Peter Doherty

Football's Pioneers: Peter Doherty

Dr Gary James, an Honorary Research Fellow at DeMontfort University’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture, tells the story of Peter Doherty, regarded by many as the greatest player Ireland has ever produced.
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Born in Magharafelt, Ireland in 1913, Peter Doherty focused on football from the beginning. In his 1947 autobiography he remembered: “I practised at every opportunity. My life seemed to be dedicated to the game, and I was never happier than when I had a ball at my feet.”

While playing for local junior team Station United he had a successful trial at Glentoran and was offered a contract. Promises were made to find him a trade to support his footballing income. However those promises soon vanished. This became a defining moment and shaped his approach. Throughout his career he was keen to ensure players were treated in a professional manner. 

At Glentoran his career flourished and English Football League clubs began watching him. In 1933, Blackpool made a formal approach and Doherty agreed to move. He soon felt at home, eventually becoming a regular for both club and country.

Blackpool began struggling financially and Doherty joined Manchester City for a club record £10,000 in February 1936. He soon proved his worth to the Mancunians and two weeks after his debut he scored the first of 122 League goals for the club as Middlesbrough were defeated 6-0. 

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Peter Doherty, 1939
Peter Doherty, 1939

Doherty moved to Manchester City from Blackpool in 1936.

It was the following season, however, that saw both Doherty and Manchester City in terrific form. By Christmas they were making real progress, culminating in an unbeaten run of 22 games which guaranteed the 1936/37 League Championship.

Two years after that success, war was declared and the Football League was suspended. The war caused a serious strain on Doherty’s relationship with City and arguments raged for some time, mostly over Doherty’s decision to guest for clubs when his club felt he could play for them. The player wanted the choice: “I was naturally keen to play whenever the opportunity arose; but I resented dictation from my club.”

Doherty was one of football’s biggest stars and Manchester City did not want him to do anything that may jeopardise their investment. Although their attitude was typical of many clubs, it damaged the relationship and, inevitably, Doherty moved once the war was over. 

He joined Derby County, enjoying FA Cup success in 1946. The semi-final replay with Birmingham City had been played at Maine Road and ended in a 4-0 Derby win, attracting an 80,480 crowd. 

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Peter Doherty, 1946
Peter Doherty, 1946

Derby County was his next post-War destination, where he lifted the FA Cup in 1946.

Reports from the period acknowledge that thousands of Mancunians had attended the game simply to see Doherty play. His two goals that day received significant cheers from both the Derby fans and the Mancunians in attendance.

Doherty later became player-manager of Doncaster Rovers and guided them to the 1949/50 Division Three North title. He also became a respected international manager, guiding Northern Ireland to the 1958 World Cup Quarter-Finals.

By the time of his death in April 1990 he was recognised as a true great. Danny Blanchflower, the captain of Tottenham’s 1961 double-winning side, explained how he became a Manchester City fan because of Doherty: “As a small boy I cherished the name of Manchester City…I waved the flag for no better reason than that Peter Doherty played for them.”

Over 20 years after Doherty’s playing career ended, Joe Mercer described him as the greatest Irish player ever, while, in 1974, the Rothmans Football Yearbook recorded that Doherty was 'regarded by many judges as the greatest player Ireland has ever produced'.

For more information about sports history at DMU, click HERE

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