Derek Dooley

Born: 13th December 1929, Sheffield
Height: 6ft 3in
Weight: 14st 0lb
First Game: 11th March 1950
Final Game: 14th February 1953
Career Span: 2 years 341 days
Career Performance: Played 63 Won 26 Drawn 16 Lost 21
Success Rate: 54.00%

Wednesday Playing Record

                  LEAGUE        FA CUP        TOTAL       
 Season         Apps  Goals   Apps  Goals   Apps  Goals
1949-1950         1      0      0      0      1      0
1950-1951         1      0      0      0      1      0
1951-1952        30     46      1      1     31     47
1952-1953        29     16      1      0     30     16

  Total          61     62      2      1     63     63

Sheffield Wednesday 6-0 Notts County

3rd November 1951

The son of a Sheffield steelworker, he joined Wednesday in 1947 after a brief spell as an amateur at Lincoln City. Dooley’s League career lasted only fifteen months but he had scored 63 goals in 59 games when he collided with the Preston goalkeeper George Thompson at Deepdale and broke his leg. Gangrene set in and, tragically, surgeons had to amputate his leg to save his life. So ended the brief but brilliant career of a man who was rated an England centre-forward of the future; he was 23. Dooley had helped Wednesday win promotion from the Second Division in 1951-52 and eventually became manager at Hillsborough and later chief executive at Bramall Lane.

Derek Dooley was 6ft 3in tall, wore size 12 boots and had hair the colour of the nearby blast furnaces. With his distinctive name and awkward style, he knew that the difference between a headline-writer’s dream and the butt of terrace humour was about two goals a game. ‘You were dropped if you didn’t score,’ he remembers. And he was, straight into the third team.

It was an age of more precisely defined roles: full backs defended, wingers stayed wide and centre-forwards were supposed to deliver goals by the bucket-load. Among those who supplied regular shipments were Tommy Lawton, Nat Lofthouse and Len Shackleton. The livewire young leader at Hillsborough dreamed of doing likewise at the top level but had already found that Second Division defences were not as obliging as the juniors and reserves.

‘I had always wanted to be a hero on my debut,’ he admits, ‘and to score the goals in a win for Wednesday. I had stood on the Kop at Hillsborough in all weathers, dreaming of doing just that. Yet when I played my first League match against Preston in March 1950, I had a stinker! I had scored goals at all levels, whether it was the YMCA or the RAF, Wednesday reserves or Owler Lane school, but I did not get one in the League. We lost 0-1 [Tom Finney scored] and I knew I had blown it. What’s more, I got barracked by the Kop.’

‘It was a good thing we did not have a fourth team at the time as I would have been in that. But it made me even more determined to get back and show ’em. It was eight months before they gave me another chance, at Charlton, and I blew that one, too. Sam Bartram’s brilliant goalkeeping did not help, but I had failed again, and again I was dropped.’

It was the ‘yo-yo’ era in Sheffield with both Wednesday and United rarely able to remain in the same division from one season to the next. Wednesday ended the 1950-51 campaign being relegated from Division One by a fraction of a goal, in spite of desperate attempts to stay up. They had courted striker Jimmy Hagan but were repulsed by neighbours United and, in the end, broke the transfer record by paying Notts County £35,000 for Jackie Sewell. Three months into the following season Wednesday were languishing in the lower half, having tried no less than four players in the No. 9 shirt. None of them had made it their own and Dooley was recalled.

‘I knew that this was my last chance as I ran onto the pitch,’ he remembers. ‘It was against Barnsley, and things did not look good at half-time. We were losing 0-1. But five minutes after the break I took a pass from Eddie Gannon and just hit it straight into the top corner. About 20 minutes later I hit another almost identical goal. ‘We won 2-1 and on the way home I couldn’t wait to buy the Green ’Un. The headline was, “He’ll Dooley all right.” ’

It was now Dooley’s turn to deliver and, helped by his goals, Wednesday began to climb the table. But the match that really made his name was the one at home to Notts County. In goal for the visitors was Roy Smith, a former Owl. When asked by his team-mates about the still largely unknown Wednesday centre-forward, the keeper uttered the now famous reply: ‘Oh, that big, useless bugger. Don’t worry about him, he’ll never score.’

