Monday, 25 June 2007

Wolves 5 (Dougan 3, Richards 2) Man City 1 (Marsh)

Listening to: Rain hammering against the window
Drinking: PG Tips
Paying for: staying up late to watch Glastonbury for three nights running

A huge section of my childhood fell in at 4.39 yesterday afternoon when my friend Reg sent me a text which read: "Doog has snuffed it."

Derek Dougan, one-time Wolverhampton Wanderers and Northern Ireland centre forward and star of my bedroom wall for many years, died suddenly at the age of 69.

I'm sensible enough not to have a crisis when one of my heroes turns up his/her toes (John Peel was the only one who actually made the bottom lip wobble) and I'm old enough to have got used to it, but The Doog's passing stopped me in my tracks for a split-second.

Dougan loomed large in my life as a young boy, stuck in the footballing wilderness of the East Anglian Fens. My contact with the professional game (the nearest League club being Peterborough United, a 30-mile, one-hour trip to watch a team that wasn't Posh at all) was limited to occasionally being allowed to stay up for Match of the Day or gulping my Sunday lunch down so I could watch ITV's offering.

Anglia TV's Match of the Week alternated between Norwich and Ipswich, but in the late 60s we somehow were tuned in to the Midlands-based ATV as well. This opened up a whole new, glamourous world for me - Birmingham City, Derby County, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa all became regular visitors to our home. (Your average seven-year-old in the Fens is easily impressed, believe me).

I hadn't really pinned my colours to any team at this stage, apart from cheering dutifully for Southern League Cambridge City on the odd occasion my dad took me along to Milton Road.

My dad coming from Northern Ireland, I had already been alerted to George Best's genius, but that hadn't been enough to attract me to Manchester United - too many kids in the school playground were United fans and I always liked to be different.

Then along came a lanky, crop-haired guy with a bolshie attitude, playing for a team with a ludicrously long name, who wore different colours to anyone else and who were known as The Wolves - what young boy could resist? Don't answer that. What was more. . . Doog was one of us, an Irish Protestant.

"Yer man Dougan? He's a fair player," said my dad. High praise indeed.

So I became a Wolves fan (having first looked up Wolverhampton on a map) and condemned myself to the best part of 40 years of disappointment - character-building, I think it's called.

While George Best was all Carnaby Street and sports cars, Doog represented more what Britain really was like in the 60s (I firmly believe all that swinging stuff happened to six DJs, five pop bands, one conceptual artist and a Jack Russell terrier called Arthur, while everyone else was busy scratching a living, watching Coronation Street 'enjoying' summer holidays in Great Yarmouth and waiting for prawn cocktail crisps to be invented).

Most of my friends were into Tottenham or Arsenal, so I was a curiosity/figure of fun/freak at school, but I stuck with it, Doog giving Wolves just the tiniest bit of credibility.

With my dad being a school rugby coach, trips to games were impossible, but when I finally made it to Molineux on March 3 1973 - it was worth the wait. Manchester City were swept aside 5-1 with John Richards scoring twice and Doog a hat-trick.

A year later Wolves beat City again, this time at Wembley to win the League Cup, and another year on, Doog retired.

As I grew up, I stuck with Wolves, and when I started a career in newspapers, it was perhaps inevitable I should be drawn to Wolverhampton - well, I'd just bought a season ticket.

By the time I stumbled into sports writing, Dougan had become a reviled character in much of the town, thanks to his part in the takeover of the club by the mysterious Bhatti Brothers, Manchester-based property developers whose sole interest - it quickly became apparent - was in the land value of Molineux. I ioccanterviewed Dougan some years later and he promised to 'tell you about that one day'!

His antics and his drinking gave him a reputation as something of a bar-room bore in later life and his dabbling in the political world (first as a kind of unity candidate in Belfast, then more recently as a backer for the nutters from UKIP) were ill-thought-out and half-hearted. Thick footballers are not the only ones who struggle to find a role in life once their career is over.

Doog was effectively written out of Wolves history for many years. He was omitted from a selection of 12 all-time Molineux greats in a book written by my then colleague David Instone - produced with the club's backing - and a (rather tacky) limited edition print of a host of former Wolves players included Dave Woodfield and Mike Bailey, but not Doog. Petty stuff that shames the club's tradition.

Yet for much of the late 60s and early 70s, Wolves would have faded from view had it not been for Dougans talents as a footballer and a showman. Sure, the Bhatti takeover was a disaster, but were there any other serious offers on the table? No.

Dougan was not the nicest, nor the most honest of men - who knows what he did for a living in recent years? - but for 90 minutes in March 1973, three goals and the way it made an 11-year-old lad feel on his first visit to Molineux, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

God bless you Derek, rest in peace.

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