Celtic footballer

Celtic footballer

Born: May 5, 1921; Died: September 29, 2014.

Hugh "Dick" Doherty, who has died of cancer aged 93, was, at the time of his death, the oldest former Celtic player.

Doherty was born and raised in Buncrana, County Donegal. He was spotted by Celtic while playing in a pre-season match, in Coleraine, in August 1939 and immediately the teenaged winger was invited to Celtic Park for a trial.

He duly travelled to Glasgow with his father and impressed manager Willie Maley enough, playing as a trialist against Vale of Leven, to be offered terms.

That match was played on September 1, 1939. However, when he arrived at Celtic Park the following day for signing talks, the United Kingdom had just declared war on Germany so, he and his father returned to Donegal.

He spent the war years, during which the Republic was neutral, playing in the League of Ireland and the Irish League for Derry City and Dundalk, whilst working in the family business - the Doherty family owned a farm and a butcher's shop; he also worked in his uncle's pub in Derry.

Celtic, however, had not forgotten him and, at the end of the war, he was invited back to Glasgow, after starring in an exhibition match in Donegal in which several holidaying Celtic players had played.

Doherty, by now 25, made his first-team debut at Celtic Park, against Queen of the South, in a league match, on January 4, 1947. Celtic won 2-0, but the debutant was carried off with a head cut which required several stitches.

Undaunted, he was back in the team the following Saturday, for a visit to Hampden to play Queen's Park, his head wound covered by a rugby scrum-cap. He was selected again for the following game, at Third Lanark, then retained his place for the Scottish Cup, round one, clash with Dundee at Dens Park.

The "Dee", who were then leading Division B, as the Scottish Second Division was then known, posted a major shock when they won this one 2-1 and Doherty was allegedly criticised for missing a second-half "sitter", which might well have taken the game to a replay. This miss, however, is not mentioned in The Herald's match report.

At the end of that season, Doherty was released by Celtic, but he almost immediately signed for Blackpool, only to discover they had also signed another outside-right, the legendary Wizard of the Dribble, Stanley Matthews, from Stoke City. It was obvious that Matthews, then arguably the world's top player, would be a first-choice, leaving Doherty to fill in whenever he was injured, or absent on England duty.

A serious knee injury, which required surgery, cut short Doherty's Blackpool career after just one season - 1947-48, which ended with the Sea­siders losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final. Blackpool decided the injury was serious enough for them to pay him off and cancel his contract.

He came back to Glasgow, where he trained with Clyde in an effort to resurrect his career. Raith Rovers were interested in signing him, but when his knee collapsed in an abortive come-back game, he reluctantly accepted his top-flight career was over and returned to Donegal.

He was able to play at amateur level back in Ireland, including turning out for Buncrana Hearts, a team he had co-founded in 1944; then, to become one of the driving forces behind grassroots football in Donegal over many years. Indeed, this dedication to the game was rewarded when he was honoured by, among others, the Ulster Football Association.

He also received the Football Association of Ireland's (FAI's) John Sherlock Service to Football award and the Donegal Sports Star Hall of Fame award.

He worked as an official for the Ulster Senior League, the UFA and he was still, at the time of his death, assistant treasurer of the Inishowen League, a body he had helped form.

When he celebrated his 90th birthday, Celtic invited him to return to the club as a guest of the directors, but, sadly, he was too ill to take up the offer and indeed, he never did make it back to Kerrydale Street.

While serving on the committee of the Ineshowen League, he covered the league's affairs for local newspapers such as the Derry Journal and the Donegal People's Press. He would gather the match information and his wife Eithne would type it up, at first on a typewriter, before investing in a computer.

Eithne, who pre-deceased Dick in 2006, was a Dublin girl, who had come to Buncrana to manage a draper's shop. She met her husband at a dance, during which, the non-smoking, teetotal Doherty wooed her with the offer of an ice cream.

The Dohertys had five children. Anthony and Ann-Marie pre-deceased their parents and he is survived by Deidre, Denis and Eamon and four grandchildren.

Doherty was a prominent member of the Donegal community. He was active in Irish politics as long-term member of the Fine Gael party, was a friend of former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and was a long-serving town councillor and JP in Buncrana.

He was also very independent, living alone and looking after himself until he had to be hospitalised with cancer in the final weeks of his life, although he was allowed to leave hospital to die in the care of his family.