City DNA #9: Peter Doherty
“The genius of geniuses”…
As testimonials go, they surely don’t come any grander than the one bequeathed to the legendary Peter Doherty, one of Northern Ireland’s greatest-ever players and inspiration behind City’s first-ever Division One title success back in 1937.
The warm words came from no lesser a luminary than Len Shackleton – one of English football’s greatest talents in the pre and post-war era – who was in no doubt as to Doherty’s magical qualities.
And for City, Doherty’s prowess was to prove especially significant.
One of that rare breed – both a visionary player and manager – the swift, elegant, will o’the wisp forward enjoyed a magnificent playing career that took in spells with, amongst others, Blackpool, Huddersfield Town and Doncaster Rovers.
But it is for his time at City between 1936 and 1945 that Doherty is arguably best remembered.
A native of Londonderry, Doherty began his career with Coleraine and Glentoran, whom he helped lift the Irish Cup, before crossing the Irish Sea at the age of 19, to take up an offer with Blackpool in 1933.
Comfortable in the tightest of spaces, Doherty’s elegant movement, natural skill and predatory finishing skills endeared him to the Seasiders’ fans and caught the eyes of admirers both near and far – not least City.
After netting 29 goals in 87 appearances for the Tangerines, fate intervened as City came-a calling.
With Second Division Blackpool in urgent need of cash, City made their move in February 1936 though, initially, their quarry was reluctant about the idea of moving.
Happily settled in Lancashire and about to marry a local girl, Doherty was dead-set against leaving the Fylde coast but a then club-record fee of £10,000 ensured the deal went through despite his reservations.
Within 18 months, Doherty had more than repaid the fee as he proved the inspirational catalyst behind the Blues’ charge to our maiden first division title.
Initially however, Doherty struggled to make much impact at Maine Road, with the player himself admitting his first season at the Club was ‘uneventful’.
After a humdrum debut display against Preston, one City wag allegedly claimed: “"Ten thousand pounds? More like ten thousand cigarette cards!"
All that was to change over the course of what was to prove a historic 1936/37 campaign.
Initially, City flattered to deceive – despite a steady supply of goals from Doherty – and we were in the lower depths of the table as Christmas approached with Wilf Wild’s side at one stage recording just one win in 12 games.
However, a 2-1 Boxing Day win over Middlesbrough at Maine Road proved to be the catalyst for a remarkable upturn in fortunes.
Inspired by Doherty’s presence, City went on a 22-match unbeaten run as they gradually closed the gap on leaders Arsenal.
That set up a dramatic April home clash with George Allison’s Gunners – the pre-eminent side of the era. Roared on by 75,000 supporters, City stormed to a decisive 2-0 win with Doherty opening the scoring.
The victory was enough to send the Blues top of the table and it was to be a lead we would not relinquish, City going on to win three of our final four games to secure our first title with Doherty’s 30 goals the decisive factor.
It was to prove the high point of Doherty’s time in Manchester – with defending champions City suffering the indignity of being relegated the following season despite his 25 goals.
After a season in the second division, and a prodigious return of 79 goals from 130 games, the onset of the World War Two saw football take a back-seat as Doherty embarked on duty in the RAF as a PT instructor-sergeant
Despite his military duties, Doherty – who was also capped 16 times by Northern Ireland - remained registered as a City player and scored 60 goals in 89 wartime matches.
He also guested for numerous other clubs during the war years, including Manchester United and Liverpool, and by the time peace had returned, he moved on to Derby County, helping the Rams lift the 1946 FA Cup final, where he scored in their 4-1 Wembley win over Charlton.
Doherty then went on to enjoy successful spells at both Huddersfield Town and latterly Doncaster Rovers before taking up the managerial reins.
After cutting his teeth as player-manager with Doncaster, Doherty went on to spend 11 years in charge of Northern Ireland.
As a manager, Doherty proved to be as innovative and forward-thinking as he had been as a player.
He emphasised the value of ball practice and instead of endless laps of the pitch, he introduced volley-ball, "to promote jumping, timing and judgement"; basket-ball, "to encourage split-second decision-making and finding space"; and walking football, "to build up calf muscles".
The pinnacle of his time in charge of Northern Ireland saw him guide his country to the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, where they reached the quarter-finals – a feat which remains their best-ever achievement at a major tournament.
Later still, his football influence was still evident.
Towards the tail end of his career, Doherty became a scout for Liverpool for whom, amongst others, he helped identify the burgeoning talents of one Kevin Keegan when Mighty Mouse was playing with Scunthorpe.
Peter passed away in 1990 but his influence and impact still resonates to this day – and he was deservedly inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
But perhaps his overall impact was best summed up by Shackleton.
In his autobiography, Shackleton – dubbed the Clown Prince of English football thanks to his flamboyant and entertaining nature - declared: "Peter was surely the genius among geniuses.
"possessor of the most baffling body swerve in football, able to perform all the tricks with the ball, owning a shot like the kick of a mule, and, with all this, having such tremendous enthusiasm for the game that he would work like a horse for ninety minutes.
“That was pipe-smoking Peter Doherty, the Irish redhead who, I am convinced, had enough football skill to stroll through a game smoking that pipe-and still make the other twenty-one players appear second-raters.”
Did you know: It is claimed that the phrase ‘The Beautiful Game’ was coined in honour and appreciation of Doherty’s magical qualities.