Derek Dooley

Derek Dooley

Derek Dooley, the son of two factory workers, was born in Sheffield on 13th December 1929. Like his father, Dooley was a talented footballer. He left school at fourteen and began work with a firm manufacturing deaf aids.

Dooley played football for the local YMCA. He was initially a centre-half but after he was switched to centre-forward he became a prolific goalscorer. In 1947 Dooley signed as an amateur for Lincoln City in the Third Division. He scored two goals in two games before being sold to his home club, Sheffield Wednesday in 1947.

Ivan Ponting pointed out that: "Though he was quick, bullishly strong and utterly fearless when fighting for the ball, the 6ft 3in spearhead appeared cumbersome and poorly balanced when a degree of finesse was required." It was not until 11th March 1950 that Dooley made his debut for his new club against Preston North End. Soon afterwards he started his National Service with the Royal Air Force. He did not return to Hillsborough until October 1951 by which time the club was near the bottom of the Second Division.

His first game after returning from the RAF was against Barnsley. Dooley scored two goals in the match. This was followed by five goals in Wednesday's 6-0 win over Notts County and all four in the 4-0 victory over Everton. By the end of the 1951-52 season, with Sheffield Wednesday top of the table, Dooley had contributed almost half the Owls’ goals, 46 in just 30 games. Ivan Ponting argued that: "Fans who previously had denigrated his clumsiness now hailed the savagery of his right-foot finishing, his fearsome aerial prowess and a willingness to strike from any angle which yielded several seemingly impossible goals. Though arguments continued to rage about the perceived rashness of the young warrior whose untempered aggression risked injury where more polished performers would hold back, his tigerish chasing of apparently lost causes was applauded".

Brian Glanville, the football journalist, had doubts about Dooley's ability to make it in the First Division. "His style did not appeal to everyone, and he was frequently booed when Wednesday played away from home. With his bulk, his huge feet, his ungainly movement, abrasive approach to the game and his perpetual harassing of goalkeepers, Dooley was always a controversial figure."

Dooley came in for some rough treatment at the beginning of the next season. After three games in the First Division, Eric Taylor, the club manager left Dooley out of the team against Charlton Athletic "to emphasise our protest against the rough treatment he was getting from defences and for the marked-man attention from referees." Liverpool, the last side to play Wednesday, were incensed by the suggestion and replied: "Dooley got no more than he gave".

Another reason why Dooley was dropped from the team was that he had failed to score in his opening three games. However, Eric Taylor recalled him into the side after only one game in the reserves. Dooley rewarded his manager by scoring 16 goals in 26 games and journalists began talking about playing in the forthcoming international games.

On 14th February 1953 Sheffield Wednesday played Preston North End. As the football journalist Brian Glanville pointed out: "At Deepdale, the Preston North End ground, he was pursuing a long pass from the clever little Albert Quixall, knowing that the advancing goalkeeper, George Thompson, was more than likely to get there first. In the event, Thompson crashed into Dooley just as he made contact with the ball, breaking the centre-forward's leg in two places."

After nine weeks in Preston Royal Infirmary, it was discovered that he had gangrene. It seems that he had been infected through a cut sustained before the collision. Dooley was operated on and as he later recalled that when he regained consciousness he discovered that his right leg had been amputated "six inches from the top because the gangrene had already reached my knee joint and beyond". At the age of 23 Dooley's football career was over. He had the impressive record of scoring 64 goals in 63 games.

There was great sympathy for Dooley who had been seen as one of England's brightest young stars. The Sheffield Telegraph promoted a shilling fund which raised £2,700. Dooley's benefit match at Hillsborough, an international XI and a Sheffield team, attracted 55,000 spectators and raised a further £7,500.

Dooley did some journalism before finding work at a Sheffield bakery. He also helped out coaching Wednesday's juniors and in 1962 Eric Taylor appointed him to run the club development fund.

In February 1971 Dooley was appointed manager of Sheffield Wednesday. At that time the club was in the Second Division. At the end of the season Wednesday finished in 15th place. It was hoped that under Dooley's leadership the club could get promoted to the First Division. However, in the 1971-72 season they finished a disappointing 14th. The following season they reached 10th place but this was not good enough for the directors of the club and he was sacked in 1973.

