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Author Topic: Tommy Docherty - a memory  (Read 1101 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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Tommy Docherty - a memory
« on: January 22, 2021, 05:36:33 PM »
"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!"

They say that William Wordsworth was expressing his spontaneous and powerful feelings regarding the French Revolution when he penned these immortal lines, but had he been sporting a claret and blue scarf and writing about the Villa takeover in December 1968 and its aftermath, that would have been just fine as well. The only thing fitting the description of an ancien regime in B6 were the old Villa board, who seemed to have been in charge forever. The age factor wasn’t so much the concern, more the fact that they seemed totally out of synch with the modern game, and as their ideas failed, so did the club, on and off the field.

Villa’s sides of the early sixties were full of promising young strivers who were out to make a name for themselves, having graduated through the youth system and having been given their chances by the fearless and well-liked Joe Mercer. Wright, Aitken, Tindall, Sleewenhoek, Deakin and Burrows all had plenty of ability. All that was needed was a leavening of experience to act as an on-field guide to all this burgeoning talent. Rumours of Mercer targets to fulfil this purpose included names like Dave Mackay, who it was hoped might be tempted down from Scotland, but the board didn’t want to spend too much, and anyway, the team was doing okay, so why not leave it?

This patent lack of ambition rivalled out and out sabotage when the board decided, in the same spirit, to run down the youth system and sell the training ground. Both policies were put forward as cost-cutting measures which might have looked fine on a balance sheet but had disastrous consequences back on the pitch. With no players coming through and spending restricted due to falling attendances to match the lack of ambition, the roots of Villa’s decline were only too obvious. After swirling around the drain for several years, relegation was finally confirmed in May 1967. Far from allowing Villa to recover and then come back, we found second division football as much of a struggle as the top level. Home performances had become as much of a trial as a treat, with crowd figures declining to the 12,000 level, shocking to witness in a wonderfully grand, if slightly worn, mostly all-standing Villa Park.

A dismal home defeat to Preston - still their last-ever win here (!) - was the final straw. The events that followed this moment have been covered in some depth by one of our most distinguished contributors who himself had a key role to play, and do not require re-hashing here. It’s enough to say that Villa were now up for sale, but who would be interested in buying them? Various rumours stalked the local press, including a consortium around local comedian Stan Stennett. In the end, a travel agent, name of Doug Ellis, who used to work for the club on the other side of the city, was at the head of the new board. Pat Matthews was the financier providing some backing, but along with these folks, a new manager would be required.

When it was subsequently announced that the boss of the side in this Brave New Era was to be Tommy Docherty, many were stunned. Here were boring, old out-of-date Villa with a manager rated as one of the real firebrands of the modern game. A big name like the Doc suggested big things were afoot; those who noted the manager’s recent playing record, including a relegation at Rotherham, and a mere month in charge at QPR, his last club, kept their own counsel. After all, where Villa were now, beggars could not afford to be choosers.

One immediate advantage of having the Doc in charge was that he was national news. It wasn’t just the local papers who wanted shots of the new board and manager on the terraces at Villa Park, viewing their new kingdom. With a bold personality like Docherty’s, it came as something of a shock to find that Arthur Cox, the caretaker boss, and soon to be the new assistant manager, would select the side, as he had been doing for the previous six weeks, while the Doc took a watching brief for his first game.

Call it luck if you will, but Villa got off to the perfect start when the unmarked Dick Edwards planted a header from a corner into the Holte net after four minutes. There were other chances to secure this lead but Villa’s toothless strikers once more failed to bite. As the game wore on, mid-table Norwich came more into it and equalised with about twelve minutes left. Thus, it seemed that instead of fireworks for Christmasmas, we would have to put up with a damp squib, when, just a few minutes later, Barrie Hole, ever a threat on the edge of the box, took aim but shinned the ball (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) which then looped past the wrong-footed Kevin Keelan in the Norwich net. That was the undistinguished winner, and while no-one in the 19,000 crowd (over fifty percent bigger than the previous home game) felt the world had changed, it was a decent enough start.

