Prior to the screening of the interesting George Best story, “All By Himself,” on television last Monday night, another interesting local story had been brought to a conclusion in Derry’s City Hotel on Saturday evening.
Also involving the great great George Best, one local player who had graduated to international fame back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s - and who had played in the company of the Belfast boy for Northern Ireland - was our very own sports columnist, Tony O’Doherty, then contracted to Irish League club, Coleraine.
O’Doherty, described as a talented, ball playing centre-back, from Derry’s Creggan Estate, was one of the very few part-time members of the international squad at that time.
However, the story which stunned Tony and, indeed, fashioned emotional scenes from an unknown Englishman in the City Hotel at the weekend, emanated from a telephone call to the “Derry Journal” well over 12 months ago.
A gentleman named Kevin Knight, a George Best fanatic since childhood - he actually has a George Best facial tattoo emblazoned on his arm - made contact asking if I knew a Tony O’Doherty, a defender, who had represented Northern Ireland back in the day.
When I answered in the affirmative and that we were cleary both talking about the same Tony O’Doherty, Kevin confirmed that he has had in his possession for the past 46 years, a prized N. Ireland international jersey, which had been worn by Tony O’Doherty during a Home International Championship fixture against Wales at The Vetch Field, Mr. Knight openly admitted that he had felt guilty- probably more embarrassed at having kept the jersey for so long - and now held the view that O’Doherty may well have wanted it returned at some stage.
Of course, once Kevin had been made aware that Tony was alive and still ‘kicking everything that moved,’ he made a promise to travel across the channel, meet O’Doherty in the flesh in Derry and return his prized possession.
In fact, he had also sourced an international match programme from an England v. Northern Ireland Home Championship game which was played at Wembley Stadium in 1970 - the last competitive England match before the Alf Ramsey managed squad headed for the World Cup Finals in Mexico as defending champions. O’Doherty had played in that game - again with George Best - the visitors suffering a 3-1 defeat.
Following further investigation it was revealed that Tony had given his international jersey - after the Wales game - to one Lawrence “Lornie” McDevitt, a neighbour from Rinmore Drive, who had arrived back in Creggan from Coventry where he was now working, to visit his family.
Lornie returned to Coventry after a short stay and proudly displayed the jersey to his next door neighbour in England, before noticing that a small, inquisitive teenager had expressed an immediate interest in the bright verdant top with the yellow logo.
Appreciating the interest of the youngster, good hearted Lornie - who was actually considered a talented goalkeeper back then and also on Coleraine’s books at that time - opted to present the jersey to the young Kevin Knight, 46 years ago!
As promised, Kevin arrived in Derry with his partner last weekend and the English lad, now struggling to remain on the right side of 60, got a bit of a shock to meet Tony and, of course, Lornie after all those years and the reminiscing kicked-off immediately.
Goes without saying that a good day was had by all and, just for the record, Tony opted to keep the match programme, but signed the jersey, which remained in pristine condition, asking Kevin to keep it given that he had looked after it so well, for so long . . . .