Giggs, Beckham, Scholes – the names that have become synonymous with the ‘Class of ’92’ and subsequently Manchester United’s golden generation.
But what about Giggs’ fellow teammate dubbed by the tabloids as ‘the next George Best’?
Someone Sir Alex Ferguson referred to as ‘greased lightning’, a lad who ‘ticks all the boxes’.
Well the chances are, you’ll have never heard of him.
Adrian Doherty – a lad hailing from the small town of Strabane in Northern Ireland – has a tragic tale, that becomes lost in the success that followed for Fergie and the Class of ’92.
Having been wanted by Arsenal and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, Doherty ultimately signed for United at the tender age of 14.
Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius is a book detailing the story about a player who, having had the world at his feet, died the day before his 27th birthday.
Sports Journalist Oliver Kay, who wrote the book told UNILAD:
Adrian was an extreme talent, an extreme personality and had an extremely sad story.
He is more fascinating than any other individual I have ever come across in the football world.
On one hand, he was an utterly brilliant footballer. Giggs called him ‘freakish’, ‘incredible’. Gary Neville described him as ‘out of this world’.
On the other hand he was nothing like your typical footballer, he was anti-materialistic and preferred to take the bus into Manchester City Centre on a Saturday afternoon to go busking rather than watch the first team with the rest of his colleagues – his idols weren’t footballers – he admired Maradonna and thought he could be a better player than him – but he loved Bob Dylan.
Adrian was a winger and played on the opposite side to Giggs – on the right – and was hailed by the Welshman as ‘an electric player whose bravery stood out’.
Kay revealed that Sir Alex fell in love with the youngster at first sight in terms of his footballing ability:
For 18 months Fergie had the highest regard for Adrian.
He thought the youngster was fascinating and tenacious – he loved him and genuinely believed he was going to make it.
In the book, the United academy expert Tony Park describes Doherty as:
Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis and Cristiano Ronaldo all rolled into one.
Doherty’s debut was pencilled in for the same day as Giggs, in United’s game against Everton in March 1991.
Yet days before, during an A team match versus Carlisle United at ‘The Cliff’ – United’s old training ground – Doherty went in for a 50-50 challenge and caused catastrophic damage to his knee – injuring his cruciate ligament.
The day of the Everton game, Doherty watched from the Old Trafford stands while Giggs’ career took off, catapulting into dizzying heights.
In December later that year, Doherty was seemingly healed and preparing for his career to propel in the same direction as his fellow youth teammates, especially Giggs.
The luck of the Irish was well and truly out for the youngster and in his comeback game, his knee joint buckled once more.
This time Doherty was out for more than a year and on his return, it was apparent Adrian was never going to be the same player.
Oliver discusses the injuries in Forever Young, telling UNILAD:
Adrian wasn’t operated on for nearly a year after the initial injury and the family felt that, if it had been operated on sooner, he would have stood a chance of recovery.
It is clear Adrian lost motivation during the time he was out injured – he fell out of love with football and as time went on, he became far more passionate about his music, his poetry and his books.
That is how Sir Alex Ferguson describes him; ‘The quiet boy with the most amazing football skill, but who seemed to be happiest with his books, poems and guitar’.
Adrian always rejected the trapping of the typical footballer lifestyle and according to Kay, had a non-conformist personality:
He was eccentric by football standards – not only did he walk everywhere with his guitar, he cycled everywhere and cycled to training on what I’m told was not a good bike,… a rusty old thing without gears that was second hand.
He’d also buy second hand clothes and turn up in ripped old sweaters and ripped old jeans – not to look cool but just because that’s what he had – what he was comfortable in and I think a lot of the players and coaching staff just couldn’t get their heads around this.
Despite being clearly gifted with a ball at his feet, he was a genius in other regards too.
Doherty was bohemian, creative, artistic, he played Bob Dylan songs on his guitar in the Cliff changing room, wrote poetry, read philosophy books and penned novels.
One of the best things I heard about him was; ‘he played football like Ryan Giggs and played guitar like Bob Dylan.
After being released by United, Doherty flitted between jobs, including a short stint with Derry City, before moving to Holland to work for a furniture company.
At this time, April 2000, United were now European champions, they’d won their sixth championship in eight seasons and the stars from the class of ’92, including his former teammate Giggs, were parading yet another trophy to adoring fans inside the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, Old Trafford.
Tragically, Doherty slipped on the way to work and reportedly fell into a canal – he had a phobia of water and could not swim – and was dragged out in an unconscious state.
He spent a month in a coma before passing away – the next day he’d have turned 27.
In Forever Young, Kay writes:
This wonderful guy, who happily stumbled through life, ignoring its pitfalls, was daydreaming away, composing his next poem or song, singing away to himself on his way to the station, when he took a fateful wrong step.
What sort of person would do something like that? A dreamer, with his head in the clouds, like Adrian Doherty.
Perhaps most poignant about Doherty’s personality and short-lived life, was his outlook on life, something Kay says he was ‘blessed with and we can all learn from’:
Adrian’s enjoyment came from music – it was an escape for him.
Some may see it as a waste of talent and a waste of a life but money and success were never the driving forces for Doherty.
He spent his life, never once, looking back in anger.
Oliver Kay’s, Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius, is available to buy now.