CELTIC’S longest surviving footballer was laid to rest in Inishowen yesterday, the late Hugh Doherty having played for the Glasgow club in the mid-1940’s. He was 93.
Born in Buncrana on May 5th, 1921, Hugh passed away at 7.20 a.m. on Monday last, September 29th, at his home on St. Oran’s Road and thus ended an era during which the player later had become a highly popular administrator within football circles, not just in Donegal, but within the Football Association of Ireland.
Hugh Doherty’s playing career spans from representing the Buncrana Celtic youth team, before being selected for a trial for Glasgow Celtic back in 1938.
However, the outbreak of the Second World War held up his Celtic career having opted to play for Derry City through the 1939/40 season as an amateur. He also played for Buncrana Hearts and Derry Rangers during the mid-war years and, indeed, with Dundalk, as a senior club in the League of Ireland in 1944/45.
Hugh returned to play for Glasgow Celtic in the 1946/47 season before moving to English League with the then fashionable Blackpool F.C. for the 1947/48 campaign. In fact, he was on the touring Blackpool side which was the first team to go on a European tour to Scandinavia after the War.
Celtic’s Chief Scout was in Portrush on holiday in 1939 and he watched Hugh playing in a pre-season game in Coleraine. The scout never spoke to Hugh on that occasion, but the Buncrana man received a letter from Parkhead inviting him over for a trial a few weeks later.
Hugh then played in an exhibition game on September 1st, 1939, at the Vale of Leven and after that game, the coach asked him to go to Parkhead the following morning to discuss terms if he was interested.
Hugh and his father, Johnny, arrived at Parkhead and spoke to Willie Mailey, the then Celtic boss who informed them that due to the announcement of war, the situation had changed and he couldn’t be responsible for Hugh’s safety. Hugh and his father returned home where Hugh spent the war years working in his father’s business and playing amateur football.
Inovlved with Derry City from November 1939 to the end of the season, he eventually joined Dundalk as an amateur in 1944/1945 and enjoyed a very successful season.
When making his debut for Dundalk at Milltown against Shamrock Rovers, part of a wall collapsed on children standing on the sidelines of the pitch.
As Hugh was nearby he pulled a child out from under the debris and carried him off the pitch. The following week he received a standing ovation from the Dundalk crowd as his picture, with the blood stained shirt, had appeared in the national newspapers unknown to himself.
Some of the Glasgow Celtic players were on holiday in Buncrana after the war and Hugh played in an exhibition game with them. Tommy Bogan (capped for Scotland and later played with Manchester United) was one of the players. Subsequently Hugh was contacted by Jimmy McGroary for a trial and travelled over to play for Celtic after the war in 1946.
The first senior game Hugh played in, between Glasgow Celtic and Queen of the South, he was carried off with a head injury. Hugh remembered that a ball came across from the left and the left full back tried to hook the ball at the same time as Hugh tried to head it home. He had nine titches inserted in his head but played in the next game with a padded rugby helmet!
With a few clubs interested in signing him, Hughie opted to leave Glasgow to take up a good contract at Blackpool in 1947/48. He played outside right ,the same position as the great Stanley Matthews and deputised on the odd game when Matthews was injured or representing England.
He played a full season with Blackpool before damaging the cartilage in his knee, a career threatening injury.
Hugh went under the surgeon’s knife to rectify the situation and the following season, when playing a match between Blackpool and Aston Villa, he damaged ligaments on the same knee.
That injury was more serious than at first thought and Hugh began to break down during a number of attempted comebacks.
Blackpool then made a settlement with him because of the seriousness of his injuries and Hugh returned to digs in Scotland.
He continued training with Clyde and after a friendly, Raith Rovers were impressed and asked him to play for them but he broke down during the game. It was then that he had to concede that the specialist was correct that he couldn’t play senior football again.
He was a member of the Buncrana Cup Committee from the 1940’s to 1995/96 and was heavily involved in the purchase and development of Maginn Park, the headquarters of the Inishowen League.
He was a founder member of Buncrana Hearts in 1944, a club which remains in existence today, indeed, that club’s Under-12 Foyle Cup team provided a Guard of Honour at his Requiem Mass yesterday in St. Mary’s Oratory, Buncrana.
He was buried with his late wife, Eithne, in Cockhill Cemetery with a huge attendance at his funeral.
Hugh is survived by his daughter Deirdre; sons Denis and Eamon and the profound sympathy of the Donegal and Derry communities is extended to the Doherty family circle.
May he rest in peace.