Tommy Docherty – A supporter’s tribute

Respects have been paid throughout football, including at Chelsea’s game on Sunday, to the unique and charismatic Tommy Docherty who managed our team in the 1960s. Sadly fans could not be inside Stamford Bridge to join in the applause but here we have invited Blues supporter Tim Rolls, author of a book on The Doc’s time in charge at Chelsea, to remember a man who transformed the club…

‘The Doc’ - A True Football Man and a True Chelsea Man

Tommy Docherty’s sad death on New Year’s Eve means the passing of a man who did so much for Chelsea Football Club, and who held the club in such deep affection.

He arrived at Stamford Bridge as coach in February 1961 and discovered that for some of the team training was almost optional and, at best, lackadaisical. He soon changed that, dragging those experienced players not putting the required effort in back for afternoon training. The great Jimmy Greaves left for Milan that summer and it quickly became clear that without his guaranteed 30-plus goals a season, relegation was almost certain. 

Replacing Ted Drake as manager that September, ‘The Doc’ was given assurances by chairman Joe Mears that he would have the time to rebuild. There were a host of highly talented youngsters at the club and he immediately championed them, ruthlessly clearing out the old guard. Youth products Peter Bonetti, Allan Harris, Ken Shellito, Terry Venables, Bert Murray, Barry Bridges and Bobby Tambling all became regulars, augmenting the experience of John Mortimore, Frank Blunstone and Frank Upton.

Relegation was immediately followed by promotion and by 1964 the side, with the addition of youngsters Ron Harris and John Hollins and highly astute purchases Eddie McCreadie, Marvin Hinton and George Graham, were setting English football alight with an intelligent, dynamic attacking brand of football. Docherty and his forward-thinking coach Dave Sexton had introduced overlapping full-backs, the norm now but unheard of then, and McCreadie and Shellito caused chaos as opposing defences simply did not know how to cope with them. His free-scoring 1964/65 front five of Murray, Graham, Bridges, Venables and Tambling is revered more than half a century later and Bonetti, McCreadie, Ron Harris, and Hollins were the nucleus of the great cup side of the early 1970s.

By late 1965 John Boyle and the prodigiously talented Peter Osgood had been incorporated into the side. Sadly, Doc’s headstrong personality and impatience was leading to clashes with the squad. He admitted himself that he had been headstrong in sending eight players home after they arrived late back to their Blackpool hotel in April 1965, causing rifts with many of that group. Frustration led to him selling key members of the side in 1966 after a second successive FA Cup semi-final defeat, though this was partially compensated for by the arrival of the truly magical Charlie Cooke, one of the most talented players ever to pull on the blue shirt of Chelsea.

His working relationship with Chelsea (and FA) chairman Mears was a special and mutually-beneficial one and it was after the sad and untimely death of the chairman in summer 1966 that Docherty’s relationship with the board became more difficult and his eventual departure in October 1967 almost inevitable. What is often forgotten is that during Docherty’s reign Chelsea made a transfer surplus of £150,000. Unlike his main rivals he was never given the money to bring in top-class players, relying on youngsters and assiduous purchases to strengthen the side.  

Anyone who talked to The Doc about Chelsea will confirm that he loved the club and despite also managing the likes of Manchester United, Aston Villa, QPR, Wolves and Scotland he was clear that his six years at Chelsea was his favourite time in football management.

He was charismatic, quick-witted, extrovert, passionate and fearless at a time when many managers were austere, trilby-hat-and-raincoat types who mistrusted the press and kept a low profile. His only equal in the early/mid 1960s managerial personality stakes was another Scottish Preston North End old boy, Liverpool’s Bill Shankly. As the game changed, and support became more raucous and passionate, it was Docherty and Shankly who caught the mood, cultivating relationships with the football press and unafraid to express a public opinion or offer a wisecrack. Though The Doc only won one trophy at Chelsea, the 1965 League Cup, with a supportive chairman he transformed the club from an underachieving backwater to a modern high-profile club challenging for honours, playing football which drew in highly appreciative crowds.

Unlike many managers of his era, Tommy had a genuine bond with the supporters, as evidenced by the outpouring of affection for him on social media. During The Doc’s time at the helm The Shed emerged as the focal point in the ground for young supporters, the inhabitants holding The Doc in very high esteem. Just before kick-off they would sing ‘Sha-La-La-La-Docherty’ (after the Small Faces hit ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee’) and the manager would wave to them from his box above the old East Stand.

I was lucky enough to meet, and interview, Docherty while writing and promoting my book ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils’. He was generous with his time and generous with his anecdotes. He remained in touch with many of his team, despite the gap of over 50 years and his fallouts with a few of them. At my 2017 book launch he was reunited with Ron Harris (who he had kept in regular touch with) and also Bridges and Murray. Their mutual affection shone through, and The Doc was on brilliant form, demonstrating his deserved reputation as a superb after-dinner speaker.

He was always appreciative of the hamper the club sends ex-players and managers every Christmas, and felt he was always treated with respect by chairman Bruce Buck and those at the club when he went to matches. In many ways Tommy Docherty was the bridge between the old, haphazard Chelsea and the modern, dynamic Chelsea. He genuinely loved the club, his players and the supporters and will be sadly missed by those who knew him, met him or saw his teams play.

A true Chelsea legend. RIP.

By Tim Rolls. Tim is a home and away season-ticket holder. His book ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils’ on Tommy Docherty’s time at Chelsea is available on Amazon.