THE DOOG – The Derek Dougan story. Part One

BY Vince Cooper

NORTHERN Irish football has always seemed to punch above its weight. That a country so small has made it to three World Cup finals with the teams of 1958 and 1984 proving particularly successful is no mean feat.

Perhaps more surprising is that during the period between those two qualifications they failed to make it to the finals despite producing some of the game’s biggest stars. At the top of the list is undoubtedly George Best who few would argue is the greatest player never to appear at the tournament. Then there was Pat Jennings. Although still around for the 1984 tournament and a hugely important member of that side, he was undoubtedly at his peak during the two decades before when few would argue he was right up there with the best on the planet.

The six counties has produced many other outstanding individuals over the years with the likes of Jimmy McIlroy, Danny Blanchflower and Johnny Crossan springing to mind.

A third great product during that same era as Best and Jennings was Derek Dougan, a larger-than-life character who enjoyed a long and illustrious playing career before moving into broadcasting and administration within the game and enjoying equal success. The oft-controversial striker made a surprise appearance for his country as a 20-year-old in the 1958 tournament but that was his one and only appearance on the sport’s biggest stage.

Dougan served eight clubs over an almost 25-year span, before becoming a highly-respected pundit and then returning to one of his former teams to help them emerge from liquidation.

Alexander Derek Dougan was born in Belfast on 20 January 1938, the eldest of the six children of Jackie and Josie. His father worked at the famous Harland & Wolff shipyard where grandfather Sandy had also been employed while playing for Linfield whilst two of Sandy’s brothers also reaching a high level on the pitch so the game was in the blood.

The Dougan family was hardly wealthy and Derek was quoted by David Tossell in his 2012 book ‘In Sunshine And In Shadow: A Journey Through the Life of Derek Dougan’ as saying: “On the street where I lived, if you paid your rent three weeks on the trot, the police used to come round and see where you got the money from”.

A football fanatic from an early age, Derek initially played for his school team, Mersey Street, and for Cregagh Boys from the age of 13 and won schoolboy and later amateur caps for his country.

After starting his working life in the Triang toy factory he followed his dad and granddad by working as an apprentice electrician at Harland & Wolff although he would later admit that he hated the job and found it boring.

With Distillery teammate Jack Curry

He signed for Lisburn Distillery (known to most as just Distillery) in 1954 and soon broke into the first team. Playing at inside-left and still an amateur, Dougan was part of the side that won the Irish Cup in 1956 beating Glentoran 1-0, thanks to a Jack Curry goal at Windsor Park in a second replay. It was the club’s eleventh victory in the final.

During the 1956-1957 season Derek turned pro and having already been watched by Wolves, Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth (who had a bid turned down) during the previous campaign it was reported that Pompey boss Eddie Lever and Leeds manager Raich Carter would be present for Distillery’s second match of the ‘57-‘58 campaign, against Bangor.

Dougan impressed and Leeds quickly made a bid of almost £4,000. With Portsmouth hesitating it looked like Carter would get his man. However, after another fine performance in Distillery’s next match against Ards, Lever topped the Leeds offer and in late August Portsmouth got their man, for a little over £4,000.

The new boy was given time to settle and made his first-team debut for Pompey on October 19.

Pompey days

Dougan’s first match for Portsmouth was a daunting one, against Manchester United at Old Trafford although the task was made easier by the fact that three of the home team’s biggest stars – Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor – were on international duty with England in Wales.

There was some debate over Dougan’s best position as he had stated a preference for playing at wing-half. But boss Lever picked him at centre-forward and he reportedly ‘played like an assured veteran’ as his side overcame the reigning champions 3-0 with Jackie Henderson, Peter Harris and Ron Newman scoring the goals.

Four days after his Pompey debut, the youngster was picked to play for his country’s ‘B’ team against Romania. There was continued debate in the Irish press over his best position with as many as four possible spots being mentioned. His country eventually decided to follow his club’s lead by playing him at centre-forward and he responded with a hat-trick in a 6-0 win.

