Born: April 24, 1928;

Died: December 31, 2020.

TOMMY Docherty was in a reflective mood when he spoke to a journalist after a stint as one of the guest speakers at a sportsman’s dinner at an East Kilbride hotel, in May 1990. At around midnight, over a few gins in the hotel bar, he confessed that when the going had got tough from his numerous well-publicised travails that had studded his career and his personal life, he would visit children’s hospitals to spread some cheer.

“You go there and see people suffering from various illnesses and you think, why the hell am I feeling sorry for myself?” he told the Evening Times’s Gavin Docherty. “I think if you have got your health and strength you are a multi-millionaire.’’

With “something halfway between a smile and a sneer”, the journalist wrote, Tommy Docherty said: “I had a finger pressing on the self-destruct button, know what I mean?” in reference to some of his old escapades. He said that he just wanted to be remembered as somebody who gave a lot of satisfaction, and brought a smile to people’s faces.

Docherty, who has died aged 92, was one of British football’s most colourful characters. After retiring as a player he managed a succession of clubs, including Chelsea, with whom he won the 1965 League Cup, and Manchester United, with whom he won the 1977 FA Cup; he had transformative effects on both sides and restored their swagger.

He managed the Scotland national team for 13 months in 1971-72, recording seven wins in 12 matches, before leaving for the Old Trafford job.

Throughout his long career he was renowned for his witty asides. “I come from an area of Glasgow called the Gorbals.” he once said. “If you wanted a new pair of shoes you went to the public baths. It was so draughty in our house, the wind blew the lock off the gas meter.”

His memoirs contained further examples. He once advised Sir Stanley Matthews: “Stan, should you ever find yourself being chased by a police dog, don’t crawl under a tarpaulin, run up a little flight of steps, then jump through a hoop of fire. They’re trained for that.”

And: “Because of televising around the world, Jim Watt fought for the world title at two in the morning. What they didn’t know was that was to Jim’s advantage. Everybody fights at two in the morning in Glasgow”.

Towards the end of his career, the Doc, as he was known, was manager at the English club, Wolves. It was an unhappy period and, after one heavy defeat, he encountered a Wolves fan who was gathering signatures to get Docherty out.

“Here, give me that petition,” he told the man. “I’ll sign it myself.” And he did.

Docherty was born in the Gorbals, in 1928. It was, he would recollect, an area “where illness and malnutrition were a constant threat to family life”. The family – father, mother and two children – slept in the same bed. He was just seven when his father died from pneumonia (“all I remember is the funeral”) and he was raised thereafter by his mother, Georgina, who worked as a charlady and would awake at dawn in order to get the money necessary to look after her son and daughter.

He attended school in Shettleston, leaving at 12, and got a job as a grocer’s delivery boy. At 17, he was doing his National Service with the HLI. He was on guard duty at the King David Hotel in Palestine when it was blown up by terrorists, in 1946. “We lost two or three very good lads there. We were just lucky to get away with it”, he said in an interview with two Chelsea FC academy players in 2019.

Football was his salvation; it had taken him away from guard duties while in the HLI. He joined Celtic on £7 a week, from Shettleston Juniors, but in 1949 he switched to Preston North End, where his team-mates included Tom Finney. His 300-plus appearances at Preston included a losing appearance in the 1954 FA Cup final.

He subsequently played for Arsenal and Chelsea. He earned 25 Scotland caps, eight as manager; they took in the 1954 World Cup, in Switzerland. “I swear to God that during the Uruguay national anthem, which took about 15 minutes, I sweated away eight pounds. When they scored their first goal  [of seven] I was delighted because a South American reporter ran on to the field to interview the scorer and it gave us a breather.’’

His glory days as a manager came with Chelsea (1961-1967) and Manchester United (1972-1977). Shortly after United won the 1977 FA Cup triumph, however, it was disclosed that Docherty, who was married with children, was having an affair with Mary Brown, wife of the club physio. After two weeks of unwelcome publicity the  club sacked him; and Laurie Brown is reputed to have given him a black eye.

Docherty went on to manage a handful of other clubs, retiring in 1988 as manager of Altrincham FC. He was a match-day pundit at Old Trafford, though Alex Ferguson banned him from the ground after he had made a typically forthright assessment of a United player.

Docherty himself has been assessed, in the days since his death, as being a brilliant motivator and spotter of talent, whose abilities had ensured that his Chelsea and Manchester United teams had been genuine entertainers.

His eventful private life, one sportswriter notes, had slightly dragged attention away from his managerial capabilities over 28 years. But he remains one of the most forceful, and charismatic, of football managers of his era.