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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 17:26 GMT
Dougan - the reluctant apprentice
Derek Dougan
Dougan: "Happiest day was when I left the shipyard"
Former professional footballer Derek Dougan recalls his time as an apprentice in the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

He's best remembered for his skills on the football field as a striker, but Derek Dougan has his own connection to the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

He served part of an electrical apprenticeship there.

But his memories are not all fond ones - he says his best day was the day he told them he was leaving.

'The Doug' spent two years at Harland & Wolff as an electrical apprentice between 1955 and 1957.

His father and grandfather had both worked in the yard. He was expected to follow and he did.

"I'll never forget the first time I went on the boats," he recalls.

"My mum got me a big pair of boots because of the safety aspect - protecting my feet from maybe breaking a toe.

"I was standing talking and this guy was attracting my attention. I was really involved in the conversation. We were cracking a few jokes and this welder sneaked up behind me."

There was a hissing noise and then he found he could not move.

"My boots were welded to the the ship."

However, Derek said he hated most of the rest of his time in the yard, describing it as an "open prison".

He was fortunate that two of the people who trained him in his apprenticeship were interested in sport and consequently turned a blind eye so that football became something he could "slope off" to train in the afternoon.

It provided an eventual escape route from Harland & Wolff.

"I was a member of Distillery's first team and then I became captain at 17 and that really earned me an awful lot of privileges.

"I used to go with a couple more apprentices and take them up to Distillery and we would train - but probably going into the shipyard was the biggest incentive I've ever had in my entire life to get out of it."

Favourite memory

He had no compunction - family tradition or not - in leaving the shipyard long before the end of his apprenticeship.

"My favourite memory was telling them that I wouldn't be going back any more".

Dougan played for Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers from 1957 to 1975.

He retired from Wolverhampton in 1975 and moved into the leadership of the Professional Footballers' Association, the players' trade union and then into football management.

He represented Northern Ireland in 36 football internationals and captained the national team.

Derek Dougan was interviewed about his time in the shipyard for Riveting Tales, a BBC Northern Ireland series which is marking the shipbuilding era at the yard. A special day of BBC programmes on Friday is entitled A Day to Remember - Harland and Wolff.


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