When I was younger I was a massive fan of Tottenham Hotspur. I’m not from North London, let alone England, but I was a supporter: I followed the fortunes of the team, watched their games when possible and bought (or rather received) replica shirts, which I wore with pride as I attempted to emulate my heroes Stephen Carr, Jürgen Klinsmann and Darren Anderton. I endured the obligatory teasing from what I always thought were gloryhunting Liverpool and Manchester United fans for my choice of team and even found a degree of solidarity with other suffering Spurs fans.
But was it my choice? That is, was it really my choice to support Spurs?
The short answer is no; I was, to use a rather crude term, indoctrinated. My father (also not from North London) supported Spurs and, at the time, it seemed only natural for me to do likewise. In fact it was somewhat expected that I do so. When I look back on it, is was actually a great opportunity to bond (I think every father should endeavour to find an activity that he can include his son in). However as I grew older I gradually lost interest in Spurs, whose fortunes, in a cruel twist, conversely improved. It suddenly felt strange for me to be supporting a team that I had no personal or even perceived connection with, a team that didn’t, in reality, represent me. So instead, I chose to focus my energy on my local team, Derry City.
I had been a regular at the Brandywell in the late “nineties” and early “two-thousands”, going to games with my father and a cousin who held a season ticket. I actually won the Derry Journal’s “Face in the Crowd” competition which, to my joy, gifted me the latest Derry City home and away shirts at the time. It was almost a type of consolation for the embarrassment of having an open-gobbed image of myself broadcast to the City (something which my friends and teachers wasted no time in slagging me for). Around the time that I was born, Derry City was one of the strongest teams in Ireland, but their fortunes had declined somewhat approaching the early “two-thousands”. However, that did not stop me from relishing our regular trips to the Brandywell. One of the greatest spectacles I ever witnessed was a relegation playoff in 2003, when City legend Liam Coyle, in his last ever game, condemned local rivals Finn Harps to another season in the First Division in front of a crowd of over 7,000. Magic stuff.
Nearly a decade on from that day, I am still supporting Derry City and there have been quite a few “ups” and, unfortunately, some “downs”. What Derry City fan could forget that marvellous European adventure in 2006 or the (various) cup wins? By the same token, fans experienced the pain of an acrimonious fall from grace as the club was shrouded in controversy and relegated, for the first time in its history, to the League of Ireland First Division. One thing is certain, following Derry City will not leave you pining for drama.
The real attraction, however, for me, is the sense of belonging that supporting the club brings. When I watch Derry City on television or travel to watch their games, I am watching a team of modestly paid players, most of whom hail from Derry and the surrounding area. I have even gone to school with some City players, played with and against others – the connection truly is palpable. When I appeal to people to support their local team rather than some foreign entity like Manchester United or Glasgow Celtic, it is not, as it might be misconstrued, out of a petty hatred of all things British; it comes from a genuine desire to help local pursuits prosper.
But as my good (he might argue great) friend sardonically put it: “Sure what’s the point in supporting your local team? Why would you bother taking the short journey into the Brandywell to spend a small amount to watch a team of local men play when you could spend preposterous amounts on supporting a team from a different country filled with overpaid individuals?”. Indeed. Why would you bother?
Support your local team!