Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives with Lee Doherty: 'My mum and dad both died on a Friday and I played the next day. I knew that's what they would want me to do.'

Former Linfield midfielder Lee Doherty and his wife Sharon.
Former Linfield midfielder Lee Doherty and his wife Sharon.
Mandatory Credit - Picture by Freddie Parkinson © Thursday 17 October 2019 Former Linfield midfielder Lee Doherty and his wife Sharon.
Blues brother: Lee won eight league titles at Linfield
Happy family: Lee Doherty and wife Sharon (left) with daughters Jenna and Jodie

By Graham Luney

In the latest installment of our popular series, Linfield legend Lee Doherty discusses family agony, a devastating injury at QPR and the honest answer that spelt the end of his Blues career.

Q Where did your football career start?

A I played with the 58th Boys' Brigade and York Road Rangers. Arthur 'Mousey' Brady was a good friend of my dad's and he watched a few games. Jim Emery was a scout for Everton, where I was due to go on trial.

Howard Kendall got the sack and, when Jim linked up with Linfield, I was invited along to train and watch the Blues. They had players like Peter Rafferty, Peter Dornan, Billy Murray and Stephen McKee, while I was a 16-year-old kid who just wanted to play for Manchester United.

I played one year with the reserves and made my first team debut, aged 17, at Larne.

Q Did you have trials with QPR?

A I had been training with the Northern Ireland youth team and Alan McDonald sought to get me a trial with Queens Park Rangers, where Jim Smith was manager. I stayed in Alan's house and trained over there.

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We had a pre-season tournament in Korea and it went well for me. You hear players make excuses sometimes as to why they don't make it like 'the manager doesn't like me', but my attitude was 'if I don't get signed then I'm just not good enough.' In the first game against South Korea, I went to backheel the ball but I was challenged and ruptured my Achilles.

It was probably one of the two times I shed a tear over football. I got injured within 45 seconds when I was in my early 20s and looking to make it at QPR. It took me up to seven months to come back but I've no regrets.

I've two kids now and what's meant to be is meant to be. My one disappointment was when Jim Smith went to Oxford, he put in a bid for me while I was at Linfield but the Blues put a high price on my head.

I was tied to Linfield while other players did leave for less. I'd never use the injury as an excuse for me not making it in England. I lacked a zip of pace and was a bit quicker in my mind.

Q You went on to have a great 15-year career in the Irish League. Would that have been a surprise to your 15-year-old self?

A My goal was to play for Manchester United, but once I signed for Linfield I gave everything to them and was a regular. I won a bucket load of medals. I worry about the present day footballer now, the game seems to be more about money than winning. What will you be able to say when the bank balance disappears? What memories will you have?

I just feel it's more important to be successful than rich. I could have signed for many different clubs for four times the money I earned at Linfield but they had my loyalty as I wanted to be a winner. I've good friends who are managers and they are disappointed when players make financial demands.

When I played, when Linfield came calling you jumped at the chance to play for them. But I also accept there has to be loyalty at both ends as players can feel like a tin of baked beans on the shelf, just a product.

Q Do you see other big differences in today's game, compared to your playing days?

A I think any team today would beat the side of 20 years ago. Today's Linfield side would beat the Blues team I played in, but you've also got to ask the question how many of today's players would feature in the old team.

The players are fit athletes now while we had Davy Nixon, who was drinking on the Shankill on a Friday night before a game yet still performed. Now the players are on the protein drinks, but it's questionable whether they have the ability of the old teams. The best teams are consistent. Glentoran always had great players but the Linfield teams I played in made less mistakes, they were more ruthless. My wife Sharon put together a collection of my medals in a frame and it looks the part. I was lucky enough to be in the squad for the last British Championships when Northern Ireland won it and I cherish that medal too. But more important than the medals is that sense of achievement you have when you pick boys up and do what's needed to win league titles and Cups.

I love serial winners like Steve Davis was in snooker or Steve Redgrave in rowing. I admire people who stay successful, rather than one-season wonders.

Q What was your highlight?

