Sunday Life

| 10°C Belfast

Why Tommy Docherty never forgave George Best for the way his time at Manchester United ended

Close

George Best with Manchester United manager  Tommy Docherty, who passed away last week aged 92.

George Best with Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty, who passed away last week aged 92.

Getty Images

George Best with Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty, who passed away last week aged 92.

Sir Matt Busby had pinned his hopes on Tommy Docherty being able to convince George Best to fall back in love with football.

The Doc, who died on Thursday aged 92, was given a thankless task when he took over the Old Trafford reins in December 1972.

Even Sir Matt - regarded by Best as a father figure - had failed miserably to keep his star player on the straight and narrow.

It was a time of transition for the club with Bobby Charlton having retired, Denis Law losing his fight with Father Time and Best preferring a hedonistic lifestyle.

Best knew that United's glory days were behind them and he was neither able or willing to carry them on his own.

It all came falling down in a final chaotic season in 1973-74.

Once again Best had gone AWOL and the club finally had enough, putting him on the transfer market at £300,000.

But the season started disastrously for United and they knew the only player who could save them from the drop was Best.

Docherty ate some humble pie and pleaded with Best to come back to training. Against his better judgment, Best agreed.

It was clear to Best from the outset that the party lifestyle had finally taken its toll and he was not able to reach the same heights. He needed time to get his fitness levels up but was thrown in almost immediately.

Writing in Michael Parkinson's Best: An Intimate Biography, published in 1975, Best wrote: "Tommy Doc said to me, 'You'll have to settle for being the best player in Britain'. I knew he was right but somehow I didn't want it.

"I started cheating in training, I started cheating on the field. I couldn't do it anymore, I didn't want any part of it."

Much is made of his final game for the club at Queens Park Rangers on New Year's Day 1974 when he was well below par in a 3-0 defeat and then he failed to turn up for training three days later.

But the final scene was played out in Docherty's office when he told Best he was leaving him out of the side that faced lowly Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup.

Best recalled: "I said, 'Fair enough'. He rabbited on for a bit but to tell you the truth I wasn't listening. I was thinking, 'Here we are playing a Third Division side at home and he doesn't reckon I'm good enough to be in the side'."

He watched racing on the television rather than the game, had a drink with his team-mates then waited for them to leave.

Best recalled: "I walked around the empty stadium thinking of all the good times I'd had there, then I went and stood on the pitch and looked around me hearing the crowd roar, feeling the excitement of the times.

"Then I walked out. I never turned round to have a last look and I never went back."

Docherty never forgave Best for turning his back on the club in its greatest hour of need. By the end of the season, United were relegated.

"That was his choice," said Docherty. "Mine was simple - all I did was give him his first and last chance to make good again.

"And when people let me down I wash my hands of them."

Sunday Life


Privacy