Picture the scene.
It’s April 1974. Manchester City have just taken the lead at Old Trafford and United, with two games remaining, needed to win both and hope Birmingham City lost their match.
Former United legend Denis Law had just back-heeled City ahead late in the game and an already emotional Old Trafford erupts, first with a few interlopers on to the pitch and then a full scale pitch invasion.
Mike Doyle – the antithesis of all things red – is caught in the middle of the melee, but calmly walks towards the tunnel where many players from both sides had already sprinted off to.
Surrounded by hundreds of baying United fans, Doyle calmly stops, turns around with his hands on hips and stares. None of the baying mob takes it further and he walks off without incident.
November 25 was his birthday and in 2020, he would have been 74 today.
Doyle’s City career finished more than four decades ago, but the former skipper, hard man and Manchester derby agitator is fondly remembered and still talked about some 40-plus years since he last pulled on the shirt he loved so much.
Doyle’s passion was Manchester City and everything the Club stood for at a time when the Blues and Reds were slugging it out for the city’s bragging rights, he was the player who understood, perhaps better than anyone, what it meant to play for City.
It’s often said that football supporters want to see one thing more than anything else – a passion for the shirt and to play as they would play, given the chance.
Doyle was acutely aware of that and he made it his mantra to, as that wonderful flag our fans used to drape at home games, ‘play like we dream’. He achieved that and so much more.
He once said: “If I had to pack the game in tomorrow I would go straight out and buy a season ticket for City. And I would be there at the reserve, youth team and friendly games. I grew up in a town that only wanted to know Manchester United and I’ve been lucky enough to help change that. Let’s face it, I’m a City fanatic. I’m the guy on the terraces who has been given the chance to put down his rattle and step out for the team he loves.”
But boy, did Mike Doyle love to wind the Reds up. He once claimed there were only two teams in Manchester – Manchester City and Manchester City Reserves – and that pretty much sums up one of the Club’s most decorated players.
His quotes ahead of the Manchester derby are the stuff of legend, with one of his most remembered being, “I was gutted when Manchester United were relegated as it was a guaranteed four points (it was two for a win back then) gone.”
Doyle was incapable of giving less than 100 per cent and was both tough and uncompromising on the pitch. He was famed for his dislike of Manchester United and before the Manchester derbies of the 1960s and 70s, journalists would approach Doyle for a quote that would invariably stir things up - and City fans loved him for it!
Mike called a spade a spade, and if people didn’t like what he had to say, tough - he’d say it anyway. His autobiography ‘Blue Blood’ said everything about Mike Doyle and this writer was lucky enough to spend six months helping ghost his hard-hitting life story.
His journey began when he joined City in 1962 as an apprentice. Chief scout Harry Godwin visited his home in Reddish after hearing several clubs were on his trail. Apparently, Godwin said he knew he had a good chance of signing the Stockport Boys half-back when he saw his father’s police helmet on the dining room table with a City programme next to it!
Godwin didn’t have to convince the teenager to join City – he jumped at the chance and soon made an impression at Maine Road, once asking Bert Trautmann if his back was OK after conceding eight goals and having to bend down and collect the ball out of the net against Wolves!
Trautmann wasn’t impressed, pinned him up against the wall and told the lippy youngster what he’d do if he showed a lack of respect again and he ended up washing Bert’s Volkswagen Beetle every week for the next few months.
An important lesson learned, Doyle buckled down and made his first-team debut at Cardiff City in March 1964. Welsh legend John Charles gave the skinny 17-year-old something of a pummelling, though he stuck to his task and held his own in a 2-2 draw.
Joe Mercer was quick to spot his potential when he took over as manager the following year and Doyle played 19 League games, scoring seven goals after playing several matches as an emergency striker and bagging an impressive six goals in four games.
It wasn’t until the 1967/68 campaign that Doyle was finally handed the No.4 jersey for keeps and he formed part of the backbone of the side that won the title that season, playing 40 of the 42 League games.
As the years went on, he liked nothing more than to wind United fans up, once claiming he loved playing the Reds because it was “four easy points” (it was just two points for a win back then). He even claimed he was “gutted” when United were relegated in 1974 – but only because it was the loss of two guaranteed victories.
Doyle seemed to dig even deeper when City played United and was on the losing side just once in the 16 derbies he played in between March 1968 and September 1975 – quite a feat.
After adding winner’s medals for the 1969 FA Cup and 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup, Doyle continued to be a permanent fixture in the City starting XI, gradually moving to centre-half from his usual half-back role.
His form at club level was such that he was included in the provisional squad for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, but when his wife Cheryl fell ill, he stayed by her bedside and informed England he wasn’t available for selection.
He finally won the first of his five England caps in 1975 and the arrival of Dave Watson saw Doyle forge a superb central defensive partnership that became the scourge of strikers throughout the land.
Doyle was also handed the captain’s armband in ’75 for the first time and he celebrated his first year as skipper by lifting the League Cup in February 1976 with a 2-1 win over Newcastle.
Doyle almost captained City to the title the following year, too, missing out by a single point to Liverpool, though a persistent knee injury meant it was also the beginning of the end of his City career.
He managed just 13 starts during the 1977/78 season before calling time on his 16-year association with tCity by joining Stoke in June 1978 for a fee of £50,000. In total, he’d played 558 times for City and scored 40 goals
He later had spells with Stoke, Bolton and Rochdale before retiring in 1984. Though Mike passed away in 2011 aged 64, he often spoke with pride of his grandson Tommy Doyle and how, even aged four, he dreamed, Tommy would carry on the family name and one day play for City.
He said: "Scott’s little lad Thomas has definitely got something and just might make a footballer, one day. Dennis Tueart promised to keep an eye out for Thomas, saying he had a ‘great pedigree’ and he’d be thrilled if he made it to City’s Academy in the future.”
He did and Tommy has probably even gone beyond his grandad’s wildest hopes and dreams.
The Doyle name does indeed live on at City.
Mike Doyle was almost a player City fans imagined into life. Tough, fearless, loyal and someone who played with passion and total commitment. He spoke his mind and spoke from the heart and he was idolised on the terraces because of it. He was also a very good footballer who played close to 600 games for our football club.
We may never see his like again.