Dougan’s second Portsmouth game, and home debut, came in a 2-0 win over Leicester City and he proved an immediate hit with home fans. In the People, Bill David wrote: “Have Pompey found a new star?

“If he’s not a star yet, 19-year-old Derek ‘Longlegs’ Dougan is certainly a big hit with the fans”.

It was a decent debut season for the player but proved to be a struggle for the club as they finished on 32 points and avoided relegation only on goal average.

Dougan’s ‘B’ team performance for his country led Northern Ireland manager Peter Doherty to include the youngster, with just 28 league appearances under his belt, in his squad for the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. This came after he had to pull out of making his international debut against England. He had actually been picked to play centre-half but missed out after suffering a muscle injury.

First on the plane to Sweden

Rangers centre forward Billy Simpson was the team’s first-choice centre-forward for Sweden but after he had picked up an injury in training Dougan was thrust into action for the opening match against Czechoslovakia.

The youngster, who had been in big-time football for just six months unsurprisingly looked a little out of his depth in the 1-0 win and with Simpson fit for the second match it was to prove Dougan’s first – and only World Cup finals appearance.

Back at Fratton Patk, Lever was fired as manager and replaced by former Bournemouth boss Freddie Cox and this was the start of Dougan’s clashes with authority. He was critical not just of Cox but also of the board and became increasingly disenchanted at the club.

As he proved throughout his career The Irishman was no shrinking violet when it came to criticism about a number of things including tactics and training and it came as little surprise when Portsmouth – who were relegated at the end of the season – cashed in, selling him to Blackburn Rovers for £10,000 in March 1959.

The stay at Ewood Park didn’t go a whole lot better than the one at Fratton although it started well enough.

Derek’s debut for Rovers was superb, scoring their goal in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal and this was a fine Blackburn team with the likes of Ronnie Clayton, Bryan Douglas, Roy Vernon, Peter Dobing and Ally MacLeod all regulars in the line-up. They finished the season in 10th and, with wily Scot Dally Duncan at the helm, appeared ready to push for major honours.

The 1959-60 season started on a high. Dougan’s ability at the top level had been questioned by a number of critics, and indeed some Rovers fans with a perceived lack of pace being the chief concern. But he opened the new campaign, now playing at centre forward with a pair of goals, described in The People newspaper as ‘thunderbolts’ and also set up teammate Roy Vernon for another in a 4-0 thumping of Fulham to, seemingly, put minds at rest.

The People wrote: “The 6ft 2in Irishman whose cowboy gait and scalp-revealing crew-cut have earned him the nickname ‘Cheyenne’ [after a Western TV series of the time] was playing his first league game for Rovers in the position he was intended when he was bought from Portsmouth.

”On yesterday’s form he should fill it very well”.

Blackburn Rovers 1960

A 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in early September (where Dougan again found the net) saw Blackburn top the table in the early going and although their form became somewhat inconsistent Duncan’s men maintained their place in the upper reaches of the First Division and as the calendar switched to 1960 and thoughts turned to the cup the team were in a healthy 5th place.

Blackburn weren’t given an easy time in the cup draw. Rounds three and four saw replay wins against Sunderland and Blackpool (where Dougan scored) to set up a 5th Round visit to White Hart Lane to take on table-topping Spurs. But Rovers, with Clayton and Douglas at their best, proved more than a match for the Londoners, running out 3-1 victors to earn a place in the last eight.

And still the draw did the Ewood Park men no favours, giving them an all-Lancashire quarter-final tie at champions-to-be Burnley. Things looked grim when, with just thirteen minutes remaining at Turf Moor, Dougan and his teammates were three down. But they fought back brilliantly with a penalty from Douglas followed by goals from Peter Dobing and Mivk McGrath – the last just five minutes from time – taking the tie back to Ewood Park.