But this was a mere entrée. Boxing Day gave Villa another home fixture, this time against promotion-chasing Cardiff City, with the highly-rated Welsh international John Toshack leading their front line. Attendances at this time of the year are often swelled by cold turkey dodgers, but no-one would have anticipated a crowd of 41,000 for a struggling second division side. The conditions were hard in more senses than one on a near-frozen pitch, but Villa forewent studs for crepe soles and seemed better off for it. Hole scored again, this time with a powerful finish just inside the box. The clinching moment came when, from Mike Ferguson’s right-wing corner, new signing and captain Brian Tiler was first at the near post to thump his header into the net at the feet of the delighted Holte-enders. Fergie celebrated like it was a promotion-clincher. There was no way back for Cardiff after that. Villa fans went home happy again -only this time it really did feel like something special was going on.

Brian Tiler occupies an unusual but significant place in this piece of history. As Rotherham’s captain under Docherty, he was keen to be reunited with his old boss at QPR. The people upstairs at the West London club must have had their reasons for refusing to cough up the fee, which the Doc felt was a resignation issue. Moving down a division to Villa, the £35,000 fee was paid and the defender moved to B6. Had the QPR board supported their manager, would he have ended up at Villa Park?

Doc’s Dynamos continued to make the news, if only because of the weather. The game against the ultra-cautious Carlisle, managed by Bob Stokoe, could hardly be referred to as an attractive fixture. Heavy snowfalls and frozen pitches worked wonders, however, and as one of the few games in the country to take place that day, it drew rather more attention than it should have. Willie Anderson’s second-half winner made the headlines and made Villa a talking point in the Sunday papers. This continued into the next week, when Villa had a home cup tie against…yes, QPR! This had all the makings of the great Revenge Match, and lived up to its billing as Villa recovered from one-down to clinch it with a goal from Lionel Martin. Another bumper crowd of 39,000 was there and the atmosphere at Villa Park had undergone a complete transformation.

What, then, was the great secret of the Docherty Revolution? Nothing fancy, to be sure. The players talked of their new-found run-through-brick-walls approach, being first to the ball, and competing harder for the 50-50s. One  new ‘technique’ was centre-half Dick Edwards’s eagerness to leave his mark on the game nice and early. The thoughts of opposing strikers with their bruised calves are not known. The defence had tightened up with Tiler’s addition, so that every goal from a side that was still short in this regard, counted for at least a point. Remarkably, Villa did not concede more than a single goal in a league game after Docherty took over.

While the league form slowly began to even out after such a breath-taking start, and relegation was now regarded as a problem for other clubs to deal with, the cup adventure continued. Drawn away to top half first division side Southampton, few thought the Doc’s team would survive the examination. The pessimists were silenced when Villa raced into a two-goal lead, thanks to the Welsh connection, Godfrey and Hole. Back stormed the Saints after the break and levelled things against a back-line lacking the cup-tied Tiler.

At the front of the war wounds queue was Edwards, whose swollen nose marked his efforts to block a late goal-bound shot from Terry Paine. That bruising meant a replay at Villa Park under floodlights. Before a crowd of over fifty-nine thousand, Villa recovered once more to take the run into the fifth round. With a rare flicked header, the veteran wizard Peter Broadbent rolled back the years. Later, his pass led to a fifty-fifty challenge between the big centre-half John McGrath (no relation) and Wolverhampton-born winger Dave Rudge. The fearless Rudge, the epitome of Docherty-style energy and drive, nicked the ball over the tackle, raced to the edge of the Saints’ box and crossed it. The wily Godfrey dummied over the ball, and there was the Clee Hill Kid, Lionel Martin to sweep the ball in for the winner. What a night!! There have been a few games down the decades where the Villa faithful could feel justified in saying, “The Villa are back!” This was one of them.

And It wasn’t quite over yet. A re-arranged game at Spurs was the next challenge, a goalless first-half keeping Villa well in the game. When Jimmy Greaves scored the first of his two goals, Villa came straight back with a shot from Hole that brought many in the crowd (including the watching Hurst and Moore) to their feet. Spurs scored twice more before Peter Broadbent reprised his Peter Pan act with another fine near-post flicked header - and we were out.

