Football had been played at Brandywell since the 19th Century and had been home to the short lived Derry Celtic before the newly formed Derry City were offered a lease by Londonderry Corporation (now Derry County Council) upon their formation in May 1928. The club applied to join the Irish League but their application was rejected having arrived two days late. They reapplied the following season and were elected at the expense of Queen’s Island. The club initially wore claret and blue shirts but changed in the 1930’s to the fabled red and white candy stripes in homage to manager Billie Gillespie and his long association with Sheffield United. Years later Derry’s finest band, the Undertones, would replicate the candy stripes on the cover of their hit single “My Perfect Cousin”.
The club had issues with security of tenure at Brandywell and were constrained, as they still are, with a charter covenant from the Honourable Irish City which declares Brandywell should be “available for the free recreation of the local population”. In the early 1930’s the Derry City board discussed several options to move to their own ground but indecision let no less than three options slip through their hands. Option one was to buy Celtic Park, previously used by the defunct Derry Celtic and adjacent to Brandywell. The club dithered and the local GAA club scooped up the option to buy the ground. The board were also offered Bond’s Field in Waterside but this was rejected as the board felt it was too far from their heartland of the Bogside. Finally they were offered Meenan Park for £1,500 but again decided to stay put.
The club has played at Brandywell ever since despite a tempestuous relationship with the City Council. The present main stand sweeps around the ovoid greyhound track, present at the site since the 1940’s, and was erected in 1991 replacing the fabled “Jungle”. Opposite is an elderly raised wooden stand of uncertain heritage. It’s known as the “Glentoran” stand having once stood at the Oval in Belfast and some even credit its modest construction to the legendary Archibald Leitch. This side of the ground is currently planned to be replaced with an all-seated stand which should once and for all end any issues around UEFA compliance.
The Foylesiders won the Irish League for the only time in 1964/65 and in the following seasons European Cup competition they became the first Irish side to win a European tie accounting for FK Lynn Oslo over two legs. The Irish FA then said Derry could not host the second round tie against Anderlecht at Brandywell and would have to play it in Belfast. The club refused and the second leg was never played, albeit somewhat academic as the Belgians had won 9-0 in the home leg. Relations with the Irish FA would never recover and deteriorated so badly that the club were effectively booted out of the League in 1972. The Irish FA had said that due to the Troubles the safety of visiting teams could not be guaranteed and all home games had to be played 30 miles away in Coleraine. Derry’s crowds predictably plummeted and the club had no choice but to leave senior football altogether.
City limped on in the Saturday Morning League and applied almost annually to rejoin the Irish League only to be rejected every time. In 1985 an unlikely door swung open, boosted by a 4,000 crowd for a Derry v Shamrock match, the Irish FA met with their League of Ireland counterparts and unanimously agreed to let Derry transfer to the expanding Republic leagues. The club took to their new surroundings with relish they became the first club to win the League, the FAI Cup and the League Cup in the same season when they swept the board during 1988/89. While they have won the cups numerous times since the League Championship has returned to Brandywell only once, in 1996/97.
That said the club have been European regulars and tonight’s game is the opening leg of this season’s Europa League. Welsh club, Aberystwyth Town are made very welcome to the Brandywell with a Welsh flag fluttering in the gently Foyleside wind. I had previously visited Derry in the 1990’s, although not to see a game. In those days I was ignorant but fascinated by the political murals and memorials but the somewhat notorious Bogside area was an intimidating place to be. Today there is no undertone of trouble and of a turbulent past, everyone is welcoming and just excited for the match and a promise of a bumper Brandywell crowd.
Opening exchanges see the home side on top and just 15 minutes in Pat McEleney opens the scoring. Ten minutes later the turning point comes in the form of the Danish referee. Patterson burst into the visitor’s penalty box to be upended by keeper Mike Lewis. A clear penalty but the red card seemed a tad harsh. Patterson picked himself up and slotted home the penalty kick. The Welsh side wilt visibly in the second half and Derry help themselves to two more courtesy of Timlin and McNamee. In truth but for profligate finishing, notably from Patterson, Derry could have clocked up double figures.
A great venue with passionate support, what a terrific place to visit.
Thursday July 3rd 2014 – Europa League 1st Qualifying Round, 1st Leg
Derry City (2) 4 (P.McEleney 15, Patterson pen 25, Timlin 47, McNamee 86)
Aberystwyth Town (0) 0
Att: 1,980 (at Brandywell)
1. Gerard Doherty; 3. Dean Jarvis; 5. Ryan McBride; 26. Cliff Byrne (c); 30. Aaron Barry; 4. Barry Molloy; 7. Barry McNamee; 14. Michael Duffy; 19. Mark Timlin; 11. Rory Patterson; 10. Patrick McEleney.
Subs: 18. Philip Lowry (for 10,76 mins); 10. Nathan Byrne (for 11,82 mins); 23. Ryan Curran; 20. Ciaran Gallagher; 6. Shane McEleney; 8. Danny Ventre; 12. Joshua Tracey (for 19,68 mins)
1. Mike Lewis; 3. Cledan Davies; 4. Antonio Corbisiero; 5. Stuart Jones (c); 10. Chris Venables; 2. Chris Davis; 16. Wyn Thomas; 7. Geoff Kellaway; 8. Luke Sherborne; 9. Mark Jones; 11. Craig Williams.
Subs: 12. Sion James; 14. Bari Morgan (for 2,66 mins); 15. Rhydian Davies; 18. Jamie Butler; 6.Thomas Atyeo; 13. Philip Draper (for 11, 25 mins)
Yellow Cards: Barry (Derry); Kellaway (Aberystwyth)
Red Card: Lewis (Aberystwyth)