One of the first things I learnt the hard way about reading non-fiction material whether magazines, newspapers or biographies was don’t believe everything you read. Sad that isn’t it? Truth is, though, there’s always more than one view on an issue and rare are the people who are out to report on the truth of the situation. There’s always an agenda to be promoted, there’s always a reputation to reinforce.
This is no more evident than in an autobiography. It can often be worse in an authorised biography, but at least the writer has their bank balance to ease any conscience issues. In the autobiography, though, we have the task of reading what someone presents as their version of how life has come to be. What’s always a challenge likewise is when there is already material available to present a view on that individual.
This is all a necessary prelude to the autobiography of Tommy Docherty – Hallowed Be thy Game (love the title). When great football managers of the 20th Century are named, Tommy Docherty‘s name is unlikely to be mentioned. He might make it into the the top 50 greatest British managers of the 20th Century. What has marked him out above the rest is his outspoken nature, media friendliness and subsequent link with Chelsea and particularly Manchester United. There’s also the fact that as a famous quote of his states, he’s had more clubs than Nicklaus. His media appearances since the end of his hey-day and his capacity for the ever ready rent-a-quote has kept his bank balance healthy and his appearance in the public view going until this century where he has settled into life at his own pace with great grace.
You may recall I read the biography of Manchester United recently and in that tome Jim White depicts Docherty as being somewhat shifty at least in his dealings with people in terms of saying one thing to them and behaving in a different way. It is clear that the Doc was not a universally loved member of the football fraternity and as likely to make an enemy with his outspoken comments as inspire dedication with his brand of attacking football.
Unsurprisingly for such a word merchant his autobiography is a good read – it tells a good story from beginning to end. Also unsurprisingly he portrays a man of integrity and honesty who stuck by his football principles and was let down at various points in his career whilst never betraying his integrity. As the subtitle of the book suggests the focus is on the Doc’s devotion to football.
The majority of the book is made up of accounts of key games and seasons in his life. From his time as a player where he played with the greats and endured the time before players had liberty with the lifting of the maximum wage. He vividly presents what life was like for him and he doesn’t blow his own trumpet too loud. Other players and pundits already found him to be a solid footballer, more than deserving his caps for Scotland. This was even more remarkable at a time when the selectors didn’t have the wits about them to select with consistency, so from captaining his side one game, he’d be dropped from the squad.
Littered throughout the book are comparisons from the era in question with how much the game has changed today. In line with other curmudgeonly approaches modern football is never as good as it was back in the day. To be fair though, the Doc is not as moany as other ex-star footballers are on this issues.
What makes the reading so much more fascinating is that because the Doc is a raconteur par excellence rarely does a time of his life pass without a few quips and jokes on the way. Indicative of his perceived best time of his life 80% of the book and the quips are about his life up to the early 1980’s. Indeed after his court case scandal – he was up for perjury following a case he took up against a former player who accused him of being the worst manager he’d ever played for – which he doesn’t delve into with great depth there’s little for him to say about his life. Indeed you get the impression in reading his life, you’re reading the content of his after-dinner speeches. You at least know how the brother can keep the people engaged in what he’s writing.
At the end of the book, Docherty makes this comment. “When I left Chelsea, a journalist friend, Tony Stratton-Smith, advised me to go away for a time and ‘find myself’. I told him life is not about ‘finding yourself’, it’s about developing yourself.” I found the statement fascinating as it assumed there was a difference between the two. Doc’s life highlights how he probably wasn’t into checking what he was like in the journey, but he definitely made the most of his opportunities and this book makes for among the better biographies to consider.