One of the most formidable footballers of his generation, Dan Doyle was an outstanding left back for Everton and Scotland and a figure who earned renown for his wild antics on and off the football field. Highly talented, aggressive and always controversial, he can be seen as Everton’s first ‘psycho’ – a forerunner of Pat Van Den Hauwe, who succeeded him in the number three shirt a century later.
Born in Paisley in 1864, Doyle started working life down the Strathclyde coalmines that would later breed a succession of football immortals. The horror of the pit instilled in him a relentless will that if he could ever escape he would make sure he would never have to return. It bred behaviour that might be regarded as mercenary, but which Doyle surely considered necessary.
He started out as an amateur left back in the mid-1880s, simultaneously playing for East Stirlingshire and Hibernian. Scottish football, unlike its English counterpart, was still resolutely amateur – although under-the-table payments were the norm – and when Doyle was offered the chance to sign professional terms with Grimsby Town in 1888 he seized it.
While playing at Clee Park, in November 1888 Doyle was involved in an incident that forever marred his reputation. He collided with an opponent, who was left writhing around on the ground in agony before being stretchered off – within hours he had died. Although there was no malicious intent, Doyle was called before a court where he was exonerated. Being a defender who had killed an opposing player on the field was, however, something fans and other players would never forget.
Yet his footballing reputation preceded him and in the summer of 1889 two of the Football League’s founder members – Everton and Bolton – were involved in a lengthy tussle for his services. Doyle signed for both clubs, simultaneously taking a salary from both boardrooms before finally plumping for Everton. Such boldness was not uncharacteristic.
Although he had a reputation as a hard player, Doyle was also cultured on the ball – a man who could not only kick the ball further, but also with more accuracy than many of his contemporaries. With Andrew Hannah he built up the league’s best full back partnership. They were, according to one contemporary account, ‘great barriers, tacklers and sensational kickers’. His football philosophy was always simple, however. In a rare interview with Scottish Sport in 1894, he professed: ‘There is only one way. Let the man go bang into the game with the determination to win.’
He was an important member of the team that lifted the Football League title in 1891, but Doyle had become disillusioned with life at Anfield. He believed he was being paid £3 per week less than some of his team-mates and so began a flirtation with Celtic. They were still bound by Scottish football’s amateurism, but had offered him tenancy of a pub, which was worth £5 a week, plus payment per game.
The dispute was played out in the Victorian media. In the August 1891 edition of Field Sports it reported that the Everton committeemen said they would ‘see Doyle ******* hang first’ before they would let him go.
Eventually Doyle came back with an ultimatum to Everton’s pleas to honour his contract. He would stay if they gave him £100 for the previous two years and increased his pay from £3 to £4 per week. ‘He enjoyed wielding power over directors and committeemen,’ wrote his biographer Marie Rowan. ‘Already a hardened coal miner by the age of 16, Doyle had learned a lot during these dark days down the pit and he knew exactly how to get his pound of flesh.’
On 1 August 1891 he met the Everton committee and told them of his intent to play on for the forthcoming season after they agreed to a rise. He even telegraphed the Athletic News: ‘Kindly insert I intend playing for Everton, certain.’
But a week later, on 8 August, he wired Everton to say he had agreed to sign for Celtic after all. Everton were furious, and tried to get the FA to take up a case against Celtic via the Scottish FA for breaching its rules on amateurism. The whole messy dispute rumbled on for months and was only resolved when Doyle agreed to pay back some of the £100 wages Everton advanced him at the end of the 1890/91 season.
Doyle went on to be one of Celtic and Scotland’s great stars of the 1890s, and was one of the most famous footballers of his generation. Despite his controversial departure, Evertonians retained a great affection for him and he was the subject of continued speculation that he might return to Merseyside.
When he did come back to Liverpool, in April 1894, to appear for the Scottish League against the English League, he got a rousing reception: Scottish Sport reported that he received ‘the warmest of welcomes from the Liverpudlians both at the start and at half time’.
Later that year Dick Molyneux met with Doyle in an attempt to bring about his return. Everton offered him a 19-year lease of his favourite Liverpool pub, worth £5 per week, in return for signing for two more years, but he preferred to play on for Celtic.
Doyle retired at the end of the decade and ran the Horse Shoe Bar in Belshill. Always a heavy drinker and gambler, however, he ran into financial difficulties and lost ownership of the pub in 1910. He died eight years later, still a well-recognised figure in Glasgow, but reduced to penury after years of excess.
ROWAN, MARIE, Dan Doyle: The Life and Deat of a Wild Rover, Black and White Publishing, 2007