He didn’t, at least not until the second half. Up against Leon Leuty, a classy former England centre-half, and with Tommy Lawton also playing, Dooley hardly had a kick early on. ‘But we played towards the Kop in the second half and I always fancied that,’ he recalls. ‘It was like a magnet to me. It was an awful day and the heavy going suited me as I was a bit quick. Anyhow, with Albert Quixall and Sewell alongside, I managed to score five goals in 32 minutes! Three times I ran on to through-balls while one was a header and the other I chested in. I even got a sixth but that was disallowed for off-side!’

Dooley’s goals came in the 50th, 62nd, 68th, 78th and 82nd minutes, and it was the first time anyone had scored five for Wednesday since Douglas Hunt in 1938. An adoring Kop duly saluted the birth of a legend, and Dooley kept his place. ‘Yes, I was fairly confident after that,’ he smiles. And Smith? ‘I remember him coming up afterwards and putting his hand on my shoulder. It meant a lot did that.’

After the match Dooley went home for his tea in the time-honoured manner, queuing in the rain for a No 2 bus. ‘Don’t be late,’ his mother had told him. ‘There were no cars for footballers in those days,’ he says, ‘and I lined up like everybody else. Five goals in the second half and you got the bus home! I remember this old fellow, who was absolutely soaked to the skin, getting on and the conductor asked him: How did you get like that?” The fellow said: “I was at the match and was just going to leave when this young Dooley scored. I thought I’d stop and see if he got another. When he did, I said, blow me, maybe he’ll get three. And so it went on. I just stood there and got ruddy soaked” ’

Leuty had a dousing of a different kind, and it would have been scant consolation to the cultured international to read the rave notices about his unstoppable young opponent. ‘Speed…build…temperament…even the ability to tackle the centre-half’ were among Dooley’s suddenly discovered attributes. The strapping 14-stoner from Firth Park in Sheffield was, quite simply, a scoring sensation, a different kind of leader who didn’t rely on the wingers’ crosses but would run through the middle, using his electrifying pace to skin lumbering defenders before finishing with a pulverising shot. He was undoubtedly raw, but few could fathom his awkward style or halt his direct runs. The fans loved him, and he was soon called ‘The Hillsborough Juggernaut’, or, if you preferred, ‘Dreadnought Derek’.

One contemporary columnist wrote: ‘He is as explosive as a pail of petrol pitched on a bonfire.’ When Dooley scored twice against Swansea at the end of November, it was the fourth match in which he had found the net on two occasions. He had now scored 14 goals in eight games, and Wednesday rocketed up the table. Opponents began to dread meeting the Yorkshire side and tried various methods to combat this scoring phenomenon. Dooley’s next match was at Upton Park against Malcolm Allison who had already established himself as the thinking man’s centre-half and would later found the famous West Ham ‘academy’. Surely Dooley would be tested here.

Result: West Ham United 0 Wednesday 6.

Dooley scored three.

Sheffield became Dooley-daft, and the fans even altered the words of songs to suit their hero: even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was not immune, developing ‘a very awkward style’, while Truly, Truly Fair became Dooley, Dooley’s There. The local paper, whose emblem was the Vulcan on the Town Hall, printed a picture of Dooley in its place. Just before Christmas, Dooley fired in four against Everton and, benefiting from the influence of manager Allan ‘Brownie’ Brown, he rattled up an unbelievable 47 goals in 31 matches to take Wednesday to the title.

‘On the way home from [the deciding match at] Coventry, I sampled champagne for the first time in my life,’ he says. He had much to celebrate: promotion in his first season, marriage in the summer and the prospect of First Division defences quaking in their boots the following season. ‘They used to call me a tearaway,’ he says, ‘but I simply went one way: straight for goal. For me there was no greater thrill than when I belted that ball between those posts. That was my target. That was my life.’ Little did anyone know that less than a year later Dooley would be fighting for that life in a Preston hospital. Luckily he won, but not before the football world had been devastated by the news. ‘It was an awful sensation lying there after the operation,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t walk. I knew I would never play again. I’d been married only six months, and I had no trade. But I soon realised that it was no use worrying; that wouldn’t bring the leg back.’ So he fought back. In six months he had tossed away his crutches; in a year he had tossed away his stick. Derek Dooley lost a leg, but they couldn’t take away his heart.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Dave McIntosh, Keith Bannister, Vin Kenny, Eddie Gannon, Edgar Packard, George Davies, Alan Finney, Jackie Sewell, Derek Dooley, Albert Quixall, Walter Rickett.

NOTTS COUNTY: Smith, Southwell, Deane, Brunt, Leuty, Robinson, McPherson, Jackson, Lawton, Wyllie, Crookes.


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Stuart Jackson