Adrian Doherty exists in the wind. Commonly believed to be one of the most talented modern players to come through Manchester United’s academy, he would never make a first-team appearance and so, playing as he did in the era before mass interest in the game, there is precious little footage of what he was.
Telling the story of someone who exists as a collection of second or third-hand anecodtes must be particularly difficult, but it’s something that Oliver Kay overwhelmingly succeeds in doing.
Kay, who is the chief football correspondent at The Times, starts at the beginning in Doherty’s native Strabane and charts his rise all the way through to his eventual move to Manchester.
This kind of story – a glinting prospect who fades early and dies far too young – will alwyas possess an enduring appeal, but Doherty is a fascinating character in his own right. Timid and shy, with an individualism which separated him from his footballing peers, there’s something inevitable about his doomed future. The injury was a curse – a terrible stroke of luck exacerbated by mismanagement – but the character Kay describes is someone at great odds with the environment he’s trying to inhabit. It’s a deeply affecting tale.
Forever Young is a triumph in a couple of senses. At last, it brings to life one of British football’s lost enigmas and it’s fascinating to read an account of who, instead of just what, Adrian Doherty was. Of equal worth, though, are the clarifications over his later life, which have long been subject to rumour and innuendo. Kay attacks those mistruths with great force and authority, and in way which shows a real attachment to his subject.