In November 1974 Dooley became the commercial manager of Sheffield United. Later he became a director and in 1999 chairman of the club. He is also the author of Dooley!: The Autobiography of a Soccer Legend (2000). In 2003 Dooley was awarded the MBE.

In April 2006, under Dooley's leadership, Sheffield United was promoted to the Premier League. He now resigned as chairman and became vice-president of the club.

Derek Dooley died in Sheffield on 5th March 2008.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Brian Glanville, The Guardian (6th March, 2008)

The short, prolific but doomed footballing career of Derek Dooley came to an abrupt end in a league match at Preston on February 14 1953. The Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward collided with the advancing goalkeeper, broke his right leg, and after weeks in hospital had to have it amputated after gangrene had set in.

The red-headed Dooley, who has died aged 78, at 6ft 2in and weighing 13½st, had already scored 16 goals for Wednesday in his first season in the First Division. The previous season, in the Second Division, he had scored a phenomenal 46 goals, enabling Wednesday to win promotion.

His style did not appeal to everyone, and he was frequently booed when Wednesday played away from home. With his bulk, his huge feet, his ungainly movement, abrasive approach to the game and his perpetual harassing of goalkeepers, Dooley was always a controversial figure. Were he playing today, he would never be able to inflict such punishment on goalkeepers as they went for high balls, though some, such as West Ham's rugged Ernie Gregory, returned his attentions in kind - not least after a game at West Ham when Dooley deliberately held Gregory on the ground, enabling a team-mate to score. It was Dooley who came off the field with a torn shirt and studmarks on his chest after the return game at Hillsborough.

Yet there was never any malice about him, any more then there would be recriminations or self-pity after his career was cut short. At Deepdale, the Preston North End ground, he was pursuing a long pass from the clever little Albert Quixall, knowing that the advancing goalkeeper, George Thompson, was more than likely to get there first. In the event, Thompson crashed into Dooley just as he made contact with the ball, breaking the centre-forward's leg in two places.

He was about to be discharged after nine weeks in hospital when he jokingly asked a nurse to autograph his cast. Playfully, she began to tickle his toes, noticed with alarm that there was no reaction, confirmed that he felt nothing, and called a doctor. It transpired that gas gangrene had been moving up the leg, which had seemingly been infected through a cut sustained before the collision.

(2) The Times (6th March, 2008)

Derek Dooley was born the son of a Sheffield steelworker in 1929. He left school at 14 and found work in a hearing-aid factory, playing amateur soccer at the same time for Sheffield YMCA. At 15 he joined Lincoln City as an amateur, playing a handful of first-team matches and scoring three goals, before being spotted by a Sheffield Wednesday scout, and being recruited by the Owls.

There, once he had made the first team, he at first made an impression at centre forward for his courage and the strength of his bulky 6ft 3in frame rather than for his skill, and was regarded as being controversial for his bullish approach to goalkeepers. But National Service was to claim him in March 1950, and he did not return to Hillsborough until October 1951 by which time Wednesday were languishing in the lower reaches of the Second Division. His first outing, at home again st Barnsley, produced two goals.

Though he was never likely to be admired for finesse, Dooley’s fearlessness and his ability to hit goals from any angle silenced critics of his physical methods, as a stream of goals in subsequent games, including five, in a 6-0 win against Notts County and all four in a 4-0 result against Everton, began to haul Wednesday inexorably through the ranks of the second tier. By the end of the 1951-52 season, with Wednesday top of the table, Dooley had contributed almost half the Owls’ goals, 46 in just 30 games.

If there were any doubts about his ability to replicate this success in the top tier, they were silenced as he powered his way to 16 goals in 20 games by February 1953.

(3) The Daily Telegraph (6th March, 2008)

Red-haired, 6ft 3in tall and taking a size 12 boot, the ungainly Dooley embodied the English centre-forward in the days when they were free to intimidate goalkeepers, bundling them over the line if necessary. He was regularly booed at away matches, and the odd goalkeeper got even when the referee was not looking. In 61 matches for Wednesday before his injury, Dooley scored no fewer than 62 goals, and an England call-up seemed only a matter of time.

