|The History of Derry City|
|Written by Conor Collins|
|Wednesday, 21 November 2007 17:19|
Derry City FC is a well-known association football team from the second largest city of Northern Ireland, which is variously known as Derry or Londonderry. The name of the city is a contentious issue in contemporary local politics, but this was less so in the era when the club was formed. Nowadays the name "Derry" is very much associated with the Nationalist community, and "Londonderry" with Unionists, but this division was not always so entrenched. Indeed, both the first and the second parts of the club's name were chosen with a consideration that they should have as broad an appeal as possible.
Derry City FC was formed in 1928, fifteen years after the demise of the previous senior team from the city, Derry Celtic. "City" was chosen as a more neutral moniker than had been "Celtic". The club's application to join the Irish League in 1928 failed because it was submitted two days past the deadline, but they were successful the following year. Their first game of the 1929/1930 season was on the 22nd of August 1929 when they hosted Belfast side Glentoran at The Brandywell, wearing claret & blue shirts and white shorts.
A few years later, City adopted the red and white 'candystriped' shirts which would thereafter be the club's colours. The colours were 'borrowed' from English club Sheffield United during the 1934/5 season, specifically as a tribute to manager Billie Gillespie who had an illustrious playing career with the 'Blades' from 1913 to 1932. The club's now firmly established nickname - The Candystripes - comes from the distinctive red and white stripes of the shirts, which appeared as the strip of the subbuteo player featured on the cover of the Undertones single 'My Perfect Cousin'.
Derry City played in the Irish League from 1929 until 1973. It was originally the league for the whole of Ireland, it has since 1921 been confined to clubs from Northern Ireland. Clubs from the south used the occasion of the partition of Ireland to leave, alleging an Ulster bias on the part of the Belfast-based Irish Football Association. The southern clubs established the Football Association of the Irish Free-State (FAIFS), which would shortly after become the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). The Candystripes were moderately successful during their time in the Irish League, reaching the final of the Irish Cup in 1936, before winning it for the first time in 1949 (and again in 1954 and 1964).
The Foylesiders were Irish League Champions for the only time in the 1964/5 season (though they finished runners-up on seven occasions). Ultimately, their time under the auspices of the IFA would come to an end in 1973. Derry suffered most of all clubs in Ireland from the escalating sectarian tensions in the North. In the early 1970s, the IFA forced Derry to play their home games in Coleraine (50km / 30 miles away). The situation was financially unsustainable for Derry and when in October 1972 the league clubs voted by a margin of one not to allow games to return to the Brandywell, City were forced to resign from the Irish league.
The city was once again without a senior football team, and Derry City FC apparently seemed doomed to remain in the wilderness until an unlikely opportunity came their way. In 1985 the League of Ireland (the league in the Republic) decided to expand from 16 to 22 teams, and Derry City applied to be one of the six new clubs. The switch had to be approved by FIFA and more crucially, the IFA. The IFA acquiesced, possibly because they were getting a little sheepish of continually rejecting Derry's annual application to re-join the Irish league, and arguably the club hasn't looked back since; they certainly have not since considered going back to the Irish League.
1985/86 was first season in the newly created second tier of the League of Ireland (called the First Division), with Derry City winning promotion in the following season to the Premier Division, from which they have never been relegated (nor were they ever relegated in their time in the Irish League). Derry City added vigour to their new league bringing huge numbers of visiting supporters the length and breadth of the country. Their crowning season came in 1988/89 with a clean-sweep of domestic trophies (the League Championship, the FAI Cup and the League Cup), a treble which none of the other clubs has managed.
Derry City's ventures into European competition have mostly been underwhelming; occasional good performances in individual games mostly overshadowed by defeats over two legs. A couple of occasions, however, stand out. In 1964 Derry City became the first Irish League club to progress a round in Europe when they beat FK Lynn of Oslo 8-6 on aggregate (3-5 away, and 5-1 at home) in the European Cup. In the following round, Derry were prevented from playing their home leg at the Brandywell by the IFA and so forfeited the tie to Anderlecht. Some notable single match results include a 0-0 draw away to Vitesse Arnhem in 1990, and a 1-0 victory over Lokomotiv Sofia in 1995, but nothing which would prepare the club or its supporters for the UEFA Cup run in the summer of 2006. Home and away 1-0 victories over double former UEFA Cup winners IFK Gothenburg, were followed by a 5-1 thrashing of Scottish club Gretna in the first leg of the next round in Motherwell (the largest European away win of any Irish club, north or south) which effectively assured City of a place in the following round where they were handed a tough assignment in the form of Paris St. Germain. City once again came under pressure to move a European tie (to Dublin, or possibly Belfast), but on this occasion mostly for financial reasons given the small seated capacity of the Brandywell (2,900). The club resisted the urge to give up home advantage and the decision appears to have been a wise one, with Derry battling to a creditable 0-0 draw in which they had several good opportunities to grab a winner. Unfortunately City conceded two relatively soft first-half goals in the return leg at the Parc des Princes, allowing PSG to cruise into the group stages.
This new found (relative) success in Europe, coupled with other good showings from Drogheda United, Shelbourne, and particularly Cork City, may prove to be a significant turning point in the development of Irish domestic soccer. Adding to the sense of optimism surrounding Irish soccer has been the recent introduction of a cross-border competition, the Setanta Sports Cup. Derry have taken part in two of the three competitions to date, which has allowed them to renew rivalries with teams from the Irish League, particularly Belfast sides Glentoran and Linfield.
Since the famous treble of 1989 the team has added three more FAI Cups (1995, 2002, 2006), six League Cups (1990/91, 1991/92, 1993/94, 1999/2000, 2005, 2006), but just one more League (1996/97), despite finishing second on three occasions (most recently in 2006). The Candystripes almost eclipsed the 1989 season in 2006, completing a cup double as well as the above mentioned extra-ordinary run in the UEFA Cup. The icing on the cake would have been the league title, to which they were beaten by Shelbourne, but only on goal difference.
A final word should be spared for the fans of Derry City. Upon entry into the League of Ireland in 1985 they brought extremely large numbers of fans to even the remotest part of the country, and could pack up to 10,000 into the Brandywell - a huge number in the context of Irish club soccer. Though this novelty of being able to support a team again wore off by the mid-1990s, Derry have remained among the best supported teams in the league. As well as for their large numbers, Derry fans are known for their loud passionate singing to support the team throughout the entire 90 minutes of their matches. Included in their repertoire is the song 'Teenage Kicks' by the Undertones, which by now has become the club's unofficial anthem.