As mentioned earlier, the league form had settled down enough for dreams of a top-half finish to wane, though the signing of the limited but enthusiastic Dave Simmons from Arsenal for a token fee, livened things up a bit. There wasn’t much subtlety in Big Dave’s game, but he found the net often enough to be an asset, his mini-bag of goals including a couple of crackers in a 3-1 home win against a good Blades side. He then slotted in another one, after a scrappy goalmouth scrum against Blues to give us a first derby win in four attempts, and thoroughly deserved it was, too. The preamble to this game, the last home match of an unforgettable season, saw the Doc make his way to the bench by cutting across the pitch. He sometimes did this to shake hands with opposition players he knew. This time he took a slight diversion and approached the edge of the Holte End penalty area. Once there, he stopped and took a bow of supplication as an acknowledgement of the great vocal support the team received from this section of the ground. Call it populism, playing to the crowd, Tommy knew how to put on a show and push the right buttons.

With the new board’s share issue having raised the more than decent sum of £200,000 for the club, Villa fans presumed that the players would have a good rest over the summer, while some of that cash would be spent on players who would, building on what we had already achieved, help us to a serious promotion challenge for the 1969-70 season. How wrong can you be? The Doc thought it would be a great idea to fly off to America and play in a summer tournament in hot conditions for the best part of a month. Plenty of other English and Scottish teams were out there as well, so it wasn’t just us. While out there, we also played a friendly against Atlanta Chiefs. The Doc was so impressed by their coach and two of their players that he came back with them in tow. For Vic Crowe, the new reserve team coach, it was a case of welcome back; for the Zambians Emment Kapengwe and Freddie Mwila, just welcome.

The new owners backed the manager, with exciting signings like Bruce Rioch and Ian ’Chico’ Hamilton giving us a pre-taste of a new, attacking Villa team. The highly-rated Rioch was a player rated as one of the stars of the future. The size of the fee required to prise him away from Luton Town, £100,000, also seemed to signal that the era of small-time Villa was over, at last. With the solid defence from the previous season, and the added attacking threat, many licked their lips at the prospect before them. A friendly win against Dunfirmline, who had enjoyed a good European run in the previous season, provided enough memorable moments -including a wonderful overhead-kick goal from free transfer signing Pat McMahon- to suggest that the good times were on their way. No-one felt like pointing out that none of the new signings had ever played at this level before.

All this made it even harder to take the opening day defeat at home to Norwich City, who were not expected to be in the promotion shake-up, despite their new manager Ron Saunders getting off to a good start. The Villa showing was very flat. A Glaswegian on the packed Holte that day, lashed out at those who backed Docherty, rasping, “He’s pulling the wool over your eyes!!”

Fans laughed, but at least we couldn’t say we weren’t warned. Improvement was slow in coming, but not changes. After one game, in which he had done nothing wrong, the reliable John Dunn was replaced by diminutive loanee Evan Williams in goal. The solid back-four of last year suddenly found themselves playing a man-marking system three games in; a move swiftly dropped after Swindon full-back Rod Thomas ran a full sixty yards unchallenged to get their second goal in a two-nil win. Unlucky one-goal defeats to Leicester and Middlesbrough meant one point from the first six games, not the start needed for a promotion challenge. When Millwall scored two quick goals after the break, the patience of the Villa crowd was exhausted. That old Trinity Road foot-stamp could give the players a boost when it signalled approval at the players’ efforts; that wasn’t the case here, as the fans, still waiting for their first home goal of the season, vented their merited frustrations. Happily, sub. Dave Rudge slipped in twice to salvage a draw and pinch any anti-Docherty sentiments in the bud. This was followed by two away defeats which left Villa where the Doc had found them -rock bottom.

Changes followed on changes. Having given youth player Jimmy Brown a debut at the ripe old age of fifteen at Bolton, Docherty also recalled two men who, for reasons best known to the boss, appeared to be out of the first-team picture in August - Brian Godfrey and Lew Chatterley, two proud Villa men who doubtless would have felt pained to have been forgotten. A mini-run of three games without defeat might have encouraged some stability in selection. Not a bit of it. Results weren’t always a guide as to who would keep their places, creating even more instability in the players’ minds.

