EACH year on New Year’s Eve I have it in my diary to make a particular phone call.

It is to Sir Alex Ferguson, because it’s his birthday.

We go back a long way from the days when he was tutored I would say in Scotland, by the wonderful Mr Jock Stein.

He, as I have said previously, cut his teeth managing clubs in Scotland before taking on one of the biggest jobs in the world at Manchester United.

This year we had a good laugh about various things.

But later that day I got a phone call myself from the Manchester area and sadly it was Mary Docherty, the wife of Tommy.

I had phoned them a few weeks before Christmas and she had told me then that Tommy had been ill for nearly two years and, of course, this time the call was to say he had passed on.

It was not unexpected and his family were with him and he had had an amazing life, reaching 92, and his football career has been well documented since.

My own first clash with him of course was back in 1976 at Wembley when we, Saints, were total underdogs as a second-division team and Tommy’s side were massive odds-on favourites to win the FA Cup.

I had arranged for the team to stay the night at the Royal Garden Hotel in London win, lose or draw, and meet up with family after – as we had been training away for the previous three or four days.

I had also booked a night out at a place called Talk Of The Town.

After the team had checked in and run downstairs as the bus was waiting, the staff shouted: “There’s a phone call for you.”

I put my head into a little alcove-type thing on the stairs and I couldn’t believe it was Tommy Docherty.

This was only a couple of hours after the end of the game. He said: “Lawrie, I’m just ringing to say if I couldn’t win, it I’m pleased you did.”

“Dear me, Tom,” I said. “I can’t believe that.”

He said: “Incidentally, I’m crying as I’m speaking.” And we both had a laugh.

I then said: “Tommy, I hope you win it next year.” To which he replied: “Well have a good night out, enjoy.”

In the next year for the fifth round, the draw came out – Southampton v Manchester United.

I rang him up and said: “Tommy, remember that phone call? You can forget it!”

We drew the first game and in the second game it was a draw after 90 minutes. It went to extra time, which United won. After the two games Tommy got through and I wished him well.

They carried on to the final and beat Liverpool at Wembley.

At the end of the game, the players received their medals and the cup, then went off up to the corner flag, along behind the goal in front of their supporters to the side furthest away from the royal box.

By this time Tommy and his trainer, Tommy Kavanagh, had a hand on one handle each of the trophy. They held it up and the Doc was pointing up and then back to his chest, mouthing: “It’s mine now.”

The crowd all believed he was telling them and doubled their cheers. In fact, he had spotted me up on a balcony, being on the BBC TV panel.

From that day on, we rang each other every now and again and became quite good friends.

Years after, if he was in this area, he would call in to see us. My family thought the world of him. He was a real gentleman and made them laugh.

He of course had a second career as an after-dinner speaker and he was in great demand. I did work with him on one or two occasions – he was terrific and brought the house down.

He could tell story after story having had such a wonderful career. He will be sadly missed.

It finished the year looking back at so many others in the game who had also passed away.

Since Tommy, Colin Bell, a star at his rival club Manchester City, has also passed on.

He was part of a team with people like Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee and Neil Young – one of the best teams around.

Manchester City paid tribute to Colin in their game against rivals Man United, which they won to once again get into the final of the Carabao Cup this week.

I’m sure because Colin was such a legend at the club, the manager would have used him in his pre-match talk, which gave United less chance.