Adrian Doherty was from Strabane in Northern Ireland and played for Manchester United’s youth team during the 1990’s, although his name isn’t one you will have heard mentioned too often. Despite once boasting talent equal to or surpassing that of Ryan Giggs’, a cruciate injury ended his career days before he was set to make his debut for the first team, and he tragically died a few years later after falling away from football.
Doherty’s character has been described as “bohemian, slightly eccentric in a football context” and often turned up at The Cliff in “a baggy old Aran sweater with a guitar over his shoulder”.
Oliver Kay, the Chief Football Correspondent for The Times, has written about Doherty’s story and has spoken exclusively to RoM about the reasons why.
Scott: When did you first hear about Adrian Doherty’s story?
Oli: It was February 2011 and I was speaking to some former United youth-team players for a piece I was doing on Ryan Giggs, ahead of the 20th anniversary of his debut, when one of them asked me if knew about “Doc” – Adrian Doherty. The name rang the most distant bell in my mind, because that’s the kind of mind I have, but I didn’t really know anything about him. I was told he had been as good as Giggs at 16/17, had suffered a terrible injury when he was on the verge of the first team, had drifted out of football and had then died, tragically, at the age of 26. From the moment I heard that, I was captivated.
Scott: What motivated you to tell his story?
Oli: Initially, two things: Firstly, the fact that it immediately seemed such a fascinating and intriguing story, secondly, the fact that barely a word seemed to have been written about Adrian Doherty since he left United in 1993. When I Googled his name for the first time in early 2011, there was nothing beyond a few “Anyone remember Adrian Doherty?” type threads on United forums and a small online tribute put together by Matt Bradley, a coach of his in Northern Ireland.
I immediately wanted to know more, so I tracked down Doherty’s family – through their parish priest funnily enough – and then went over to Strabane, County Tyrone, to meet them. At the time my plan was to an article for The Times, but the more I spoke to his family and found out about this amazing talent, and this amazing personality who used to go busking on Saturday afternoons when his team-mates were at Old Trafford, the more I thought it might take a book to do this story justice.
The family weren’t keen on anything – a newspaper article or a book – but eventually they decided a book might serve as a proper tribute to Adrian and to tell his fascinating story, which they felt had been lost. So that became the third reason for wanting to tell the story and I was delighted and honoured that they were willing to trust me to write his story.
Scott: Why do you think his story has been relatively unheard of until now?
Oli: Partly because of timing. It’s probably since the Class of 92 that almost every United youngster has begun to have a profile of some sort. A lot of fans could reel off the names of the Youth Cup teams, but Adrian was slightly before that – the Class of 90, you might call it, six months older than Giggs though they played in the youth team together. But I did feel it was more than odd when I would look through the autobiographies of Giggs and others and see that none of them had mentioned Adrian – an exceptional talent and quirky personality who died at a young age – and I did wonder whether his name might have become taboo for one reason or another.
MUTV do all these great documentaries about whatever happened to those kids who didn’t make it, and they never went near Adrian’s story. When I interviewed Giggs for the book – and he spoke so effusively and so warmly about Adrian as a person and as a player – I asked him why he had never mentioned him in his books or in any previous interviews. He admitted it was probably because of an “awkwardness” that nobody really knew the truth of what happened to him, which I was happy to be able to tell them was far more straightforward than the version that they had heard on the grapevine. With that in mind, I’m really pleased that Giggs, Ferguson and so many others were so willing to contribute to the book.