LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Derry City

The Brandywell new and improved for Euro campaigns

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Derry City are a club apart. The Candystripes of the Brandywell have been crowned champions on both sides of the border, their acceptance into the League of Ireland in 1985 coming 20 years after winning the title in the North.

Supporter-owned since a financial wobble in the early 2000s, the club has managed to modernise the Brandywell, now a comfortable place to watch a football match of a Friday night. Teenage Kicks by local heroes the Undertones chimes out its familiar chords as the Candystripes stride the turf in red and white. Edge is provided for local derbies with Finn Harps from Ballybofey, over the border in Donegal, otherwise opponents come from much further south, Dublin, Dundalk or Drogheda.

Or perhaps Riga, Minsk or Soligorsk. Regular if usually brief performers on the European stage, Derry have also entertained the likes of Benfica, Gothenburg and Paris Saint- Germain after League of Ireland titles in 1989 and 1997, FAI Cups and high-place finishes in the table.

Another run for the title in 2022 has seen sell-out games with leaders Shamrock Rovers and yet another season in Europe to look forward to.

Candystripe store/Peter Doyle

The Brandywell sits near the Bogside, alongside Celtic Park, home of Derry’s GAA team but also the first to stage soccer in town when St Colomb’s Court and Derry Celtic played here in the 1890s. Derry Celtic moved across to the Brandywell in 1900, before folding in 1913. Newly founded Derry City moved in 15 years later.

With the Brandywell close to chilling scenes of civil unrest during The Troubles, not least the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, Derry City found themselves forced to play home games in Coleraine from 1971, before being reduced to Saturday-morning football for 13 years.

Large crowds greeted the return of football to the Brandywell in 1985, Derry having joined the League of Ireland south of the border.

Brandywell/Michael O'Hanlon

The wait proved worth it, Derry City winning the treble in 1989 under manager Jim McLaughlin, the former Swansea striker who had worked miracles with Dundalk earlier in the decade. For their debut in the European Cup as a side representing Ireland, his men were by no means disgraced against eventual finalists Benfica, losing 2-1 in front of 10,000 at the Brandywell and falling 0-4 to three second-half goals at the Stadium of Light.

A vital member of that Derry side, former attacking midfielder Felix Healy then led the Candystripes to another title in 1997, doubling up as a singer in his spare time. Again, Derry weren’t too far away from progressing in Europe, keeping old hands Maribor to two low-scoring victories in the Champions League.

All came crashing down in 2000 when an unpaid tax bill came to light. The club would have gone under but for supporters collecting money to save Derry City, who also played a number of showcase friendlies to raise funds. 

Celtic Bar/Michael O'Hanlon

Rescued in the nick of time, Derry decided to go for broke and turn professional. It proved to be a wise move, but perhaps not as smart as bringing in mercurial manager Stephen Kenny. Taking Derry to a league runners-up spot in 2005, Kenny then oversaw the most successful European campaign in the club’s history. A late goal from locally born left-back Sean Hargan shocked hosts Gothenburg in the first leg of the UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round, young striker Stephen O’Flynn converting a penalty to repeat the winning scoreline at the Brandywell.

An easy win over Gretna – yes, Gretna in Europe – led to a dream tie against Paris Saint-Germain in the First Round, with a place in the group stage at stake. Holding the illustrious French team to a 0-0 draw in Derry, Kenny’s men fell to an early Édouard Cissé strike at the Parc des Princes, before Pauleta doubled the hosts’ lead with one of his 200-plus goals for PSG. As befits any Stephen Kenny side, the Candystripes kept battling until the end.

Kenny’s achievements later earned him a move to Dunfermline but not before he had taken Derry to within seven goals of the league title, Shelbourne crowned on goal difference. Bizarrely, the Shels were immediately demoted for financial irregularities. 

Brandywell Bar/Peter Doyle

Granted Shelbourne’s Champions League berth via the back door, Derry failed to take advantage, falling to Pyunik of Armenia. By then, Kenny was long gone, but the manager had made an emotional return the previous December while still Dunfermline coach. Keeping good on his promise, Kenny took charge of Derry for one last time in what would be a memorable FAI Cup final. In a howling gale at the old Lansdowne Road stadium before it was knocked down, Derry and St Pat’s went at each other hammer and tongs. Three times the Dublin side went ahead, three times Derry levelled, until an own goal deep into extra-time brought the trophy to the Brandywell for the fourth time. 

