Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Forever Young

This entry is part 45 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

It occurs to me that all the football biographies I have so far read have contained a tint of tragedy.

Towards the end of Brian Clough’s biography, the great manager made a tragic admission. That is, based on what we now know.

Clough confessed he was aware of his problems with alcohol, but wrote he would never let the booze beat him. Reading that years after the booze did beat him, killing him, was tough.

Then came the Bobby Moore bio. Like most, I knew he died of cancer, but it was more than that. The cancer that killed him was his second bout of the horrible disease. Worse, his doctor misdiagnosed it time and again. If he hadn’t, medicine might have been able to save Bobby. As it was, by the time they realised what they were dealing with, it was too late.

This was not the only tragic element of Bobby’s story. I didn’t know about his own struggles with alcohol. His bad business investments. Or the way West Ham had him removed from the stadium he had played his entire career at. All he had been doing was watching a game, minding his own.

Okay, my memory isn’t great. I now remember Bobby Moore and Brian Clough were not the only football biographies I have read. There was Harry Redknapp and before that Pele. I guess they didn’t stick with me because there was nothing too tragic about them.

For now, I will ignore those other footballers. What I want to do instead is contrast the tragedy faced by Clough and Moore with that of Adrian Doherty. The focus of forever young.

Who hasn’t heard of Clough and Moore? Even non-football fans know our World Cup-winning captain. Our only World Cup-winning captain. And everyone knows of Clough as a giant of football management. Even if they aren’t aware of his greatest triumph – back to back Champions League trophies. With Nottingham Forest, no less.

But what about the young man detailed in Forever Young? Who remembered Adrian Doherty, football’s lost genius?

Forever Young

Not me, and I’m a UTD fan.

In summary, Adrian was a kid signed from Ireland by Manchester United in his youth.

An incredible talent, he played on the opposite wing to the also vast talent of Ryan Wilson. Now, many won’t know who Ryan Wilson is either. Until I tell you he later changed his name to Ryan Giggs.

Those who saw Adrian play found themselves taken aback by how good he was. The way he would run with the ball. The trickery, the bravery, and the speed. From a young Gary Neville to manager Alex Ferguson, everyone who saw this kid knew he could only go to one place. The top of football.

What makes Adrian’s position even more interesting is the time he was coming through. We all know Giggs as the first of the later famed ‘class of ’92’. But Adrian came through at the same time as Giggs. He was as talented. He should, or so it would seem, be now known as one of that famous class.

Although I’ve been a United fan since I was seven or eight, I didn’t become a huge fan of the team and football until later. I would say when I was eighteen.

Since then I have been to games at Old Trafford. I’ve read Ferguson’s biography and autobiography. I’ve watched the Class of ’92 documentary. And I’ve seen plenty of interviews given by Sir Alex, Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Neville’s.

Yet, in all these, I don’t remember a single mention of Adrian Doherty. A boy who was one of the greatest talent anyone had United had ever seen.

So what happened?

The Tragedy of Football

How easy it is to forget the ones who didn’t make it. The kids these teams pull up from nothing then ditch when they don’t make the grade.

We don’t like to think about it because it’s depressing. These teams fill their academies with players, most of whom they know will never play in the first team.

It has been in the news recently. The BT Football Writer’s podcast discussed how clubs snatch up kids of as young as 12. Throwing them into football academies where football becomes their life. Craig Bellamy admitted on Sky’s The Debate that clubs have involvement with kids as young as 7.

For those that make it this is fine, but what about those that don’t? Kids who earn five, ten, 15 or even 20k a week then find themselves back in the normal world. The money goes. Their clubs having chucked them out of the only thing they ever thought they could do.

There is no aftercare for these prospects. Some will find their way into other clubs. Others, not so lucky, will return to a normal life for which they are quite unprepared.

Can you imagine? You earn an unimaginable amount of money for a few months or years and then, all too soon, it ends. You’re still in your teens and once the money dries up you have to find something. A job out of football. A million miles away from the place you almost found yourself at.

I can only imagine how depressing that must be. How disheartening. Especially with no help from the club that promised you could have it all.

Adrian was in a situation worse than most. He was not a kid told he might make it, only to not make the grade. He would make it. He was that good. He had been making waves in United’s reserve squads as a youth and, still a teenager, was ready for the first team.

It was time for his first appearance and he would have made it. If not for an injury sustained in a reserve game a couple of weeks before. A cruciate ligament injury. The last words any sports star wants to hear.

Giggs would go on to appear in the game Adrian might have started in. The former would never look back. The latter would never get his chance.

Evidence would suggest the club misdiagnosed or mistreated this injury. As a result, Adrian would spend over a year out of contention. Upon his return, the talent was still there, but such an injury will always impact one so young. Within a few months of his return, his contract ended, and the club released him.

In the nineties, as with now, there was little support from the club. They never announced his release was due to injury. They refused to admit any wrongdoing when it came to the injury. It would be a story repeated again and again over the years by all the big clubs. With innumerable kids like Adrian being cast aside and forgotten.

After all, to the club in question, all that matters are the players who will make it int he first team.

That’s the tragedy of football.

The Tragedy of Life

In many ways, Adrian was lucky. Forever Young paints a picture of a boy who was always happy. Unlike many, far more than football held his interest. He loved music. He was in a couple of bands and would often busk, even during his United days. He wrote countless songs poems and even stories.

He was also the kind of kid who loved to learn. A great reader he would do courses and lessons to expand his knowledge. He always wanted to know more about the world.

Following his United career, he did plenty of other things. He travelled to New York and did some touring with his band around local venues. He did normal jobs such as working in a sweet factory. He even had a short spell at Derry Football Club.

A varied career, none of which took him as high as his United career might have. But he was happy, always happy.

Such is the tragedy of life though, that the career-ending injury wasn’t enough.

Known for his restless nature, Adrian announced one day he would be going to Amsterdam. Then he went. He had plans to work there, save some money, then move on. He wanted to meet friends in Europe. Work his way around. He would have had a good time.

But it wasn’t to be. At 26 years old, a week after arriving in Amsterdam, he slipped and fell into a canal in The Hague. Unable to swim he couldn’t save himself and, by the time someone pulled him out, it was too late.

Adrian survived a few weeks in hospital. Long enough for his parents and two of his siblings to come and sit by his side. Long enough for plenty to dream that he might make a miraculous recovery. But it never happened.

A day before his 27th birthday this happy guy. A man who had taken life in its stride. Passed away.

That, of course, is the biggest tragedy of all.

A review?

This isn’t a review, I know that. But the book makes you think and it made me think a lot. About this happy kid who lost his life in such tragic circumstances. About all these kids who have their lives fractured by promises never fulfilled. Discarded by clubs who told them they could have it all then decided they didn’t need them.

I guess it’s for that reason I wrote about that, rather than reviewing the book.

As for the book, you should give it a read.

That’s all I have to say.

Next Up

Next up we go for a fast-paced crime thriller.

It was later made into a film with Ryan Gostling.

It’s drive.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Horowitz’s HolmesMan vs Bookshelf: Drive >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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