The ball boy who became a City legend

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Derry City Football Club have decided to honour those legendary players who have served the club faithfully down the years and the first person to be inducted into the new “Hall of Fame” is former inside right, MATT DOHERTY jun..

‘Journal’ Sports Editor, ARTHUR DUFFY, talks to Mattt about his career, family and the health problems which saw his senior career end in 1969.

Born and reared in the St. Patrick’s Terrace area of Pennyburn, Matt Doherty jnr., was the eldest of a family of four - two brothers and a sister - born to Matt and May Doherty in 1940.

And there was no doubt that Matt senior’s love of his home town football club, which he played for and, indeed, managed, had played a significant role in fashioning the future for his eldest child.

Matt jnr. became involved in the club as a ‘voluntary ball boy,’ fetching the ball for the goalkeeper and players during reserve team matches at the Brandywell, his father then the manager of the second string.

He was just 10 or 11-years-old back then and as his father graduated through the ranks to manage the Derry City first team in the company of another legend, Tommy Houston, young Matt’s career also flourished, but he openly admits that being a son of the manager didn’t do him any favours!

Having represented the Rosemount Boys’ School, and local clubs Rosemount and Don Bosco’s, Matt eventually worked his way into the Derry City Reserve panel but the fact that his father managed the senior team, he believes, actually held back his progress.

“Having said that, I was competing with Jobby Crossan for a place in the first team and, thank God, Jobby left the club to go to England or I might never have got into the team,” laughed Matt this week.

“He was a magnificent footballer and I was always going to struggle to get into the first team with him involved in it. However, in 1958 when Derry travelled to play Glentoran, I was called up to make my debut. I remained in the team but my father then opted to transfer me to Glentoran in 1961!

“I was brought back by Willie Ross in 1964 when, I’ve been told, Derry paid £2,000 for me, and while it was great to be back home, that period definitely signalled the highlight of my playing career.

“The club won the Irish League and Irish Cup and, of course, we played in the European Cup, a fantastic time for any local player,” he recalled.

“I was involved in a superb team of fantastic players and great leaders. It was a terrific experience for me and, just to prove that 1964 would be a special year, I also married Ann Gallagher the same year and I’ve been domiciled in Creggan even since.”

His love for Derry also had a major affect on his honeymoon. “Ann and I travelled to Dublin for our honeymoon - everybody did back then. We left on a Tuesday, but I had a match on Saturday so we returned home early and Joey Wilson, who lived in Dublin, drove us up on the Friday. I don’t think Ann had any problem with that but, then again, we really should have been staying in Dublin until the following Monday.”

Late, Great Fay Coyle

Reflecting back on the players who had represented that team, Matt clamed that the late Fay Coyle, father of Liam, was a fantastic leader on the pitch. However, Matt had his problems with the legendary centre-forward on the training ground!

“Fay was a great captain, a fantastic goalscorer and a great leader of the team, but he didn’t like to train,” claimed Matt.

“While I always busted a gut trying to get fitter and improve, Fay would be shouting: ‘Take it easy young Doherty, there’s no need for all that. Take your time and relax yourself, don’t be getting carried away.’ I’ll always remember that and if I was getting too far ahead of myself, he’d be the first to let me know,” laughed Matt.

“Quality players such as Dougie Wood and Jimmy McGeough also stood out for me while Jimbo Crossan never ceased to amaze me, given his size. A small man, he had a great spring in his heels and could rise to great heights, he battled for everything and was a superb player back then. In fact, there wasn’t a bad player in that team.

“Without doubt, that was the highlight. Matches against F. K. Lynn saw us progress in the European Cup after we kept the game alive in Norway despite losing 5-3. When we won the home leg at the Brandywell 5-1 in front of a massive crowd, I’ll never forget that occasion.”

Brought back to the Brandywell in 1964, Doherty said he was privileged to have been involved in that team, the highlight of the club’s existence in the Irish League since 1928.

But he also experienced the demolition by Anderlecht in the next round, Derry losing 9-0 in the opening leg away from home.

“I remember to saying to one of the players after that game - ‘What are we going to do when we get back home, telling everyone that we lost 12-0. I was then told that it was only 9-0, such was the domination of Anderlecht,” smiled Matt.

Of course, Derry never got to play the home leg of that tie with the I.F.A. ordering that the game be switched to Windsor Park, pontificating that Brandywell Stadium was not up to European standards to stage that game.

That brought great criticism from the home club and despite Anderlecht’s agreement to travel and play at the Brandywell, Derry refused to play in Belfast, thus waiving their right to the second leg with the Belgian side progressing.

Doherty, however, began to experience poor health towards the end of the 1960’s, often collapsing at home after having played a game.

“I started to collapse when at home after games as the matches began to take too much out of me. I’d been told by medical people that I was fortunate not to have collapsed while on the pitch during a game as I could have died in such circumstances.

It was 1969 and his focus was now centred on working in the “Yankee Base” (the US Naval Base in Limavady Road).

“I actually played in a D&D match in the Brandywell after Derry went out of senior football and I always remember the occasion when I was about to gain possession of the ball - it was my ball - yet I couldn’t manage to get near it. I started to fall, I felt unwell and I knew something was wrong.

“I collapsed at home again and that’s when my health situation kicked in. I had a pacemaker fitted followed by major heart surgery to replace a valve and my footballing days were over.

“I spent quite a lot of time in hospital it Belfast, while Ann also had her problems having been in Belvoir Park at the same time but, thankfully, we battled our way through it and we’re still here,” he smiled.

Always smiling and happy to get involved in conversation, Matt and Ann these days dote on their only child - predictably named Matt - their daughter-in-law Oonagh and their two grandchildren Kiernan and Brandon.

He still enjoys a trip to his local Crescent Bar in Beechwood Avenue and while he hasn’t been in attendance at the Brandywell over the past two seasons, he rarely misses out on any news relating to his home town club.

“These days I have to be a bit careful, especially with the cold. However, I always listen to the match commentary on radio, cheering the local lads who are representing Derry City and I’ll always do that. I keep my fingers crossed that the team continues to progress and I’m delighted that so many local lads are now getting a chance to express themselves on their own doorstep,” he concluded.

The now 71-year-old will be the first player to be induced in the local “Hall of Fame” and, no doubt, the choice of the first player to be included by Organising Committee, will be warmly welcomed.

The Social Club’s Organising Committee have decided to select former players on a bi-monthly or tri-monthly basis and the official “roll of honour” will be proudly displayed in Crawford Square premises over the months to come.