Off the field, things were turning poisonous, with training often descending into pro- and anti-Docherty groups who relished getting stuck into one another. Even some of the ideas behind the training schedule beggared belief. Apparently, full-on sprint training was the order of the day under Arthur Cox, even on the morning of the match itself. No wonder that the players sometimes lacked that extra bit of zip. Morale crumbled a little more when it became clear that any transgression by a player would find its way into the local media. Finally, Docherty actually seemed to relish upsetting some of his players, gratuitously causing offence by refusing some senior men parking passes for games, leaving them to find a spot on the street. If the idea was to provoke a response, it sometimes worked, with some players having to be restrained from physically confronting the manager.

While all this was going on off the pitch, little was improving on it. A run of two wins in three successive home games brought hope of a revival but was only followed by a five-goal thrashing at Bramall Lane. By now another goalkeeper, young (of course!) John Phillips had come in from Shrewsbury, another one who had never played at this level. After a shocking home defeat to fellow strugglers Watford, where any luck that was going went for the visitors, the slow handclap made a comeback, a far cry from earlier in the year, which now took on the appearance of a false dawn. As a last desperate measure, the board emptied out the transfer kitty to bring in George Curtis from Coventry, the sort of experienced no-nonsense defender who might provide a lift. He certainly did on his debut at Swindon, scoring a headed equaliser in the second half for a good point.

With bad weather around, a dismal cup exit at the second attempt against Charlton was the prelude to a home game against Portsmouth that looked like a really good opportunity to pick up some points. Docherty, who never seemed quite sure where exactly Bruce Rioch should be played, pushed him up front and was rewarded with two good goals. Alas, the problems were all at the other end, as no fewer than five goals filled the home net. On the following Monday, Docherty was sacked, despite receiving the support of his chairman who was outvoted by the rest of the board. Ellis tried to cling to his dream of the Doc returning Villa to the top trailing clouds of glory, but it was over and Docherty, who had even offered to work for nothing should he be allowed to stay, left the ground in tears.

Still, the Doc was never short of work, nipping off to Porto for a spell, then assistant manager at Hull. He even had a year in charge of his national team, but dropped it when he heard the call from crisis-ridden Old Trafford. After relegation, he helped them bounce back with a young side that played with verve and spirit. At last, things were going well, with an FA Cup victory to mark his time there, then within a week he was sacked for off-the-pitch matters. That dismissal seemed to take it out of Docherty and the sequence of clubs he went on to manage achieved no success to speak of, quite the reverse. In the end, rather sadly, he became better known for his quick one-liners, than any footballing achievements. During a brief spell at Wolves, he said he had gone into the boardroom, opened the trophy cabinet, and two Japanese prisoners-of-war walked out. In the end, the laughs couldn’t mask the on-pitch decline.

That being the case, he seemed an absolute fit for the chat circuit, the sporting dinners, where he could speak well and with vivid humour. I attended one such feature in Sheffield in the late nineties, taking with me a book on football managers, which included a chapter on Tommy. When it was my turn to get it signed, I couldn’t help but remind him of those days of massive crowds, a resuscitated, famous old club where hope was once more on the rise. He looked up and said, simply, “Great days, son, great days.” Despite everything that came after, indeed they were.

Any evaluation of his time in B6 would be meagre in depth if it only related the sudden sustained improvement in results followed by the catastrophic downturn that resulted in his sacking and Villa’s decline to Third Division status. Docherty had gone, but the big crowds that stayed were his legacy, as was the burgeoning youth system, set in place by Tommy Cummings, but pursued with even greater enthusiasm by the Doc and the new board. Remember, too, that many of his signings ended up having successful careers, and that the Doc brought Vic Crowe, central to the great Villa revival back to the club. Tommy Docherty made too many big mistakes to be regarded as one of the great Villa bosses but he was an important man in our history and once memorably said that he could see a future where Aston Villa would compete in the European Cup. He had the vision, but it took others to deliver the dream.

Dave Collett

Online Bernie

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2021, 05:54:52 PM »
A great read- thanks. It perfectly captures the optimism of the  the early part of the Doc's reign followed by the massive anti climax and decline that followed, prior to a bounce back throughout the 70s that eventually peaked we all know where and when.

