Tale of tragic young NI footballer up for major book award

Adrian Doherty was tipped for football greatness but died aged just 26
Adrian Doherty was tipped for football greatness but died aged just 26

A highly acclaimed book on the tragic tale of a local football prodigy is one of seven titles in the running for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

‘Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius’, by Oliver Kay, tells the story of the Strabane youngster’s career which never reached its full potential.

It also traces a life cut short too soon, having ended in tragic circumstances when he drowned at the age of 26 after falling into a canal in Holland.

Doherty played junior football in Londonderry in the 1980s before heading to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ at Manchester United.

Those who played alongside and watched Doherty in the Manchester United youth team in the early 1990s insist he was as good as Ryan Giggs, possibly even better.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, who played alongside Doherty at Moorfield FC in Londonderry in the late 1980s, said: “Speak to Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, the Nevilles, they will all tell you he was the best player they ever played with at that level.”

Doherty was also, by all accounts, an eccentric – by football standards, at least. When his colleagues went to Old Trafford to watch the first team on Saturday afternoons, he preferred to take the bus into Manchester to go busking. He also read about theology and French existentialism and wrote songs and poems.

On his 17th birthday, Doherty was offered a five-year contract – unprecedented for a United youngster at that time – and was told by Alex Ferguson that he was destined for stardom.

But what followed over the next decade – and brilliantly chronicled by Oliver Kay – is a tale so mysterious, so shocking, so unusual, but, ultimately, so tragic, that you are left wondering how on earth it took so long for the story to be told.

Mr Kay said this week he was “astonished, honoured and absolutely delighted” to see ‘Forever Young’ shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book Award.