Peter Doherty was born in Magherafelt, County Londonderry, on 5th June 1913. Doherty began his football career with Glentoran in the Irish League before joining Blackpool in 1933 at the age of 19. At the time the club was playing in the Second Division of the Football League. Over the next three seasons he scored 29 goals in 89 appearances.
In 1936 Doherty was transferred to Manchester City for a club record fee of £10,000. Doherty wanted to remain with Blackpool. As he later pointed out: "My personal feelings counted for next to nothing in the transaction. I might as well have been a bale of merchandise." Doherty joined a forward-line that included Eric Brook, Alec Herd, Fred Tilson and Ernie Toseland.
By the end of 1936 Manchester City had obtained 23 points out of a possible 44. As Gary James points out in Manchester City: The Complete Record: "It was still not Championship form, but enough to give them a foundation to build on. The New Year saw City climb up the table and, by the time of their meeting with the usual dominant Arsenal in April 1937, the two sides occupied the top two positions." A crowd of 74,918 watched Peter Doherty and Ernie Toseland score the goals that gave City a 2-0 victory.
Over the next three weeks Manchester City went on to beat Sunderland (3-1), Preston North End (5-2) and Sheffield Wednesday (4-1). City could only draw their last game 2-2 but by this time had been crowned champions. City scored 107 goals in the 1936-37 season, the main contributors being Peter Doherty (30), Eric Brook (20), Alec Herd (17), Fred Tilson (15) and Ernie Toseland (7). The defence, that included Frank Swift, Jackie Bray, Billy Dale and Sam Barkas, also did well that season, only letting in 61 goals in 42 games.
It was the first time that Manchester City had won the First Division league title. The club celebrated by going on a tour of Nazi Germany. Over 70,000 turned up to the Berlin Olympic Stadium to watch City play a team made up of Germany's best players. Adolf Hitler wanted to make use of this game as propaganda for his Nazi government and the City players were asked to to give the raised arm Nazi salute during the playing of the German national anthem. Peter Doherty later recalled: "We were expected to give the Nazi salute at the line-up before the match started; but we decided merely to stand to attention. When the German national anthem was played, only 11 arms went up instead of the expected 22!" City lost the game 3-2 after a uncharacteristic mistake by Frank Swift.
In the 1937-38 season Manchester City once again scored more goals than any other club in the First Division. Once again Peter Doherty (23), Eric Brook (16) and Alec Herd (12) were the leading scorers. However the defence, performed badly letting in 77 goals. The club finished in 21st position and was relegated to the Second Division. Doherty was injured in the 1938-39 season but still ended up as second top scorer with 17 goals in 28 games.
Joe Mercer, who played against Doherty while with Everton later claimed: "Of all the opponents I faced I particularly remember Doherty, who was unplayable on his day. He was built like a greyhound, very fast and elusive but with stamina, too. He had a Rolls-Royce engine in him."
Len Shackleton argued that: "Peter Doherty was surely the genius among geniuses. Possessor of the most baffling body swerve in football, able to perform all the tricks with the ball, owning a shot like the kick of a mule, and, with all this, having such tremendous enthusiasm for the game that he would work like a horse for ninety minutes."
Peter Doherty also played 16 times for Northern Ireland where developed a great partnership with Alex Stevenson. In his book, Manchester City: The Complete Record, Gary James argues that Doherty was "a complete footballer and an exciting attacker" who many supporters consider as "the greatest City player of all time."
Unfortunately his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. The government immediately imposed a ban on the assembly of crowds and as a result the Football League competition was brought to an end. Doherty complained: "Without a scrap of consideration or sentiment, our means of livelihood were simply jettisoned". Doherty, like his friend, Stanley Matthews, joined the Royal Air Force and was based in Blackpool.
On 6th December 1945 Doherty was transferred to Derby County. He scored 81 goals in 133 appearances during his time at Maine Road. Doherty formed an excellent partnership with Raich Carter and in 1946 the club reached the final of the FA Cup. Doherty wrote: "He (Carter) was my twin, a brilliant schemer with a dangerous shot, with whom I was able to dovetail perfectly." Carter was also full of praise for his partner: "Peter Doherty was a perfect example of the true inside forward, combining the roles of both defender and attacker." Derby County beat Charlton Athletic 4-1 in the final at Wembley.
Doherty scored seven goals in 15 games before joining Huddersfield Town in 1946. Although the team struggled at the bottom of the First Division league table, remained a prolific scorer netting 33 in 83 appearances.
