By Ian Hemmens
This era is a tough one for me to speak about without any hint of bias or bitterness or anger. Let me elaborate for you. I’ve been following Bradford City since the mid-1960s and, in that time, the club and its fans have run the whole gamut of emotions and events. Wonderful promotions, thrilling Cup runs, relegations and, most tragic of all, the events of May 11, 1985.
We’ve seen emerging talents, established stars and all sorts of good, bad and indifferent players and indeed chairmen and managers. Even some of the poorest managers never made me query my love affair with City, there was always hope that next time would be better.
I first came across John Docherty in the late 60s as a tricky winger with Brentford. A typical Scottish type winger of the kind which seems to be a dying breed these days. Just another opponent to watch on a matchday, nothing special. He played for several other clubs before managing Cambridge United and his old club Brentford. I don’t recall anything until he took over from George Graham at Millwall. George went on to great success at Arsenal but had laid the foundations at the Lions, and Docherty achieved promotion to the top flight before managing a two year stay at the top. He got the sack in February 1990.
City had been relegated to Division Three (now League One) under Terry Yorath and Docherty arrived in the March of 1990. Top scorer Jimmy Quinn had been sold and big money signing Tony Adcock flopped badly.
Docherty decided a clear out was needed, and I will give him credit for two excellent signings in Sean McCarthy and Robbie James. Also signed was a young Millwall reserve going nowhere at the Den called Phil Babb. He turned out to be an excellent utility player, comfortable either at full back, centre back or up front – as showed by his 10-goal return in his first year.
Docherty also brought three further Millwall reserves north in Steve Torpey, Wes Reid and Darren Treacy. Although promising, once out of their South London comfort zone, Reid and Treacy were soon causing problems with their lifestyle outside the club – problems that Docherty turned a blind eye to, whilst disciplining local lads for much more minor misdemeanours.
City fans had got used to wonderful passing football and a strong team spirit from both the 1985 team and Terry Dolan’s ‘nearly’ side of 1988. Docherty’s tactics were in stark contrast: bleak and basic long ball dross, which he’d learned as the assistant of the infamous John Beck at Cambridge. The midfield was by-passed and wingers were almost redundant as City tried unsuccessfully to bludgeon their way up the league.
Treacy vanished back to London with the police after him after smashing several shop windows in Bradford City centre. Wes Reid was proving injury prone and Steve Torpey was very one dimensional up front. No matter how poorly they played they were in the team, as others were scapegoated by Docherty with his arrogant ‘I know best’ style of management.
There grumblings of discontent already growing amongst the fans and when, in close season, two further Millwall reserves arrived in Alan Dowson and Darren Morgan, the fans weren’t happy. The goalscoring of McCarthy, the emergence of Lee Duxbury and the performances of stalwarts Gavin Oliver, Lee Sinnott and Paul Tomlinson were the bright spots, but the way Docherty sidelined fans favourites like Greg Abbott caused great upset in the stands.
As well as his arrogance and outright hostility to fans, there was the episode where for weeks on end he whined in the press about needing a trusted assistant from his Millwall days, one Bob Pearson. Pearson was actually the chief scout at Millwall and had brought all the lads to the Den who were now at Valley Parade. Although officially the assistant, Pearson was never actually spotted at Valley Parade as far as I know. I don’t ever recall the T&A managing to find an image of him to print; a true man of mystery. A top scout or a case of jobs for the boys?
Either way, this move enraged fans even further as mention was made of even more Millwall cast offs making the move north. City struggled to a disappointing 16th place finish and, with open hostility on the terraces and the threat of hundreds of season tickets not being renewed, the lack of faith in Docherty and his regime was there for all to see. There were daily letters to the press and fanzines wanting rid of him.
He never tried to get the fans on his side from day one, and his general attitude was that us supporters were an irritant to him.
In all my years of following City, I’ve seen very poor players and performances, but somehow they never dented my enthusiasm or love for the club like the Docherty regime did. I felt for the players, having to play to his turgid dictatorial style, and I genuinely felt like I couldn’t be bothered any more. I was now married with a new baby boy and my priorities had changed, although watching City has always been a valuable outlet for me.
Docherty’s position really was untenable and I honestly think it could have killed the club if they’d kept faith with him. His 20 months in charge seemed like a lifetime of despair before he was finally dismissed in November 1991, when Frank Stapleton took the reins. He was enough of a character to refresh my belief in City, but it was a close call and almost the end of a love affair.
I’ve only ever come close again in the recent years and that was the Colin Todd regime; but even then it was more disinterest than the despair I had for John Docherty’s football.
I’ve always been a bit of a purist at heart and the disgust of tactics like those of John Beck, John Docherty and the Wimbledon days has always turned me off. I hope City never, ever resort to the hideous dross put on show at the start of the 1990s.
John Docherty: goodbye and good riddance.
Categories: He managed Bradford City