THOUGH predominantly remembered for his service to Manchester City, Mike Doyle more than played his part in Stoke City’s promotion to the First Division in 1979 and our subsequent consolidation back in the top flight.
A proud Mancunian and staunch Blue, Mike signed for his boyhood idols in 1962 after being tracked by several clubs who were impressed by his performances for Stockport Schoolboys. One of those clubs was Stoke City, and The Potters even offered his family a washing machine in return for the signature of the talented youngster!
In the end though, Stoke couldn’t compete with the lure of Maine Road, and Mike Doyle embarked on a Manchester City career that would encompass more than 550 appearances over 16 years.
An accomplished performer who was at ease in most positions, the City faithful soon warmed to Mike and not just because of his indisputable talent and full-bloodied commitment on the pitch. His hatred of all things Manchester United soon became apparent and he gained hero status for many outbursts against City’s loathed rivals.
The build up to a Manchester derby wasn’t complete without a jibe at the Red Devils from Mike Doyle. Hate mail, slashed car tyres, broken windows and even death threats from United fans didn’t put him off either! When Denis Law’s goal relegated United at Old Trafford in 1974, Mike stood his ground, totally unfazed, as those same fans staged a mass pitch invasion, and then later claimed he was disappointed at their demise because it would deprive City of two easy wins the following season!
A clash with George Best during an FA Youth Cup tie led to a career long enmity between Mike and the great Irishman, and during one derby at Maine Road, Mike and Lou Macari protested so much after they were sent off that referee Clive Thomas duly led both teams from the field, refusing to restart the match until police had stopped the two players leaving the dressing rooms!
But there was way more to Mike Doyle than his mouth and his hatred of Manchester United. He contributed enormously to The Citizens’ success during the 60’s and 70’s and while the Colin Bell-Mike Summerbee-Franny Lee triumvirate usually gained the plaudits, Mike’s dominant presence in midfield and defence was pivotal to most of their success, so much so that he was voted their hardest ever defender in a poll recently.
Following promotion from the Second Division in 1966, City were crowned League Champions in 1968 and won the FA Cup in 1969, the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970 and the League Cup in 1970 and 1976. Mike’s proudest moment undoubtedly came in that last triumph, when he lifted the trophy as captain of the club.
He gained his first England cap in 1976, though he could well have won more than the five he eventually collected had he not withdrawn from the provisional 1970 World Cup squad to be with his wife who had been taken seriously ill.
Tony Waddington made another attempt to bring Mike to Stoke in the early 70’s when the Manchester City manager Malcolm Allison briefly dropped him to accommodate the arrival of the flamboyant Rodney Marsh. However, Waddo’s overtures (and even, unbelievably, those of Manchester United’s manager Frank O’Farrell!) were rejected and Mike stayed on to regain his place in the fine City side of the mid-70’s, until Alan Durban paid £50,000 to bring him to the Victoria Ground in June 1978.
His last season and a half at Maine Road had been blighted by a bad knee injury, and the naysayers amongst the Stoke support were convinced that he was only here for one last payday.
How wrong they were! Durban needed defensive reinforcement after moving Alan Dodd to right back following the departure of John Marsh, and Mike Doyle more than fitted the bill, soon forming an impregnable partnership at the heart of our back four with Denis Smith. He missed just one game during the 1978/79 season as The Potters kept clean sheets in half of their 42 games on their way to promotion and his cultured and combative displays earned him a deserved Stoke City Player of the Year award. Durban even claimed that he should have been voted Footballer of the Year!
Mike, of course, was part of that famous team which clinched promotion on the final day of the season at Meadow Lane, though his most memorable contribution of the season arguably came in the home game against West Ham, when he opened the scoring with a superb header in a vital 2-0 victory in front of the Match of the Day cameras.
In his autobiography “Blue Blood”, Mike reflects that Stoke were promoted a year early, and that we weren’t ready for a return to the First Division at the time. That may well have been the case, as the team struggled to adapt to life back in the top flight, though Mike’s quality and experience in defence undoubtedly helped our cause, despite his season being hampered by injury.
The 1980/81 season was a much more comfortable campaign for Stoke, as we finished in eleventh place. Mike rejected an offer to become player coach at Third Division Carlisle United, stating that he was enjoying his football too much to step down a couple of levels, and indeed was a virtual ever-present in the team that season. He contributed four goals (including one in a 2-1 victory over his beloved Man City!) as well as forming an effective partnership with Brendan O’Callaghan, who’d been moved back into defence following the emergence of young Lee Chapman.
That season ended with the departure of Alan Durban to Sunderland, and signalled the beginning of the end of Mike Doyle’s Stoke career. He had little time for the new manager Richie Barker, and later described him as “absolutely bloody useless” and “the worst manager I’d ever played under” in his autobiography.
Stoke made a bright start to the 1981-82 season, but after appearing in our first four fixtures, niggling injuries kept Mike out of the team until the autumn by which time The Potters were struggling near the foot of the table. He was frustrated at his lack of first team action and, behind Barker’s back apparently, spoke with Second Division Bolton about a move away from the Victoria Ground.
A war of wods ensued between Mike and the manager, which eventually led to Mike handing in a transfer request. When Bolton pulled out of talks, Mike threatened to quit football unless he was reinstated to the Stoke team, prompting Barker to brand him “irresponsible and unprofessional” and snidely remarking that he wouldn’t stand in his way if he wanted to work down the pit!
Mike eventually did win his place back though and Barker brought in Mike’s former Manchester City colleague Dave Watson to help shore up our defence. They both performed superbly on Watson’s debut – at Maine Road of all places – as Stoke gained a creditable 1-1 draw.
However, as tensions heightened both on and off the pitch at Stoke, Mike and Barker had a blazing row after he was blamed for his part in one of Manchester United’s goals in a harrowing 3-0 home defeat, and he was never to pull on a Stoke City shirt again. Within days of that game Bolton renewed their interest in Mike and after 115 appearances for The Potters, he moved to Burnden Park for £10,000, playing 40 times for the Trotters before finishing his career at Rochdale in 1984.
Mike applied for the vacant managerial post at Oldham, but lost out to one time Manchester City colleague Joe Royle and went into the insurance business as well as working as a rep for a sporting goods company. However, following his retirement he was devastated when his love of golf (Mike was virtually a scratch handicapper) was curtailed by the injuries he’d sustained over the years.
Bored and depressed, Mike starting drinking heavily, almost tearing his family apart in the process. His wife left him briefly and he became estranged from one of his daughters. Though he managed to curb his alcoholism following a spell at Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic in 2007, the problem resurfaced, resulting in his untimely death on June 27th 2011 from liver failure at the age of just 64.
One of Mike Doyle’s last public appearances was at Wembley to watch the FA Cup Final between two of his former teams. We’re sure he was overjoyed to see Carlos Tevez lift the trophy, but we’d like to think he was pleased to see a club for whom he performed with such distinction sharing the occasion.