Londonderry, or Derry to most, has had a colourful and violent history to be sure, and the ancient walled city is now peaceful, we hope, as it goes about it's business of attracting tourists and bidding for the European Capital of Culture for 2013.(more historynext blog). www.derryvisitor.com
I am in the Bogside, the catholic part of the city, with its vivid murals stating FREE DERRY, no go area. Derry City used to be in the Irish League for clubs in Northern Ireland, but during the troubles they stopped playing altogether from 1972 for 13 years as it was not safe for Protestant teams and their fans from Belfast and the rest of the province to visit. They then joined the League of Ireland and have done well, except they were relegated last season for financial reasons. Many European matches taking up to 3,000 fans to Parc de Prince in Paris against PSG. and to Scotland and elsewhere. www.airtricityleague.com
Finn Harps from Baleybofey are the visitors on this pleasant evening, only 34 miles away in the Donegal countryside over the border. Harps lost their Premier League status the end of the prevous season and it's really a local derby, and North v South. I had arrived on the bus after a 4 hour trip from Dublin in the morning and had a busy few hours. I had a quick and interesting guided tour from ex player Willie Curran and we are off to to meet Jobby Crossan at his sports shop, Crossan Sports on Racecourse Road. A couple of really intersting characters.
On the walls there are photos and cuttings from years gone buy. Willie in the Derry team that played Glasgow Celtic and Jobby facing Real Madrid with Puskas, Di Stefano, Gento and the like in the semi-final of the 1963 European Cup,while with Standard Liege of Belgium, one of my favourite clubs. He also starred for Sparta Rotterdam, Middlesborough, Sunderland and was captain of Manchester Cityand has 24 'caps' for Northern Ireland. We drive to the neatly kept fields used in The Foyle Cup each July www.foylecup.com which attracts around 150 teams from around the world, and to the Bogside murals, and the walls of Derry, with a history lesson thrown in. Willie, now in his 70's but a member of the local bowls club, shows me where he was held up at gunpoint by 4 armed and masked men and his van and valuables taken from him.
We stroll on the pitch at Brandywell, home of Derry City FC, 'the candystripes' due to their red &white jerseys copied from Sheffield United. Across the fence is the previous home of Martin McGuiness, former IRA big shot, and now leader of a peaceful Northern Ireland assembly and British M.P,(who won't take his seat in Westminster), who still calls Derry home. High above is the recent New Stand a fairly recent 150 yard long all seat cantilevered structure is St. Columb's College where Martin O'Neil now, at Aston Villa but a star for Northern Ireland, Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough, was educated. It was Gaelic Games territory, and football fans onthe staff and students were forbidden to watch the world game, but they sneaked out and hid behind the many trees not to get caught.
Before the match that evening Jobby introduces me to the football coach of the school, which has since moved to a new spacious location. They now play football and his U12 team is to be honoured at half-time for winning the local league. I also chat with club chairman Philip O'Doherty and his young son. He is a very successful local business man. Also I am honoured to meet another fan on the terraces John Hume, the club President. He is joint holder of The Nobel Peace Prize with david Trimble in 1998 and an active civil rights worker who with diginity and courge helped bring the two sides together and peace in our time. He also was a good amateur player and former British and European M.P. with peace honours from Martin Luther King foundation and more.
There is a decent crowd, maybe more than 3,000 for a first division clash. The stadium also hosts greyhound racing twice a week which helps bring revenue in, but detracts form the atmosphere. At one end is the only electronc giant screen in the league, sponsored by U4D, the group that wants to expand the nearby University of Ulster local campus to a full university status and 10,000 or more students and a medical school. They have taken 3,500 to Parc de Princes to play PSG and are featured on the cover of the hit record from 1980, 'My Perfect Cousin' by local group The Undertones. It features a Derry player in the form of a Subbuteo figure.
Derry are backed by an enthusiast crowd including a fan 'choir ' opposite me in Section I who chant and sing throughout. The Candystripes dominate a ding dong battle and Harps are reduced to 10 men and finally nine by the end. 2-0 is the final score with the second an amateurish defensive error. The two teams play here again in a few days time in a cup tie. We are in the middle of the season since AIRTRICITY LOI changed to a summer schedule.