A Playing for my country, that's the pinnacle. And I was lucky enough to score on my debut against Israel even though it hit my shin. Norman Whiteside and Jimmy Quinn were in the side. My dad had taken me to the games and I can remember when I was a 10-year-old boy meeting Pat Jennings.

I see Pat on the golf course and he hasn't changed. When I first shook his hand I thought to myself 'I'd love to play for my country' and I was delighted to do that. I've a 50% goalscoring record at international level - pretty good!

Q Did you just miss out on the 1986 World Cup squad?

A That was disappointing as I had been in four squads leading up to Mexico. David Campbell at Nottingham Forest came into the panel and I got a lovely letter from Billy Bingham.

But it was the second time I cried about football. George Dunlop, a team-mate of mine, was there and Jim Cleary.

Q Your worst moment in football?

A The Irish Cup wasn't kind to me. I won my first Irish Cup medal in my last game for Linfield, against Bangor at The Oval. The manager, Trevor Anderson, had left me out of the team from Christmas after I had a disagreement with him and I left that season.

He asked for my opinion, I gave him an honest answer and he never played me until the end of the season. That was disappointing because it was my benefit year. But football can be ruthless at times. Look at what happened to my good friends Paul Leeman and Gary Smyth at Glentoran.

I thought they were treated shabbily by the club after they gave half their lives to it. I felt they deserved better treatment.

Q Do you have regrets about what happened with Trevor?

A I do, because my benefit year had finished around Christmas and it looked like I'd taken the supporters' money and decided to move on for Glenavon, but that was never the case. Jim Emery, who helped bring me to Linfield, said Trevor wanted me out so I had to leave. I had no choice.

Also, I didn't think I was finished at the age of 30. I played for another seven years at Glenavon. Linfield were cutting my wages a little but it was about principle, not money. It was clear I wasn't wanted after what happened.

We were beaten 3-0 by Distillery leading up to Christmas and Trevor was angry when he came into the dressing room, and he said: 'right, you're the captain, what's wrong?' I said 'do you want me to be honest, you are playing people who you have signed who shouldn't be playing as they aren't playing well enough'. Gary Peebles, who I get on well with, was sitting beside me and I said: 'you've tried Gary at right-back, left-back and centre-back but he's not playing well enough, he shouldn't be in the team.' Trevor responded: 'who do you think you are telling me who should be in the team?' and my response was 'you asked me the question!'

That was the end of my Linfield career. I don't regret speaking up because I was asked the question. I had been at Linfield for 15 years and the club meant a lot to me. Trevor had been very good to me as a player when I was more inexperienced but I was disappointed that happened.

I left with a desire to win more trophies and I did at Glenavon. That's another highlight because I won the Irish Cup as captain. It always means more when you feel appreciated and wanted by a club.

Happy family: Lee Doherty and wife Sharon (left) with daughters Jenna and Jodie

Q Did family become more important at Glenavon?

A Linfield is a machine, and when I moved to Glenavon my kids came into the equation. Football wasn't the be all and end all for me. Myself and Sharon had made sacrifices for football but once our daughters, Jodie and Jenna, came along, football became less important.

The kids became our priority. I did love Glenavon and it was more family friendly, even the tea lady bought our girls Christmas presents. I think I was in the Linfield boardroom twice when I was signing contracts, at Glenavon I was in there all the time in a less structured environment.

I always seemed to have a good game at Mourneview and enjoyed the ground, so that was one of the reasons why I signed for Glenavon. We had Ray McCoy, Glenn Ferguson, Stevie McBride, Mark Glendinning, we finished second in the league and should have won it.

When I signed I said to chairman Adrian Teer 'I'll win you the league', but we just missed out.

Q Best player you played with and toughest opponent?

A Mark Glendinning would probably be toughest opponent, while Billy Caskey and Jim Cleary were top players at Glentoran. Peter Dornan was a marvellous footballer and Glenn Ferguson for the simple reason he's a brilliant footballer as well as a fantastic goalscorer.

Martin McGaughey was a goalscoring machine but Glenn was a wonderful player who could score goals.

Q You enjoyed a lot of success under Roy Coyle, what was he like?