Kenny would come back for a longer stay in 2007, winning two more FAI Cups and claiming another European scalp, that of Skonto Riga, in 2009. Derry also gave CSKA Sofia a real fright in the next round of the UEFA Cup.

Soon afterwards, still in piles of debt, Derry survived another threat of closure as they clambered out of the First Division thanks to many goals from Mark Farren. One of the heroes of the 2006 FAI Cup Final, the former PFAI Player of the Year had been diagnosed with a brain tumour but would go on to score well over a hundred goals for the Candystripes before he succumbed to the disease in 2016. His No.18 shirt was retired as a mark of respect.

Derry City store/Mick O'Hanlon

Breaking into the side around the same time as Farren was scoring hatfuls of goals, hard-as-nails defender Ryan McBride had become a regular in the Derry side by 2012 and captain by 2015. In March 2017, having just led his side to a 4-0 win over Drogheda the day before, the centre-back was found dead in his flat in Bluebell Hill Gardens right next to the Brandywell.

With the ground being redeveloped that same year, the new Brandywell took his name after it was unveiled in 2018. Returning from a one-season spell in Buncrana during the rebuild, the Candystripes strode out onto a 3G artificial pitch before an impressive new main stand. 

Making Europe in 2019 and again in 2021, Derry stayed in the upper echelons of the Premier Division without putting in a real title challenge. This changed under Ruaidhrí Higgins in 2022. A key member of Stephen Kenny’s midfield some 15 years before, the young manager impressed in his first full-time post, his Derry side topping the table for ten rounds of the season in a tight race with Shamrock Rovers.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The Brandywell has been recently equipped with 3G artificial pitch and a new main stand, expanding capacity to a potential 7,700. The other major change to the ground since its redevelopment in 2017 has been in its name, the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium commemorating the club captain who died suddenly that same year.

Away fans enter through the turnstiles on Brandywell Avenue to Blocks A and B of the East Stand, facing the main one. Both ends are empty, a second stage of redevelopment put on hold in 2022 while discussions of funding continued. 

For the time being, with nearly 1,000 seated in the new facility along one sideline, and 2,700 open seats opposite, capacity at the Brandywell remains around average for Ireland’s Premier Division. Games here do sell out, although a potential capacity of almost 8,000 may be somewhat ambitious.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

If you’re coming in by train, turn right out of the station, along the river to the bridge, then left at the roundabout up Abercorn Road. As it veers right, you’ll see the floodlights ahead. Allow 15 minutes altogether.

It’s about the same from the bus station – you won’t have to cross the river but cut through town. Head for The Diamond, right down Butcher Street by the Maldon Hotel, then left down Fahan Street, past Free Derry Corner. You’ll see the floodlights ahead.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The club sells tickets through various local outlets such as PJ’s at William Street in town, and Harkins newsagents, 178 Lecky Road, near the Brandywell. Online sales are also available.

Contact the club at office@derrycityfc.net to see if any tickets will be available on the night.

Prices are set at £15, £12 for seniors and students, £4 (not available online) for 5-15s, under-5s free.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club’s match-day store at the Brandywell stocks replica shirts – home red with two thick white stripes like braces, away light bliue – as well as old-school souvenirs such as bobble hats and bar scarves. Sadly no Candystripe Subbuteo players as featured on the pic sleeve of the Undertones’ My Perfect Cousin

If you’re in Derry on a non-match night and just have to grab a souvenir, Harkins newsagents (178 Lecky Road) sells a limited amount of Candystripe merch, including a surprising array of birthday cards.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Sport-focused bars near the ground include the Brandywell Sports Bar where Brandywell Road meets Lecky Road and, nearby, The Bluebell Bar at 130 Lecky Road. 

Slightly further away, other Candystripe haunts include the Celtic Bar, the other side of Celtic Park where Stanleys Walk meets the end of Elmwood Street and, behind it, Mary B’s at 42 Elmwood Terrace, where Lone Moor Road meets Blighs Lane.