Derry City have bounced back from severe adversity on several occasions. Now, with a new stadium under construction, there’s another spanner in the works: Friday-night Premier League football, as Peter Doyle reports.
At Derry City’s Brandywell Stadium, ‘Teenage Kicks’ by local heroes the Undertones is blasted out to stir the passions before kick-off.
It’s a place where passions run high – especially this week after it emerged that City’s home league fixture against League of Ireland (LOI) champions Dundalk would clash with the United-Villa game.
Friday night matches are as Irish as summer football, a move which arose out of a desire to boost attendances in the LOI by avoiding fixture clashes with the Premier League.
Up to ten Premier League matches could be broadcast live on Friday evenings in 2016-17.
Understandably, Derry’s chief executive Sean Barrett is worried about the detrimental impact the change could have on his club’s finances – especially now that plans to transform the dilapidated Brandywell into a modern 6,000-seater are well under way. Corporate boxes and a new 3G pitch are integral to the plans.
Barrett told the Derry Journal: ‘It’s obviously going to have an effect on attendances. The league are going to have to give this serious consideration because the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal playing on a Friday night will affect attendances – there’s no doubt about that.
But Derry City, the only British club to play league football outside of the UK, are well used to overcoming adversity – as their chequered 87-year history over both sides of the Irish border shows.
Despite winning the Northern Irish league in 1965, the Candystripes bowed out from top-flight football in 1972 when their rivals voted against lifting a ban on matches at the Brandywell which had been imposed over security fears.
More than a decade in the wilderness of the junior ranks followed before an invite from south of the border to compete in the League of Ireland was gratefully accepted in 1984.
And it didn’t take the newcomers long to establish themselves, wining a domestic treble at the end of the 88/89 season – the only Irish club ever to do so.
Although another league championship would follow at the end of the 96/97 season, City nearly fell off the football map for a second time 12 years later when the debt-ridden club was booted out of the League of Ireland over financial irregularities stemming from secondary contracts to players.
Bankrupt and without a league, Derry City FC were dissolved.
But a new club was quickly formed and, after securing a licence from the FAI to play in the First Division, promotion to the Premier Division was clinched by the end of the 2010 season.
This was followed by League Cup and FAI Cup successes in 2011 and 2012.
With the club preparing to celebrate three decades of League of Ireland football later this year, the prospect of live Premier League matches on a Friday is an unwelcome headache.
As Barrett explained: ‘It’s a serious concern for the club because we’re trying to get in as much revenue as we can. We’re looking at alternatives. Saturday at 5pm? But there’s a game on then… Sunday? There are two games on then and there’s one on Monday. And then on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays, there are European games…’