A I wouldn't say Roy was a good manager. He told me himself good players make a good manager. Roy had good players. I played for Roy Walker and he would get into your head and inspire you.

Roy Coyle wasn't a good man manager but he was very ruthless and players knew they had to perform. I didn't really have a great relationship with Roy because he had a go at me quite a bit, but I suppose it fired me up. Perhaps I didn't see that in him and he did know how to press a few buttons.

Q What sort of captain were you?

A I would talk, not shout. I'd be sympathetic, but if people weren't putting the effort in I'd certainly let them know - 'you are representing this club and we've got to deliver for so many people.'

You always have to challenge yourself mentally and strive to always improve. You can achieve great things with a positive mindset. When I look back at my career, I think I gave it everything I had. I see players not making the most of their talent.

I didn't have ability, I just had a sheer determination and drive to be successful. I got as much as I could from the limited ability I had.

Blues brother: Lee won eight league titles at Linfield

Q What have you made of the job David Healy is doing at Linfield?

A We have seen David really grow into the job. I felt he needed a striker to help release some of the pressure off Andy's (Waterworth) shoulders and Shayne Lavery has been a great signing. He gives them something they haven't had for a while, and Bastien Hery looks a really good footballer.

I think he's putting a really good team together and I fancy them to win the title. David has a name and reputation, and he will have his admirers in football, but he's a good person and loyal person too.

He's a Northern Ireland icon and yet so unassuming. Management is very different to playing and he's still learning the job. But football, as we know, can be a fickle business and you could lose four matches and be out of a job! As a Belfast blueman and Lurgan blueman, I wish him well.

Q You moved into coaching and management, did you find that difficult?

A I never really wanted to do it but I gave it a go at Bangor and I was going into a job when players weren't being paid and the financial problems weren't sorted. It put me off management until Glenn (Ferguson) took the job at Ballymena United and called me.

He invited me to become his assistant and, because of the respect I have for him, I agreed. We had a successful time, won trophies and I felt it was unfair when he was dismissed. The club had progressed. I can understand why the club would show an interest in David Jeffrey but Glenn did lay a good foundation down there.

I watch games and do some radio, but there are only so many people I would go back into the game to support. It's nice to be involved in football as you never lose that competitive edge. If I'm playing sport with my kids, I want to beat them. Jodie is 27 and Jenna is 23 and studying in Liverpool.

My wife Sharon is an Irish dancer and the girls took that up as well to a high level.

Q Did you always have great support from your family?

A My mum Jessie and dad Alex were brilliant. Both of them sadly passed away within nine months when I was 37 and they were in their 60s. My younger brother Dean was 27 at the time and it cut him up a bit. It was a very difficult time for us all.

I used to think 60 was old, but I'm 56 now and it isn't. That was probably the reason why I was chasing an Irish Cup medal. My dad was at Ballymena when his father died the night before the Irish Cup final, which United won. He never got a medal, so I always wanted a medal to give to him, so it was great to win the trophy with Linfield for my dad.

The Irish Cup always gave me heartache because I was trying to make up for what he missed out on. I've been blessed with a close, great family.

Q What happened with your parents?

A Both had cancer which sadly spread and they couldn't fight it any longer. You hear of so many more cancer patients now.

My mum and dad both died on a Friday and I played the next day. I knew that's what they would want me to do. You learn to live with grief, but of course you never forget, and it still hurts.

Doherty parents.jpg
Lee Doherty's late mum and dad, Jessie and Alex

Q Was Sharon a rock to you during that time?

A She was, she is the one who has put up with my bad moods. I found it hard to lift myself to do something if I had lost a game. If we were beaten, I wanted to train again as soon as possible. Sharon took the brunt of my bad moods.

I wasn't kicking down doors, but I'm not a good loser and a number of times I didn't want to go out.

We do a lot of holidaying now to make up for it. There were lows, like losing to Copenhagen, but the good times, shared with the family, far outweigh those bad days.

I look back with pride at what I achieved and it's nice to have represented just two teams and my country. I'm an architect and life and work is good. And I'm still playing in charity games so I haven't retired yet!

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