Adrian Doherty: The Tragic Tale Of Manchester United’s Forgotten Phenomenon From The Famous Class Of ’92

Whenever Manchester United’s class of ’92 gets mentioned, everyone knows the names that comes with it. Giggs, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, and the Neville brothers have all come from United’s Academy to clinch an unprecedented era of success in the Premier League.

Following their FA cups youth win in 1992 to their Champions League triumph in 1999, which rounded off their treble winning season 1998-1999, these footballers have together earned every honor in club football.

But, with the likes of such talented footballers from the class of ’92, one name never gets a mention.

Adrian Doherty came from the small town of Strabane, Northern Ireland, where he joined the Manchester United youth academy. In March, 1990, he forced his way into the first-team squad at the age of 16. Ferguson knew he was capable of making big impacts and was soon dubbed “the new George Best” in the making.

Brendan Rogers, the former Liverpool manager, even mentioned being a friend with a young lad from Strabane. He says Adrian was the best young player he has ever come upon, as they both came from the same boys’ team in Northern Ireland.

Ryan Giggs, who went on to become the club’s most decorated footballer, played alongside Doherty, and was once asked whether “Doc” was the better player of the two. Giggs said he “wouldn’t disagree” with that.

“I would play on the left and Doc would play on the right. His speed off the mark was frightening. Doc could go past people at will and ride tackles like you wouldn’t believe,” said Giggs.

Giggs was more of a left-footed player, but “Doc” was clinical with his both feet. A few days before, when he was about to make his first-team appearance, he ruptured his cruciate ligament in an A-team fixture against Carlisle, which every footballer fears most.

Even though he made a comeback after seven months, his career was short-lived as his joint buckled again, sidelining him for a year. After returning and playing a handful of games, it was quite clear he was no longer the player he used to be.

He played as a winger, opposite to Ryan Giggs during his time at United. According to Tonu Park, co-author of Sons of United, he was one of the fastest players he has ever seen. The United scouts told he was quick enough to catch pigeons.

The book, Forever Young by Oliver Kay, based on Adrian’s life, tells the story of a wasted life and a rare talent. Giggs career skyrocketed while Doherty’s career stopped soon after. Many believe fate had dealt a cruel hand to his career.

Back in 2011, when Kay was speaking to some former United youth-team players, for a historical piece he was searching for, one man asked if he knew about Adrian Doherty. He told the man that Doherty was the most outstanding player from most of the lads that came through that time, including the class of ’92.

“We are very happy with the book. Obviously, it can be hard to read about losing your son, but Oliver Kay did very well, and he portrayed Adrian accurately,” Jimmy, Adrian’s father, says.

“At times in the past people approached us about telling his story, but we weren’t really interested, as we are a very private family. When Oliver initially approached us, we were a little hesitant too, but his sincerity quickly came across very strongly and he told us he wanted to write the book in a way that our family would be happy with, and we really appreciated that.”

Many people were not familiar with Adrian’s story. Even when he was playing football, he was more interested in music and poetry. He was so obsessed with Bob Dylan that he was arguably interested in being the next Bob Dylan. Giggs said, “as a 16-year-old, I didn’t have a clue who Bob Dylan was.”

Sir Alex Ferguson remembers him as “the quiet boy with the most amazing football skill, but who seemed to be happiest with his books, poems, and guitar.”

He felt there was so much more to life than football. Soon after he was released from the game he went searching for jobs and ended up working in a small furniture shop on a short-term contract. Then on one fine morning, he slipped into the canal on his way to work. He died on June 9, after being in a coma for a month, before his 27th birthday.

His father, Jimmy Doherty, believes that the medical treatment at Old Trafford harshly dealt with his son’s injury, eventually finishing up his career in the most bizarre fashion. Had Adrian’s life not been tragically cut short, he would have come out as the finest player to play for Manchester United.

[Photo By Stuart C.Wilson/Getty Images]