anybody in the game.
Even a list of the clubs makes you dizzy; 1961–1967 Chelsea, 1967–1968 Rotherham United, 1968 Queens Park Rangers, 1968–1970 Aston Villa, 1970–1971 Porto, 1971 Scotland (caretaker), 1971–1972 Scotland, 1972–1977 Manchester United, 1977–1979 Derby County, 1979–1980 Queens Park Rangers, 1981 Sydney Olympic, 1981 Preston North End, 1982–1983 South Melbourne, 1983 Sydney Olympic, 1984–1985 Wolverhampton Wanderers and in 1987–1988 he went to Altrincham.
Foremost amongst that lot, of course, are the times he spent as manager of Scotland and at Manchester United. He credits a Scottish journalist, Ken Gallagher, with ending up at Hampden. He was in Portugal at the time, and Gallagher had heard through the grapevine that Scotland would soon be looking for a new boss, and urged him to speak to the SFA.
He has regrets over how he left the job; he believes he should have stayed and taken the team to the 1974 World Cup Finals, and experienced the thrill of managing them in that oh-so famous group against the mighty Brazil.
But when Manchester United came calling it was something he simply couldn’t say no to; those who say he went there for more money are actually dead wrong. His salary at Hampden was around £15,000 a year, about £300 a week. He still has the contract at home, in a frame. His salary at Old Trafford was for exactly the same cash.
Tommy’s time there ended a little … controversially, and it perhaps accounts for appalling way they treated him over those match tickets. It was 1977, and he had just won the FA Cup for them, in the greatest moment of his managerial career. He had assembled a lean and hungry team that was capable, he thought, of big things.
And then it was over, because he’d been having an affair with the wife of the club physio. Tommy is about as open and genuine as anyone I’ve ever met; he told me he has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the few people who ever got to read about himself in News of The World courtesy of a family member (his daughter) selling a story to the tabloids.
“All I did was fall in love,” he told a newspaper years later and no-one can argue with that. It wasn’t a quick fling he had; it broke up his marriage and hers, but he and Mary Brown got hitched afterwards and stayed that way. It was The Real Thing.
“She is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says with no regrets at all.
I wondered whether that relationship ever caused him problems; he replied with the kind of story only he could tell. Years later, he was doing an after-dinner thing not knowing that the man in question, former physio Laurie Brown, was in the room. Afterwards, Brown came over and the two had a brief chat.
“I was talking to Mary after it, and I said to her, ‘He came up to talk to me.’” “Oh God,” she said. “What did he say to you?” “He asked me, ‘How’s the wife?’”
Is he having me on? Does it matter?
It’s the kind of thing that could happen! It’s the kind of story that he loves to tell.
But always, the conversation comes around to Celtic, to his first love, his most enduring one, and the subject matter is Brendan Rodgers who Tommy has always hugely admired. John Andrews confirms that when the club announced that Ronny would be leaving Tommy was vocal in his belief that the only man worthy of appointing was the former Liverpool boss.
John Andrews told us that he and Joe O’Rourke had been in Brendan’s office recently; a huge long room which had once belonged to the scouting department. It had been filled with computers and charts. Brendan had decided that the traditional manager’s office was not the kind of place you wanted to bring a guy you were trying to sign; he quickly insisted on the bigger room.
That’s the attention to detail – to every detail – Brendan brings to Celtic and it’s one of the many insights into our boss that the guys have gained talking to him in the last year and half since he was appointed. It’s little wonder that Tommy is unwavering about his belief that we have the right man in charge.
The respect in which Tommy himself is held in the game is enormous; he came to visit us shortly after being at an event at Hampden, where the great, the good, and Alex McLeish were in attendance, every one of them wanting to spend time with him.
He is an icon of Scottish football, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 and still able to hold a room captive.
And yet that man, on that day, found the time and took the trouble to come and speak to me, a Celtic blogger, and thus to all of you, all the better to show his commitment to and passion for our great club. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t matter doesn’t really get it. Celtic is no more a passing fancy or a fleeting part of our lives than Mary Brown was for Tommy; this is The Real Deal. This is love. And it lasts a lifetime.
He might be the oldest living Celtic player or he may not be, and Tommy Docherty might not have been at our club for long, but what matters to him and us is that our club never leaves him and is never far from his thoughts. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what love is. We are lucky to have people like this. We will always have them and that’s important because the next generation should know who they were and what they are part of.
It’s because of guys like this that we are the greatest club in the world, bar none.
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