The tragic and remarkable tale of Man United's forgotten phenomenon Adrian Doherty

Journalist and author Oliver Kay tells Off The Ball about the story of the late Northern Irish footballer

Adrian Doherty, Manchester United

Adrian Doherty. Picture by: Ross Kinnaird / EMPICS Sport

Wing wizard and club legend are just two of the titles Ryan Giggs has earned for himself when his Manchester United career is brought up.

But those words could have been reserved for the late Adrian Doherty who was a contemporary of the Welshman's in the Old Trafford youth ranks.

Indeed, Giggs recently admitted that the Northern Irish prodigy was the "ideal player" for manager Alex Ferguson and with emphasis, "an incredible talent".

The right-winger was also a unique talent in another sense, standing out from his team-mates due to his love of poetry, music and Bob Dylan, even spending some of his time in Manchester busking with his trusty guitar.

Unfortunately, Doherty's talents would never be seen at the top level as he never made an appearance for United's senior side, with his cruciate knee ligaments giving way days before he was to make his debut.

He eventually drifted out of football before losing his life in tragic circumstances at the age of 27 in 2000, not long after Giggs and the Class of 92 won a historic treble for United. He fell into a canal before slipping into a coma, dying one month later. 

Picture by: Ross Kinnaird / EMPICS Sport

His life, death and the aftermath are the subject of a new book by Oliver Kay called Forever Young, The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius and he joined Off The Ball tonight to talk about it.

"He was the one who was meant to be the first of the new generation [at Manchester United]," said Kay of that time that the Class of 92 era of Giggs, the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Paul Scholes began to break through, with Doherty on a par with Giggs as teenage phenomenons.

A free-spirited player, he initially struggled with homesickness, and stood out in very different ways as players as contemporaries recall. 

As Kay describes, a regular occurence for Doherty's was "walking away from Old Trafford and giving his tickets away when the rest of the youth team would go and watch the first team on a Saturday afternoon. He would give his tickets away and go, take the bus into town and busk" in Manchester city centre, or read in the library on obscure subjects.

"His first win bonus when he went away with the first team that season at 16, I do know what he spent it on. His landlady told me, he spent it on a typewriter on which he wrote a story," said Kay, also adding that he wrote hundreds of songs and poems with a mix of melancholy and humorous themes. 

Unfortunately the knee injuries took their toll but the issue of a misdiagnosis and his treatment in the aftermath is one that his parents have been highlighting, while his name rarely brought up by the club in the following years.

"I think his name has been one that people have not really been desperate to talk about when they've been reeling off the nearly men of the golden generation and I hope that changes now," he said. 

However, Doherty's brother says the former player's final years were among the happiest of his life after leaving football, and he had never been interested in the fame and fortune that came with life in the sport, with Kay adding that there was no hint of bitterness that his playing career had not worked out.  

But on June 9th 2000, he slipped into a coma after falling into a canal when working in the Netherlands, with police at the time emphasising that there was no indication that any non-accidental reasons were a factor.

"It just seemed like he was on his way back to work and this just happened," said Kay.