John Edward Doig died tragically young, aged only 53, in 1919, only nine years after playing his final game of senior football after a career stretching back to the early days of the game in the 1880s.
Many Sunderland supporters interested in the club’s long and proud history, particularly our early domination of the Football League, will be familiar with the headline stats: 457 appearances in senior competition for the Lads, four League titles, five caps for Scotland (at a time when international football was not played on a regular basis, and English-based players such as Doig faced a ban from representing Scotland).
His life is chronicled and his memory preserved by the Doig Society and is captured on their website, which you can peruse at your leisure using the link below. His story has featured on Roker Report on a regular basis, and we’ve collected a few of our articles for you at the bottom of this page. But today, in his memory, I want to pick out three stories from that the Doig’s Den site that provide an insight into the man and his football times.
Winning Sunderland’s first title
At the start of the season 1891-92 season, Ned and his wife Davina welcomed their first child - Edward - into the world
Doig kept five clean sheets as Sunderland won 21 of their 26 league games, and was handed a commemorative cap along with a club-commissioned silver medal to mark their first major trophy. A notable incident occurred the game on 25 March against Aston Villa, the game that saw the club rise to the top of the league for the first time. According to The Arbroath Herald, the indomitable Doig laid out an opposition player as Sunderland claimed a 2-1 win:
Doig had again embraced his dear old friend Matt Dickson, late of Strathmore Dundee. Dickson’s nose came in contact with Doig’s hand with the natural result.
The end of an era at Sunderland
The saga of Doig’s transfer to Liverpool in 1904 demonstrates how little - other than the sums of money involved - really changes in the world of football. Having apparently been offered reduced wages, relations between the payer and the club broke down and so after 14 years of continuous service, his time on Wearside came to an end.
Doig having expressed his wish to stay had the terms been right, he ultimately decided to make the move with Sunderland accepting a fee that would amount to around £12,700 today. The Sunderland Echo of Friday August 12th 1904, carried the full story of how “Teddy” followed his former manager Tom Watson, with whom he had enjoyed so much success, to Merseyside:
We are informed by Mr. Tom Watson, secretary of the Liverpool AFC, that he has signed on J. E. Doig, the old Sunderland international goalkeeper. A statement has been made that negotiations between the club and the player had ceased owing to the Sunderland AFC altering their terms, but this has proved incorrect. Doig as a matter of fact being away at Liverpool when the statement was being made, for the purpose of coming to a final agreement, and this was arrived at today.
With regard to the Sunderland and Liverpool Clubs all arrangements were made and agreed upon quite two months ago, and never since the Mersey club first took the matter up, has it been dropped. Doig long since having received instructions from Mr. Watson to do nothing — meaning presumably, not to sign up with any other club until they had settled with him. Doig, we understood, though by no means inclined to back out of the negotiations with Liverpool, would had these fallen through, willingly have re-signed on for Sunderland had he been asked: family reasons making his stay in Sunderland very agreeable.
We are moreover given to understand that certain of the directors of the Sunderland club would have been pleased had their famous player re-signed. A telegram from another Liverpool source states that the transfer fee was £150.
The Sunderland faithful were none too pleased with this turn of affairs, and he went on to play four more seasons in the top flight with Liverpool, winning the League in 1905-6. He is rightly recognised as a legend in both cities and one of the greatest players of his generation.
A song from St Helens
After leaving Anfield, Doig didn’t hang up his boots - turning out for another Merseyside club, St Helens Recreationals FC in Lancashire Combination Division One for another two years.
Fittingly for a man of his stature, a song was composed to bemoan his ailing body and commemorate his career which is captured in “The History of The Lancashire Football Association 1878 - 1928” by C. E. Sutcliffe and F. Hargreaves.
Forty years on, growing older and older
Shorter in wind as in memory
Feeble of foot and rheumatic of shoulder
What will it help you that once you were strong?
God give us bases to guard of beleaguer
Games to play out whether earnest or fun
Fights for the fearless and goals for the eager
Twenty and thirty and forty years on!
Not merely 20 or 30 or 40 years on, over 100 years have passed and his legend is still with us.