Online dave shelley

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2021, 06:12:06 PM »
I was at that 5-0 drubbing at Sheffield United and I'm still traumatised!  We were 0-0 at half-time and I was thinking: great, if we can hang on in the second half it would be a great point earned in our fight against relegation, then we kicked off and BOOM! had our arses handed to us big time.

Offline villa `cross the mersey

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2021, 07:55:52 PM »
The recollection of the Southampton FA Cup replay made me smile - I can vividly recall the away tie and replay ....the support  at both games was awesome .....the atmosphere at B6 was electric .......some happy memories

Offline alanclare

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2021, 11:00:30 AM »
A most enjoyable contribution. I thank you for it. I love the "swirling round the drain" metaphor.

I have a vague recollection of Tommy Docherty's arrival at Villa Park. He was introduced before the Saturday match as the new Messiah, and he did a walking lap around the perimeter of the pitch, waving to the crowd. Can someone verify that memory please?

Offline dcdavecollett

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2021, 01:15:14 AM »
Hi Alan.

My recollection was that Docherty just walked around the running-track to take his place on the bench in front of what some people insist on calling the DE Stand (not a fan), near the half-way line on that side.

He signed quite a few autographs on his way round.

Offline steamer

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2021, 06:51:42 AM »
Dave's comment, "it all started with him " sticks for me
I was 13 when he came along to lead the revolution and will always fondly remember his time with us
Rioch, Chico, Pat Mac, all went on to be legends of that era.

Online dave shelley

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2021, 09:20:41 AM »
I was just turned twenty when the Doc rolled up.  Until then, I'd known very little excitement on a scale like what he brought, ok, I'd seen us win the FA Cup and the League Cup but the latter didn't carry any weight at the time. 

There had been a couple of semi-finals but they ended in disappointment so the only time I can recall being truly excited back in those days was the opening day of every season when every team in every division had hope that that year was going to be theirs and the day of the draw for the third round of the FA Cup, again everyone hoping it would be their year.

For all that he was or wasn't, the Doc, who was the Tinkerman before ever the sorbriquet had been invented certainly galvanised the Villa support in such a way I believe hadn't been seen since the end of the war and in a way that I had never witnessed.  May he rest in peace.

Offline JD

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2021, 01:38:22 AM »
Fantastic article DaveC, just got round to reading it.

A few years before my time, but I love reading about our history.

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2021, 07:13:50 AM »
What an exciting time when the Doc arrived he brought all the Chelsea glamour with him, as the article points it didn’t work out well. However belief that we could get back into the big was installed and remained ,with many from then.  Great article, and what a player Brian Godfrey was in difficult times.

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2021, 07:41:39 AM »
Hi Alan.

My recollection was that Docherty just walked around the running-track to take his place on the bench in front of what some people insist on calling the DE Stand (not a fan), near the half-way line on that side.

He signed quite a few autographs on his way round.

Was the bench always that side of the ground then? As far back as I can remember (mid/late-70s) the benches were always on the Trinity side.

Offline Scratchins

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2021, 07:51:08 AM »
I remember turning up for the opening day against Norwich full of excitement that this was our year but I can also clearly see Kenny Foggo running down the right wing to score. 

Offline TelfordVilla

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2021, 09:25:12 AM »
I was 6 years old when Doc arrived. If SkyTV had been around then, I would have been wearing a Chelsea shirt. The buzz that Doc created bought me in line with my parents, lifelong Villa fans and from that day I was Villa for life too. I met Doc once. He was Wolves manager by then and he attended my Sunday league clubs awards night in Walsall. He presented me a trophy for being top scorer and when told I was a Villa fan said "Villa could do with a goalscorer like you". I imagine if he was your manager and asked you to run through brick walls it would be easy to do so. Top man.

Offline DYWTBAU?

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Re: Tommy Docherty - a memory
« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2021, 08:02:35 PM »
Great article Dave, enjoyed that. Just too young (don't say that very often these days) to have experienced the Doc's short reign but it is an era which has always intrigued me. What a time it must have been to have been a Villain, thanks for recalling it so well. 


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