Granada TV’s sports innovator Paul Doherty has died

Paul Doherty, who died last week from cancer, aged 77, was a groundbreaking television sports producer, writes Anton Rippon.

Paul Doherty
Paul Doherty

Doherty was the son of Peter Doherty, the Irish international inside-forward who was one the great names in British football either side of the Second World War. Paul Doherty started his journalistic career with Granada TV in the early 1970s, first as a consultant, then a reporter and co-presenter before being appointed producer of the station’s Friday night football show Kick Off.

Famed for his innovation, Doherty was soon appointed as Granada’s head of sport. Kick Off put interviews with under-pressure managers alongside zany items that included a pantomime with England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson dressed as Aladdin, and Liverpool striker Ian Rush as Dick Whittington. Denis Law introduced the skits.

Other stations would copy Grenada’s serious features, which sought to work round the various restrictions on rights for football coverage which, to this day, prevents any television coverage of a 3pm Saturday league match. Granada Goals Extra was the first programme to air the afternoon’s goals within minutes of the final whistles, while Sport Action introduced the format that was adopted by Sky Sports’ hugely popular Soccer Saturday.

Doherty, though, thought well beyond football. Boxing, darts, show jumping, ice hockey, rugby league, speedway, cricket, and even croquet became part of the Grenada package.

Doherty could also spot young talent. Oscar-nominated film director Paul Greengrass owed his start to Doherty, as did commentators Clive Tyldesley, Martin Tyler, Alistair Mann and Rob Palmer, who describes Doherty as “my mentor”.

Tyldesley recalled: “My biggest influence as a boss was Paul Doherty. He gave me around 500 rollickings, but the most memorable was ‘Stop trying to be Motty. He’s a lot better at being Motty than you are.’ Ergo – be yourself.”

Tyler described Doherty as “simply irreplaceable”.

Football managers also learned to trust Doherty. When there were calls for Alex Ferguson to step down as Manchester United’s manager during the 1989-1990 season, Doherty championed him and advised him how to handle the media. Their friendship lasted for more than 25 years, and Ferguson once revealed that it was Doherty who suggested that he rub his face vigorously moments before appearing in front of the media “so that I appeared bright and cheery and didn’t display a hint of tension”.

Doherty founded Paul Doherty International, a specialist sports programme production company which he sold in 1999.