Oliver Kay, the author of Forever Young, went to great lengths to unravel the intriguing story of Adrian Doherty and his character as viewed by those in and outside the football world.
Adrian’s life was split between his sporting and artistic pursuits. Those who knew him in those two conflicting worlds viewed him differently. Perhaps his brother Gareth knew him best.
Eric Harrison, who was considered an expert in dealing with young footballers, did not appear to comprehend what made him tick. The same could be said of Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United staff were clearly baffled when he pushed for a three-year contract when a five-year deal was on the table.
From the information provided in the book here’s an attempt at understanding Adrian’s character and behaviour.
Born amidst the Troubles in Ireland during the early 80s, Adrian was an intellectual who had a thirst for knowledge and an ever expanding mind. Who knows if he consciously or unconsciously chose a meaningful and fulfilling path.
The dichotomy for Adrian was that he was a free-spirit who happened to excel in a highly organised, professional sport: at an elite level he was like a fish out of water. Adrian was an outsider among stereotypically ego-centric footballers.
He was mature in some aspects, innocent in others. To survive the oppressive football environment he sought solace inside his head. Adrian was drawn to like-minded individuals who were quirky, creative or eccentric. Although fun-loving on one-hand, he readily engaged in deep conversations about literature, theology and philosophy.
There were no obvious sides to Adrian. He did not rant, rage, seek revenge or appear remorseful. He was pleasant and dealt with things in a passive manner. This may have led some in the football community to doubt his commitment. Despite that impression, Adrian must have cared to reach the level he did. Whatever gifts are bestowed naturally no-one knocks on the door of playing elite football in England without being committed.
After the disappointment at United, Adrian probably signed up for Derry City as a duty to significant others and, also, to satisfy his own curiosity. The brutal cruciate ligament injury had left physical and mental scars. The rehabilitated Adrian was a touch slower than the pre-injured one. Consequently, the young winger struggled to get round players he would have left in his wake. For Adrian the excitement and fulfilment would have gone with his pace. The huge internal void this incident left could never have been filled by money. It’s therefore no great surprise that he decided to walk away from football.
While the players who collectively became known as the Class of 92 became household names, Adrian slipped quietly out of the spotlight and into obscurity. During the two year period he battled with injury his interests in all things artistic and philosophical must have provided some comfort.
Underneath his quiet demeanour, there was a bubbling determination and stubbornness which drove Adrian to pursue his interests and talents to the best he could. He knew what he wanted and had the courage and confidence to venture down untrodden paths. His resilience allowed him to bounce back if things did not necessarily work out. Adrian was happy to take a let’s see approach – a principle of mindfulness essential for growth.
Whether it was football or music – entertaining people gave Adrian his greatest pleasure. He would come alive in either setting, expressing himself freely. He was equally happy performing in front of large football crowds or small open-mic gatherings. Adrian preferred to be under-estimated and never sought the lime-light, fame or fortune.
Had things turned out for the better, Adrian would have made his debut for Manchester United. The question is, How long would he have pursued a football career? I feel he would have played as long as he was satisfied intrinsically – as long as he was able to lift a crowd with his mesmerising skills.
Involvement with the arts balanced Adrian mentally. The conformist world of elite football would never have provided sufficient stimulation. As long as his artistic endeavours and football ran parallel he would have been fine.
Just as significantly, I never felt Adrian would have ever pursued his football ambitions at a cost to his character or being. He would never have compromised his values and beliefs for any team at any level. His character may have been better suited to individual sport, where there is no pressure from team-mates. However, that can be a lonely place at times, but then again Adrian was very happy in his own skin.
Adrian’s strength of character was an admirable trait, but on a human level he must have thought I wonder if I’d have signed for Arsenal…? We will never know. I`m filling in gaps like everyone else but surely Sir Alex Ferguson has had those What if…? thoughts after seeing such a supreme natural talent slip from his grasp.
As football programmes continue to churn out day after day in the lead up to the World Cup, you cannot help think that Adrian should have been among the greats either talking or being talked about. I am sure those who were fortunate enough to watch him feel the same. Perhaps by the time the next World Cup comes around in 2022, someone will have taken it on themselves to put a series of documentaries about what happened to those prodigious talents that came so close.
Adrian was in a class of his own – he would and should have been leading the Class of 90.
Forty-five years ago today a supremely gifted individual was born. His life was tragically foreshortened but he touched many simply by being himself. Adrian Doherty was a one-off – unique – and we may not see his like again.