The replay was goalless after 90 minutes but 13 minutes into extra time Dougan nodded a Douglas free-kick into the path of Dobing who swept the ball home.

The exuberant Northern Irishman then booted the ball high into the crowd in celebration causing the ref to call for a replacement with which Ally MacLeod scored two minutes from time but not before Dougan had been carried off with what was initially thought to be a fractured ankle.

MacLeod’s goal sealed the win  bringing to an end two pulsating matches which had been watched by over 100,000 fans.

The semi-final draw set yet another tough task for Blackburn. Having already eliminated the teams that would finish 1st and 3rd in the First Division they were now paired with eventual fifth-placed Sheffield Wednesday.

The Wednesday win

Wednesday had comfortably seen off Rovers in the league in January but at Maine Road in the semi-final clash, Dougan, after missing a few games with the ankle problem, returned and was right back to his best. He gave his side an 11th-minute lead then added a second when running on to a MacLeod pass to score.

Wednesday fought back and Johnny Fantham halved the lead but some fine saves from Harry Leyland preserved Rovers’ advantage and sent them to Wembley where Wolves, yet another team who would finish the season in the country’s top five, awaited.

Rovers’ league form had fallen off dramatically after their semi-final win and they approached the big match amid talk of discontent among the players, along with an injury worry for their centre-forward.

In their final match before the big clash Rovers travelled to Birmingham and just two minutes from time Dougan pulled up sharply and limped off. Manager Dally Duncan said after the match; “I am a very worried man. He appears to have pulled a hamstring in his right leg…and you know how the Wembley turf pulls on a player’s legs”. Treatment the day after the game revealed a slight strain with Duncan adding; “we hope he will be able to play”.

And that wasn’t the only problem at the club. For many weeks the board had promised ‘fantastic bonuses’ to the players for their cup efforts. But as the big day approached there was still no agreement.

The impasse led Derek to ask for a transfer on the eve of the big match, although he would later claim that he had been left ‘high and dry’ by his teammates.

Many years later, and shortly after Derek passed away, younger brother Dale revealed that the plan had been for the whole team to threaten to leave if the matter wasn’t resolved.

Dale told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph; “Derek told me that all the players got together to talk about how to deal with the matter and they decided to put in transfer requests en masse. So that’s what Derek did. The only problem was, nobody else did. He told me he felt betrayed by his teammates.

“He thought the players and management would double bluff each other and then come to some agreement that suited everyone.

“So he went into the FA Cup final having put in a transfer request”.

So with the injury doubts (teenager Mike England or reserve forward Roy Isherwood were lined up as possible replacements should Dougan not recover) and the last-minute transfer request, it wasn’t a happy build-up to the final for the player or the team as a whole.

The centre-forward sailed through a fifteen-minute fitness test at Hendon’s ground on the eve of the big match and many thought that, even with the problems surrounding his build-up, Dougan, of whom John Camkin wrote in the News Chronicle; “he draws inspiration from situations that can frighten others”, would play a big part in the final.

Dougan was described by the Daily Mirror’s Frank McGhee in his preview of the match as; “The complete enigma. Electrification and exasperation. Poise and petulance – a mass of contradictions.

“When you first see Dougan the reaction is usually amusement. He is thin as a whip and 6ft. 2in. tall – most of which is made up of slightly bowed legs, has the cowboy touch that first earned him the nickname ‘Cheyenne’

“Despite his clumsy, comical action he’s the fastest centre forward in Britain.

“He also wants to be known as the best”.

Sadly, 7th May 1960 was not a day that would help in Dougan’s quest reach that goal. Whether hampered by the injury or distracted by his dispute with the club which had culminated in the written request he had posted to the Rovers chairman just before leaving for Wembley, The Doog just didn’t perform on the day as Rovers, hampered by the loss of full-back Dave Whelan who broke his leg just before half time, fell tamely to a 3-0 defeat.

