This book was interesting, moving, but at the same time it has to be said that it also had shades of blandness in places. The latter aspect could have been easily remedied by it being about one hundred pages shorter. Nevertheless, if you are a lifelong Manchester United fan like I am then this story about former player Adrian Doherty is a very worthwhile read. As I finished reading this tribute to Adrian, I was glad that journalist Oliver Kay had brought his existence into my life. It is a tale to marvel at, be saddened by and also be inspired by!
Adrian Doherty from Strabane, Northern Ireland, tragically died before his twenty-seventh birthday due to a freak accident whilst out in Holland. Before this harrowing event unfolded what Kay gives us is an extremely warm account of this young man’s life without ever going over-the-top or being sycophantic. Via many interviews with Adrian’s family and friends, we learned just what a great player Adrian was and how he was destined for future stardom within the game. A brilliant anecdote shared with us on this topic came from Adrian’s brother Gareth. Recalling a childhood memory of Adrian playing football he stated, ‘I went up to the school fields one night to call him for his dinner and Adrian was having a kickabout with a few soldiers….they had actually put down their guns to play with him.’
The sense that Adrian was not your stereotypical young, wannabe footballer came across really well. For example, Adrian loved writing and listening to music, especially Bob Dylan we were repeatedly told throughout. I had visions though more of a Malcolm McLaren type of character painted by Kay. These were the connotations I got due to the vast array of slightly unusual and amusing stories about The Doc(his nickname) that we got told about. He was not a conformist which thus made him an intriguing and interesting subject.
A funny anecdote which exemplified Adrian’s eccentricity was when Adrian had an evening meal once with the Man United first team at some hotel. Former United physio Jim McGregor told us how unlike the rest of the players who had come down in tracksuit and trainers, Adrian came down in his SLIPPERS! Stories like this helped to convey a vivid impression about who this very likeable Adrian Doherty really was.
Kay needs praising for highlighting and being critical of the apprenticeship digs and initiation ceremonies that young lads had to endure back in the late eighties and early nineties. He also needs applauding for questioning the care that Adrian received after getting an injury which would force him to retire so early from the game, before he ever had the chance to play for the Manchester United first team.
When now highlighting weaknesses of this book, I made the point at the start about it being a bit boring in places. The section I am referring to here is when Kay discussed what Adrian did after his football career had finished. Firstly, it went on far too long. Secondly, because I had never heard of Adrian Doherty before reading this book, then it had limited interest for me. At times I enjoyed getting to know who Adrian was, however at other times I found it hard to really care about him because I had never seen him play football or either do an interview on the television.
The only other real criticism is to do with the volume of people that Kay interviewed, i.e. too many. On several occasions I got lost who these people were even though in fairness, Kay did introduce who they were when first mentioning them. However, it became irritating to have to refer back a lot to see how the person/s just mentioned knew Adrian. I thus would have interviewed less contributors yet tried to have sought more from them if possible.
Emotively speaking, the strongest and most powerful part of this story was at the end when Kay detailed Adrian’s fateful freak accident and the impact of his death. You know something is well written when what you read brings a lump to your throat like it did with me here. Two ex-teammates Marcus Brameld and Craig Lawton spoke of Adrian in glowing terms. Marcus called him ‘the nicest guy in the world’ and Craig referred to him as ‘one in a million’. The words from Adrian’s sister Ciara McAnenny were particularly moving when she said of her sons and nephews, ‘one of the saddest things is that they’ll never know Adrian. The impact of this emotional ending needs high critical praise.
To sum up then, a well written sports book that is a must read for every Man United fan out there, whether you’ve already heard of Adrian Doherty or not. I had not and so I thank author Oliver Kay for enriching my life about this very unique, SPECIAL HUMAN BEING! 4/5.