In 1949 Doherty became player-manager of Doncaster Rovers. In his first season he led them to the Third Division North title. Doherty had strong opinions on training. He argued that at his previous clubs: "Most training at clubs is a slow form of torture. We need more variation. Altogether too much emphasis is placed on lapping the pitch. Ball practice should figure prominently and often in all training schemes." As manager Doherty used volley-ball, "to promote jumping, timing and judgement" and basket-ball, "to encourage split-second decision-making and finding space".
Peter Doherty died in Blackpool on 6th April 1990 at the age of 76.
Peter Doherty, with those flapping sleeves and glangling legs, was an unorthodox inside forward, but give Peter an inch and he would have the ball in the back of the net before you knew what had happened, and give him a penalty kick and you might as well move back to the centre for the kick-off!
Peter Doherty was surely the genius among geniuses. Possessor of the most baffling body swerve in football, able to perform all the tricks with the ball, owning a shot like the kick of a mule, and, with all this, having such tremendous enthusiasm for the game that he would work like a horse for ninety minutes. That was pipe-smoking Peter Doherty, the Irish redhead who, I am convinced, had enough football skill to stroll through a game smoking that pipe-and still make the other twenty-one players appear second-raters. But of course Peter never strolled through anything. His energy had to be seen to be appreciated.
I recall a war-time match in which Doherty, then appearing as a guest-player with Lincoln City, turned out against my team, Bradford Park Avenue. Peter brought the ball from the half-way line, beating man after man until finally, on the edge of the penalty area, he cracked in a shot which no goalkeeper had an earthly chance of saving. Chick Farr, the Bradford goalkeeper, could do no more than dive desperately.. and pick the ball out of the net. A few minutes later the move was repeated: Doherty reached the eighteen yards line and drew back his right foot for the pay-off punt-but he didn't shoot. It was the perfect dummy, clever enough to induce Chick Farr to dive-while Peter calmly trotted on and walked the ball over the goal line. I realized that day I was on the field with a master footballer. It was a privilege.
Peter Doherty, like Sunderland's Raich Carter, was a genius of an inside-forward who, also like Carter, lost the best years of his football career to the war. Prior to the emergence of George Best in the sixties, Doherty was to my mind the greatest footballer to come out of Northern Ireland. He began life as a bus conductor and played his football part-time for Glentoran before moving to Blackpool, then on to Manchester City. He played for Derby County with great credit in the immediate post-war years, and retired in 1953 with a career tally of 199 goals in 406 games having set up countless others for team-mates.
In one game between Stoke and Manchester City when City were heading towards the First Division Championship in 1936, Doherty had been quiet but he snapped into life, making three great passes that led to a crucial Manchester City goal. It prompted Stoke's Jock Kirton to say, "That's the bus conductor in you, Peter. Your team wait an hour for a telling pass from you, then three come along at once!"
For all his genius no one really warmed to Peter. In modern-day parlance you'd say he had attitude, which I am sure played a part in his meagre haul of 16 caps over 15 years for Northern Ireland. I say meagre because he was far and away the best player Northern Ireland could call upon in the thirties. A player of his quality should have been a regular at international level, especially as Northern Ireland did not have a wealth of great talent to call upon.
Peter Doherty must surely be one of the greatest inside-forwards of all time. His skill alone would have made him outstanding, but what about his stamina, his apparent ability to go on running for ninety minutes without a pause? A miracle man, I call him. As an example to a young player, he has one great virtue: a knack of anticipating the run of the game. We can't all be born with it, as Peter apparently was, but we can try to develop it. In the case of the great Irishman, he always seems to be guessing correctly which way the play will move, so that he can join in the fun. For lesser mortals, it is a good thing to be able to foretell the direction of the next move for the reverse reason: to save our legs from doing any superfluous running about!
Peter Doherty, now player-manager of Doncaster Rovers, who graced the Ireland jersey for so long as a player with Manchester City and Huddersfield, first gave me the right idea on how to breast a ball. I have never seen his equal at that particular part of the game. In fact, I have seen few who could play the game so well at all.
Breasting a ball looks so simple that few players ever bother to perfect it, yet it is a very important factor in the make-up of the ideal player, indeed of any player. It can be the starting point of an attack.
It is the easiest thing in the world to bring a chest-high ball under control no matter the power behind it if the player knows what he wants to do. There is no good purpose to be served by allowing the ball to strike the hard bones of the chest for, that way, it will simply bounce wildly out of control. It must be caught under the breast bones and directed to the feet.
If the ball comes a little too low to enable me to nod it to my feet with my forehead, I make certain that I take it in my middle. In doing this I bend my body forward from the hips so that most of the force is gone before the ball slides down the legs to the feet. In doing that I sway my body in the direction I want the ball to take, so that when it reaches my toes I can speed on in the required direction.
If the ball comes a shade too high, then it can similarly be brought under control by jumping so as to make sure that it is still taken in the middle of the bent body.