The first rule about Derry City, is that it is not Londonderry. And it is not Derry-Londonderry as the signs would have you believe. It is Derry City Football Club. The second rule about Derry City, is that you don’t need to arrive at the stadium one hour before kick-off. I found this one out the hard way. I was visiting a friend down Derry, and was stressing out that we would leave too late to get tickets for the match.
We rocked up about 40 minutes before kick-off, purchased tickets and walked right into the stadium. No lines anywhere, although the barbed-wired walls surrounding the stadium intimidated me a little bit at first. As I walked into the stadium I began to laugh. Why had we rushed to get here? Even A-league stadiums were more impressive than the 2,900 seated Brandywell Stadium.
I was a bit sceptical now. Since leaving Australia a short while ago I had planned on watching some impressive football around Europe. At this point in the night I was wondering if I had made the wrong decision to attend a League of Ireland game. But once the match started I changed my mind. My first Derry City match would be their last of the 2013 season. But the Candystripes would put on their best performance of the year with an impressive 6-0 victory over 7th placed Limerick.
Leading into the match Derry City were playing for a fourth place finish on the League of Ireland ladder. Although fourth is not normally a European position, if third placed Sligo Rovers win the November 3rd FAI Cup final against Drogheda United, then Derry will make Europa League qualifiers.
The first chance came three minutes in, when the league’s top scorer Rory Patterson powered a shot off the post. On six minutes, right-back Madden, who played an impressive match, curled the ball into the box. Kelly knocked the ball down across goal and Michael Rafter rose and headed it into the back of the net for the opening goal. I stood up and clapped respectably.
The remainder of the first half was relatively close, both teams with a number of respectable chances on goal. Half time must have seen Derry manager Declan Devine, who has since left the club, deliver an awe-inspiring team talk, because the home-side returned to the pitch with a treat for the fans who had turned up for the last match of the season.
McDaid scored Derry’s second as the ball rebounded off the keeper. I cheered for the nice goal. Jarvis scored the third, and his first for Derry, with a delightful header. This impressive goal received a slightly bigger applause from me.
In form striker Rory Patterson may have failed to score in the final match, but set up two goals for McDaid who volleyed the first from a cross, and his hat trick came with a powerful 16-yard shot. The best was saved for last as Madden completed an impressive match with a cheeky chip over the Limerick keeper to give Derry their 6-0 scoreline. By this stage of the match it was as though I had followed Derry since I was a kid, and I jumped up and cheered just as loud as everyone else in the stadium.
Derry City was kicked out of the League of Ireland in 2009 when secret contracts contrary to the FAI rules were discovered. However, with a new board of directors and a new chairman Derry City FC returned to the League of Ireland in 2010, playing in the First Division, the second-ranked league.
Derry finished the season in first place and was awarded promotion back into the Premier Division. Despite finishing the 2011 season in third place, Derry were refused entry into Europa League qualifiers due to going into liquidation two years prior. After winning the 2012 FAI Cup, the Candystripes progressed to the second round of Europa League qualifiers in 2013. Unfortunately they were knocked out by Trabzonspor in the third round with a 7-2 aggregate scoreline.
Following the 6-0 final match of the 2013 season, it was announced that manager Declan Devine had parted ways with the club by “mutual consent”. Despite their impressive scorline for the final match of the season, the dismissal was not surprising in view of several poor results following the mid-season break. However, if Derry does manage a Europa League qualification spot, the dismissal of the man who got them there will be somewhat disappointing.
Derry City are by no-means a Champions League quality football team. But there was something about the small-club atmosphere that I loved. Maybe it was the group of kids who ran onto the pitch after the match. Or the supporter dressed up in the red-and-white striped paraphernalia and walked a lap of the grounds, even receiving a cheer from the Limerick faithful. Or maybe it was the small section of Derry die-hards, singing and clapping all-through the match, even letting off a flare at one point.
A few months, even a few days ago, I knew nothing about the League of Ireland, but I now have a team to support. So when FAI Cup final is played early next month, along with all the Candystripe faithful, I will be hoping Sligo Rovers can secure a victory that will see Derry City make it into Europa League qualifiers.