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Tommy Docherty 1928-2020

Everybody at Chelsea Football Club is very saddened to learn of the death of our former manager Tommy Docherty. 

Also a player and coach during his time at Chelsea, Docherty passed away peacefully today surrounded by his family at home in the North-West. He was 92. All at Chelsea send our condolences to Tommy's family and friends. 

Throughout Tommy Docherty’s five-and-a-half year reign as Chelsea manager, whatever else, life was never dull or predictable. His departure in 1967 earned the distinction of a spoof obituary in The Times, mourning the death of Chelsea FC ‘after five proud and glorious years.’

In September 1961, Docherty, a coach at Chelsea and a combative Scottish midfielder until the previous season, was asked to take over as manager from the only man ever to win the league with Chelsea, Ted Drake. Drake was only four years into a 10-year contract — the longest ever handed to a manager at the time — but the board felt he fell short in converting brilliant juniors into winning pros.

That responsibility now fell to someone who had only just hung up his boots having represented Celtic, Preston North End, Arsenal and, briefly, Chelsea. After three months working with the team as chief coach, he became the sixth full-time manager in our history in January 1962.

In keeping with the rebellious Sixties, Chelsea’s new boss was maverick, sharp-witted and thoroughly modern. He wanted to inject energy and pride into the team and so developed training and tactical innovations borrowed from Europe’s top clubs, including the great Real Madrid side of the era. He also introduced the blue-blue-white strip that is Chelsea’s iconic kit today.

Though the team were sliding towards relegation from the top flight by the time of his appointment, Docherty immediately upped the organisation and intensity of training sessions, with an emphasis on improving accuracy of passing, speed and endurance through the use of two-touch games and running off the ball.

He immediately began making some of the key figures of the FA Youth Cup-winning sides of 1960 and 1961 – including Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Terry Venables and Bobby Tambling - the centre pieces of the starting XI.

Because of this, his Chelsea team soon became known as ‘Docherty’s Diamonds’. He gave youth its chance throughout his time in charge and this is the most enduring legacy from his days at Stamford Bridge.

In his first full season as manager at Stamford Bridge he steered his young side – average age 21 – to promotion from the Second Division. It was not all plain sailing, however. Following an outstanding first half of the campaign, in which we barely put a foot wrong, a post-Christmas wobble left the Blues in a precarious position with two games to go.

We had to win against promotion rivals Sunderland at Roker Park and Docherty showed his pragmatism by adjusting his tactics and his team in the North-East, helping procure a precious 1-0 victory. With unusual candour, he later publicly regretted the negative, physical approach adopted that day, though it served its purpose. A 7-0 destruction of Portsmouth at the Bridge in the final game confirmed promotion in second place, Sunderland eventually edged out on goal average.

A team containing players who to this day remain some of the very greatest to have played for the club excelled back in the First Division, finishing fifth in 1963/64. Coach Dave Sexton’s shrewd tactical scheming effectively allied with the bubbling enthusiasm of Docherty, helping achieve great teamwork as well as the flair and individualism that defined the club’s approach to the game.

For much of the 1964/65 season it seemed as though a ‘treble’ of Football League, FA Cup and Football League Cup was a genuine possibility. That flamboyant and exciting young side displayed attacking gaiety, goal power, fitness and ambition as we led the table several times during winter.

Our FA Cup hopes were extinguished by Liverpool at the semi-final stage, though some consolation was at hand when we beat Leicester City in the two-legged League Cup final. It was just the second big trophy success in our history.

An end-of-season collapse in the league – during which Docherty expeditiously sent home eight players from Blackpool for breaking a team curfew – ended title aspirations, but a third-placed finish, the emergence in the side of 17-year-old John Hollins and the promise of European football the following campaign suggested our future had rarely been brighter. And on a post-season trip to Australia, the fast-talking, fast-thinking Docherty gave another teenager, Peter Osgood, his first chance in the first team. Needless to say, the rest is history.

Docherty was fashioning a sharp, fast, young side that appealed to the showbiz of the King’s Road during the glitz and glamour of the mid-Sixties. Season ticket sales reached new heights and gate receipt records were broken as the youthful culture of creativity that exploded in London found an epicentre at Stamford Bridge.

The gregarious Scot’s willingness to bring through young players was supplemented by his eye for unearthing rare talent, often in players yet to reveal their full potential. This was aided by his extensive scouting network. Players acquired for small or knock-down fees during his time as manager included George Graham, Eddie McCreadie, Tommy Baldwin and Charlie Cooke.

In our first proper tilt at European football, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965/66, we enjoyed a dramatic run to the semi-final. The Italian giants Roma and AC Milan were seen off en route, the latter by a correctly-called Ron Harris toss of the coin. Agonisingly, we fell short in a play-off game to Barcelona after two legs failed to separate the sides.

That year we again reached the semi-final of the FA Cup and we would go a step further in 1967, but our first final under the Twin Towers ended in defeat to Tottenham.

The core of the team that did lift the trophy three years later was in place, however. When Docherty was effectively sacked in October 1967 after seriously abusing a referee during a Caribbean tour that summer, his former assistant Sexton returned to the club as manager and inherited a venerated squad including Bonetti, Harris, Cooke, Hollins and Osgood.

Docherty always recalled his Chelsea days, and many of his players, with great fondness. Supporters who watched that young, buzzing mid-Sixties side return that affection. At the time of his death the Doc was the Blues’ oldest known living player. That mantle now passes to Jimmy Smith, who is 90. 

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