(4) Ivan Ponting, The Independent (6th March, 2008)

The dynamism and desire which earned Dooley his unique niche in Sheffield soccer folklore – no one else has been revered to the same degree by both Wednesday and United fans – was evident from childhood in the steelworker's son who learned his football on the streets and on the unforgiving surface of the local recreation ground, where grass was hard to spot among the flattened ash and sharp cinders. He always yearned to play for Wednesday and, even after leaving school at 14 to work in a hearing-aid factory, despite having passed his 11-plus exam, he did not abandon his dream.

Instead Dooley clawed his way up through the ranks of junior teams, excelling for Sheffield YMCA before joining Lincoln City as an amateur in his mid teens. He caught the eye of an Owls scout and was recruited by the Hillsborough club, turning professional in 1947, not long after his 17th birthday. Soon he was netting regularly for Wednesday's minor sides, but when offered senior opportunities – one in the Second Division in 1949/50 and another in the top flight a season later – he performed disappointingly. Though he was quick, bullishly strong and utterly fearless when fighting for the ball, the 6ft 3in spearhead appeared cumbersome and poorly balanced when a degree of finesse was required.

But the picture changed dramatically in October 1951 when, with his team languishing dangerously low in the Second Division table, manager Eric Taylor called up Dooley to face Barnsley at Hillsborough. The raw but eager 21-year-old responded with a double strike which beat the Tykes, then set off on a phenomenal goal rampage which carried the hitherto hesitant Owls to the divisional championship. After a mere dozen appearances he had registered 24 times, including five in the annihilation of Notts County and four against Everton, and by season's end his tally was a barely believable 46 goals in 30 games.

Fans who previously had denigrated his clumsiness now hailed the savagery of his right-foot finishing, his fearsome aerial prowess and a willingness to strike from any angle which yielded several seemingly impossible goals. Though arguments continued to rage about the perceived rashness of the young warrior whose untempered aggression risked injury where more polished performers would hold back, his tigerish chasing of apparently lost causes was applauded, and the strains of "Dooley, Dooley's there" echoed around the Hillsborough terraces to the tune of the Guy Mitchell hit of the day "My Truly, Truly Fair".

Still there were doubts about how the ungainly barnstormer would fare among the élite, and when he was goalless as Wednesday struggled through their opening Division One fixtures of 1952/53, the "I told you so" brigade was out in force. But boss Taylor remained loyal, alleging a vendetta against his prodigy by opponents, rival fans and even referees, and soon his faith was justified as Dooley's touch returned with a vengeance, with 16 goals against the cream of the League's defences between September and February.

But just as talk of an international call-up became increasingly insistent, disaster struck during Sheffield Wednesday's clash with Preston North End at Deepdale on Valentine's Day. As he chased a through-pass from Albert Quixall, Dooley bounced off the goalkeeper George Thompson and fell in a heap. A broken right shinbone was diagnosed, a serious setback but hardly one of career-threatening proportions until a small cut at the back of his calf became infected. Within two days gangrene set in, the leg was amputated to save his life, and an artificial limb was fitted to the six-inch stump.

(5) The Times (6th March, 2008)

After various local jobs, including some scouting for Wednesday, Dooley was put in charge of the club’s youth team. Then, in 1962, he was asked to run the club’s newly established fund-raising operation, a job he made a conspicuous success of over the next nine years. Finally, in January 1971, with Wednesday again near the bottom of the Second Division, and having run through a number of managers in short order, he was asked in February 1971 if he would fancy the job. He seized the opportunity — but it was to be a short-lived one. Results were not immediately forthcoming, and in December 1973 a new board of directors abruptly dismissed him.

Bitter about his treatment, Dooley resolved never to return to Hillsborough. He spent some months working as a rep for a footwear manufacturer when, in 1974, the rival Blades came to his rescue. Impressed by the job he had made of Wednesday’s development fund, United asked him to join them as commercial manager. Therafter his career lay with the Bramall Lane club, and he went on to become managing director and in 1999 chairman of the board, retiring in 2006.

By that time he had made his peace with Wednesday. After declining many times, in 1992 he accepted an invitation from Wednesday’s chairman to attend a match between the two clubs at Hillsborough and was given a full-blooded ovation by the supporters of his old club and those of his new one.