Rising highest to a cross at Wembley

Surprisingly, and despite building criticism from fans, Dougan remained at the club despite being on the transfer-list throughout the summer. In fact, no English teams made an enquiry, with the player’s value perhaps ant doubt due to a growing reputation as a troublemaker. At one stage a move to Belgian club Anderlecht seemed on the cards but that fell through.

Instead the major summer change at Ewood was manager Dally Duncan leaving and former Rochdale boss Jack Marshall coming in as his replacement.

The 1960-61 season began with a tough-looking trip to Old Trafford but ‘Cheyenne’ showed all of the on-field qualities that  made him such an enigma, hammering a hat-trick in a 3-1 win.

And after the match, Dougan was quick to reiterate his commitment to the club, whilst also offering to come off the list. “I think my hat-trick proves to Blackburn’s fans that I have no intention of slacking – if I am picked to play.

“If everyone forgets what happened in the past, I think Blackburn can go places this year – and that includes me.

“My fiancée, Valerie Martin, is a Blackburn girl [they would later separate] and wants me to stay in the area.

“If everything goes as smoothly as in the past few weeks there is every chance that I shall scrub my transfer request”.

Dougan scored again in the home opener – a 4-1 win over Nottingham Forest – and yet again in Blackburn’s third match although this time it was merely a last-minute consolation as his team were firmly put in their place with a 4-1 home defeat to eventual double-winners Spurs.

Dougan continued to shine and Blackburn maintained their place in the upper reaches of the top flight until in early October both he and Bryan Douglas were called up to play in a Northern Ireland v England encounter at Windsor Park.

It was Douglas who came out on top, finding the net as England triumphed 5-2 whilst at the same time Rovers were suffering a 4-1 home drubbing at the hands of local rivals Burnley (who also had two players missing on international duty).

Dougan was still performing well but a spell out injured gave a chance to converted full-back Fred Pickering. The Northern Irishman finished the season with 13 goals in all competitions as Rovers finished a decent 9th as well as reaching the 5th Round of the FA Cup and 4th Round of the League Cup. But the emergence of Pickering cast more doubt about his future.

In the summer, Dougan, who had by now separated from Valerie Martin, turned down a new contract offer along with other Rovers stars Peter Dobing and Ronnie Clayton, with all three said to be looking for a move in part to take advantage of the abolition of the maximum wage. Clayton eventually stayed put whilst Dobing went to Manchester City who had money to spend after selling Denis Law to Torino.

Aston Villa had also sold England international forward Gerry Hitchens to Inter in Italy for £85,000 and Manager Joe Mercer decided to spend £15,000 of the money he received on signing Dougan. So the Northern Irishman moved to the Midlands, joining up with international teammate Peter McParland.

Running out for Villa at Goodison Park

It proved to be an unhappy move with McParland, who left for Wolves in January 1962, later admitting; “when Derek came to us at Aston Villa I think it was at a time when he wasn’t taking the game particularly seriously”.

Matters weren’t helped when he was involved in a car crash on the way back from watching his new team play in their delayed League Cup final at Rotherham. Teammate Bobby Thomson was driving the car, fellow passenger Malcolm Williams was killed and Dougan suffered a broken arm and head injuries.

After spending three months on the sidelines Dougan returned and he finished the season with 12 goals in 27 games as Villa finished 7th.

The following season saw another lengthy absence caused by a knee injury sustained when slipping in the street and there were also a number of disagreements with boss Mercer.  He managed to find the net 14 times in 33 matches, including five in Villa’s run to a second successive League Cup final. By the time the final was played in May he was out of the side as Villa lost to local rivals Birmingham City.

And in July 1963, aged 25, he was on the move again, dropping down two divisions to join his fourth Football League club.

And you can read about what happened next in the eventful career of Derek Dougan in part two of ‘The Doog’, coming to the website soon.