Former Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty was recently visited by two youngsters from our Academy to discuss his childhood in Glasgow and national service in Palestine to mark Remembrance Day...
Tommy Docherty is remembered fondly at Stamford Bridge for his swashbuckling side of the 1960s, a team he rebuilt and a club he re-energised with an attacking brand of football that was hugely attractive to fans, new and old alike.
The dynamic young Scot brought flair and fortune back to SW6, restoring the ‘Kings of the Kings Road’ to former glories by winning promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt in 1962/63. He pursued an unlikely treble of Division One, FA Cup and League Cup in 1964/65, winning the latter with victory over Leicester City, and led us to the FA Cup final two years later.
Docherty’s Diamonds featured the likes of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke, Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti. They were a vibrant team of young, mostly homegrown players who became genuine footballing superstars and Docherty’s role in those golden years will live long in Chelsea folklore.
Those around at the time will also know that the Doc originally joined the club as a player, running out just a handful of times before hanging up his boots and making the step into coaching. What is less known about the 92-year-old Glaswegian is his career before signing for Celtic in 1947, notably his period of active service in Palestine with the Highland Light Infantry.
As football joins the rest of the country in marking Armistice Day today, Docherty’s less-documented time in Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Second World War is a story worth retelling.
‘I had the choice of going into the Army or down the pit to dig up coal and there was no way I was going down the pit so I did my national service,’ he recalled. ‘Before I knew what was happening, we were coming off a boat in Palestine.
‘We were in the King David hotel in Jerusalem when it was blown up. We lost two or three very good lads there. I was just lucky to get away with it.’
Docherty was speaking before the coronavirus pandemic to Chelsea Academy youngsters Harvey Vale and Derrick Abu in a visit organised by the Premier League's education department as part of Football Remembers WWII. The partnership pays tribute from the football family to all those - players and supporters - who served their country during the Second World War.
Even in a warzone, Docherty’s passion for football endured and he would join his comrades for a kickabout whenever he had the chance.
‘I was playing football all the time because I was a half-decent footballer so it was good,’ he continued. ‘It got you away from a lot of dangerous situations but you still had to do your spell of guard duties, getting bombed and shot at.’
Unlike so many others during conflicts of that time, Docherty returned home and went on to enjoy a hugely successful career in the game he loved, first as a player and then a coach. His transition from the Armed Forces to the pitch was a pretty whirlwind one.
‘Back in 1947 I came back from my national service in Palestine on the Saturday, went to York on the Sunday to get de-mobbed and then signed for Celtic on the Monday,’ he remembered. ‘That was quite a weekend!’
Vale is a similar age to Docherty back then and conveys the enduring gratitude that subsequent generations have to those who sacrificed so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.
Speaking this week following his involvement in the FA Youth Cup final, a competition Docherty experienced himself as a youth team coach at the club, the 17-year-old reflected on the experience of meeting the former Chelsea boss.
‘It was very humbling and insightful,’ Vale told the official Chelsea website. ‘I didn’t realise how many difficult times he and others had to go through while just trying to play and enjoy football.
‘He had to juggle so many things at just 16. I have so much respect for people like Tommy – to go through what he did at that age is unbelievable.’
Vale also admitted that, despite a 75-year age difference, he could relate to Docherty in many ways.
‘You could tell that he loved the club and because he had been at Chelsea I could relate to his story, even though he was in a very different position to the one I’m in now,’ he added.
‘I feel like Tommy has helped my career because I know if I face any setbacks or challenges that I have the strength to get through them by remembering the times that Tommy went through.
‘He made me and Derrick feel very welcome in his home and it was an experience I’ll always be very grateful for. I hope he’s doing well.’
Chelsea marked Remembrance Day at our match against Sheffield United on Saturday, with Docherty no doubt cheering on a young, attack-minded team that share many of his own philosophies about the game.
With our dedicated Royal British Legion poppy sellers unable to sell poppies before our games at Stamford Bridge and Kingsmeadow this year, it is more important than ever we continue to support, by purchasing a poppy or donating online.
You can also get your hands on a worn and signed poppy shirt from the home game against Sheffield United – make a bid right here!