Managing Scotland was a small part of Docherty's story

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Former Scotland manager Tommy Docherty
Former Scotland manager Tommy Docherty

Nostalgia is merely another invitation for Tommy Docherty to deploy his wit. Every anecdote is accompanied by a one-liner, and it is evident why he has become an accomplished after-dinner speaker.

All the same, the repartee as he looks back on his life in football does not diminish the extent of what was a remarkable career. Few managers, after all, would consider a spell in charge of their country as merely one of many notable dramatic episodes.

There might be an element of self-protection in Docherty's quips. He makes light of the most disruptive period, when he recounts the end of his spell as Manchester United manager.

His affair with Mary Brown, the wife of the Old Trafford physio Lawrie Brown, was made public and the directors sacked Docherty. The following day he was offered the manager's job at Derby County, then United were drawn with his new side in the cup at Old Trafford.

After the tie, Docherty was quizzed about a chat he was seen having with Lawrie Brown. "Not a lot," Docherty replied when asked what Brown had said to him. "He just said, 'how's the wife?'" As always, the laughter that follows is throaty and sustained.

Docherty ended up marrying Mary Brown and they remain together now. His managerial career never recovered its old status, but his regrets are based upon leaving the Scotland job to go to Manchester United rather than the upheavals of his personal life.

"She's the best thing that ever happened to me," he said of Mary Brown. "Without a shadow of doubt. Gorgeous, a lovely lady, and I'd be lost without her. She's worth a hundred Man Uniteds."

Docherty is capable of veering between sentiment and humour, but insight often breaks through. He views his time in charge of Chelsea, for instance, as the best of his management career.

In a six-year spell, he returned the club to the top flight, won the League Cup and might have won the championship if a group of players had not broken a curfew and forced Docherty to drop them ahead of a crucial game.

There was a genuine managerial talent within the unabashed opinions and gruff wit. The Scottish Football Association were convinced enough to ask if he would manage the national team, at a time when Docherty's job was assistant manager to Terry Neill at Hull City.

"Hugh [Nelson, SFA chief executive] phoned me and he said would you be interested in becoming the manager of Scotland? Come to the Esquire House hotel at Anniesland Cross, we'll have a spot of lunch and discuss it," Docherty said.

"So I went along and after five minutes, no more, the job was mine, £7,000 a year and a Rover car. It was as simple as that, the quickest appointment ever.

"I think [it was the best squad of players Scotland have ever had]. If I had to pick a squad of 20, it was very difficult, I'd be thinking, I can't leave him out, or him.

Tommy Docherty told Sir Matt Busby that he would consider leaving Scotland for Manchester United, a decision he looks back on with regret
Tommy Docherty told Sir Matt Busby that he would consider leaving Scotland for Manchester United, a decision he looks back on with regret

"The first thing I did when I got the job was phone Don Revie [the Leeds United manager]. I was looking for a balance in the team immediately, so I thought Harvey in goal, Bremner, Lorimer and Eddie Gray and I'm up and running. I thought, Dalglish with that lot, and Macari and the boy Stein at Rangers...

"Bremner was a great captain. He used to come to me and say, 'boss, can the boys have a drink? There's a wee pub down the road, can we go?' I said, 'aye, but Billy, 10 o'clock, back here'.

"He said, 'boss, if I have to drag them back here, they'll be back don't you worry about that'. He never once let me down."

Docherty spent 13 months in charge of Scotland and steered the team to the brink of qualification for the 1974 World Cup finals. There was a restlessness to Docherty, though. Apart from his spells at Chelsea and at Manchester United, Docherty did not stay in a management position for more than two years.

The lure away from Scotland was the opportunity at Old Trafford. Frank O'Farrell was struggling, and Docherty was approached by Sir Matt Busby in the Selhurst Park board room after United were defeated 5-1 by Crystal Palace.

"He said, 'would you be interested in the job?'" Docherty recalled. "I said, 'certainly'. That was the biggest mistake I made, I was stupid, I should have stayed with Scotland.

"But I was concerned I might miss the chance. [It was] partly the money, I must be honest about that. Man United offered me £15,000. It was partly greed and stupidity.

"I was getting a bit too strong at the SFA and I don't think they liked that either. I had a contract with Scotland and they could have held out and said to Man United, 'we want some compensation'.

"But that wasn't asked for at all. I think they were quite glad to get rid of me. I was becoming quite strong with some of them as well."

Docherty ended George Best's attempts to revive his career at United, allowed Denis Law to leave and oversaw the retirement of Bobby Charlton. There was relegation, promotion and two FA Cup finals - one of which United won - before news of the affair broke and Docherty was sacked.

In the end, Docherty managed 13 clubs, which included three spells at Queens Park Rangers. The game's recollection of him is of a wise-cracking figure with forthright views. It is perhaps, then, not surprising that there is little warmth between him and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Tommy Docherty instructs Martin Buchan and Davie Hay at a Scotland training session
Tommy Docherty instructs Martin Buchan and Davie Hay at a Scotland training session

They share working-class backgrounds in Glasgow as well as time in charge of Manchester United, but there is no empathy between them.

"Nothing happened, because I don't know him," Docherty said. "I couldn't honestly say I know Fergie at all.

"He doesn't agree with anything I do, obviously, and I don't blame him for that. I don't agree with a lot of things he does. Personally, I think he's a bit of a bully.

"Fergie is the greatest manager ever. I admire the man as a manager and what he's done for Aberdeen and at Man United, he's unbelievable. I wouldn't be ill-mannered to him if I saw him."

Docherty admits that his "big mouth got me into a lot of trouble", but there is a warmth to his recollections rather than spite or a desire to settle scores. He jokes, for instance, about telling the new chairman at Chelsea that "if I want your advice, I'll give it to you". A week later, he was sacked and soon in a job at Rotherham United.

He represents a different outlook, though, since Docherty played for Scotland at the 1958 World Cup before managing through the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The game must now seem like an extreme version of the business that Docherty encountered, since the scrutiny, media coverage and finances have all vastly inflated.

"The game as I knew it has gone," he said. "There's too much money. I'm all for a player getting a great salary if he does the business, but bad players are millionaires today. Bad managers are millionaires today.

"Only a couple of years ago I phoned up for a couple of tickets for one of the [Man United] games and they invoiced me for £88 quid. [Man United] charged me for it.

"It seems to be at Man United it still hangs over me how I left. I wouldn't cross the road now to watch Man United, because of two tickets. What's that to them?"