LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Drogheda United

Sex & Drogs & Rock & Roll north of the Boyne

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

Irish champions in 2007, Drogheda United failed to kick on after falling foul of the Revenue Commissioners, going part-time and nearly going out of business. They also dropped plans for a new stadium.

United Park, home of the club’s namesake non-league predecessors formed back in 1919, remains somewhat outdated, and a long trek from Drogheda’s bus and train stations on the south side of the Boyne.

For nearly 60 years, it staged Junior football, the original Drogheda United preferring to keep their game at regional level and allowing the later created Drogheda FC to take on the big clubs from Dublin, Cork and Waterford in the League of Ireland in the 1960s and early 1970s.

United Park/Peter Doyle

The League of Ireland outfit also made the FAI Cup of 1971, a losing appearance now credited in the archives to the merged club created in 1975, Drogheda United.

Joining forces had immediate results. Moving into United Park, the Drogs made the FAI Cup final of 1976, a 1-0 defeat to Bohemians, and twice finishing in the league top three. After losing top scorer Cathal Muckian to local rivals Dundalk, where he soon won an Irish cap and a league title, Drogheda fell away.

A mean defence helped the Drogs to a runners-up spot in the league in 1983 but then proved porous against Spurs for Drogheda’s European debut. Tottenham notched 14 goals in the two legs without reply.

United Park/Peter Doyle

European success and domestic silverware came with the arrival of Paul Doolin as manager and a young Declan O’Brien as goalgetter. Scoring on his 2001 debut, ‘Fabio’ O’Brien was quickly elevated to captain and led the Drogs to a first FAI Cup in 2005. In a game switched to Lansdowne Road to accommodate the near 25,000 crowd, Drogheda survived a few scares on a bitterly cold afternoon. The Drogs then nudged ahead of Cork shortly after the restart, and O’Brien himself made sure of victory with a majestic lob late into the game.

Hosting seasoned European competitors HJK Helsinki at Dalymount Park, Drogheda needed two extra-time goals from Damian Lynch to set up a tight two-leg tussle with fellow Scandinavians Start of Norway. Centre-back Graham Gartland claimed the unenviable record of being the first player in UEFA Cup history to miss two penalties in a shoot-out, the opening strike and fatal 12th effort of a 11-10 defeat.

United Park/Peter Doyle

Gartland, fellow centre-back Brian Shelley and Fabio O’Brien then provided the spine of the Doolin-led Drogheda side that conceded few goals and only three defeats in 2007. With Libyan international Éamon Zayed knocked a few in at the other end, the Drogs kept ahead of the pack to claim and first, and so far only, league crown.

Geordie-born Guy Bates, in only his third game for the club, etched himself into Drogheda legend by scoring the last-minute winner against Cork at United Park that sealed the title.

Fall guy in Europe in 2006, Gartland became the hero of the club’s debut Champions League campaign two years later with his late touch to equalise at Dynamo Kyiv. In a frantic finish, Aussie Adam Hughes ballooned over a gaping goal from five yards then a low Shane Robinson cross-cum-shot teased the length of the opposition goal-line. Either effort going in would have assured safe passage to the next round, where the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool were waiting.

United Park/Peter Doyle

Two months later, Drogheda’s world caved in when the Revenue Commissioners demanded a €500,000 loan back. Having come within goal-line chalkdust of a lucrative further qualifying round in the world’s most prestigious club tournament, Drogheda were now reduced to going part-time and relying on fund-raising from supporters. Worse, Fabio O’Brien went to Dundalk.

Saved from relegation two years running, once by a play-off then on a technicality, the Drogs recovered in 2012 with a morale-boosting early win at Dundalk. With that, manager Mick Cooke, a United forward before the 1975 merger, rallied the troops and remarkably took Drogheda to runners-up spot in the Premier. Fabio O’Brien was also forgiven, scoring in the Drogs’ League Cup final win the same year.

Improbably back in Europe in 2013, and with a 34-year-old O’Brien playing in both legs, Drogheda held Malmö to 0-0 at the Tallaght Stadium then to 1-0 in Sweden before a stoppage-time goal killed the tie.

Relegated in 2015, Drogheda reached the promotion play-off at first attempt, keeping calm after conceding two early goals to Cobh Ramblers in the initial decider. Winning through 3-2 on aggregate, the Drogs then looked like staying down in the second tier when Wexford went 2-0 up in stoppage time in the first leg of the play-off final. It took the steady foot of Sean Thornton to steer in the crucial penalty that sent Drogheda back to the Premier with a 3-0 second-leg win at United Park.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Home of Drogheda soccer for the best part of a century, United Park has its limitations – capacity restricted to 2,000, spectators accommodated on three sides – but also its history and its atmosphere.

The main stand, providing covered seating for home fans, occupies the middle third of the Windmill Road side nearest the halfway line. To one side is a long clubhouse, on the other, covered standing for away supporters nearest the north goal by Cross Lane.

Opposite on the west side is a mix of covered and open seating and standing.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

United Park is a 35min walk from Drogheda train station, 25mins from the bus station, 20mins from town centre.

The nearest bus stop is Drogheda Hospital, 5-8min journey time from the bus station. Buses include the 182 to Monaghan (Mon-Sat hourly, Sun every 2hrs, last one back 7.30pm) and the 190 to Trim (hourly, last one back 11pm, 10pm on Sun). The 100 runs hourly daytime, the 189 every 2hrs.

A taxi from the town-centre rank on Peter Street should cost €6.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Admission on the night is €15 on the Windmill Road side, €12 for seniors and students, €10 for under-14s. Through the turnstiles to the West Stand on Cross Lane, it’s €12, €10 and €5.

There are no advance or online sales.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

A modest selection of Drogs merchandise should be available on a match night, all in claret and blue, of course.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

There’s no bar at the ground. If you’re walking up from the town centre, at the junction of North Road and Windmill Road, Mother Hughes is a handy pitstop. Drogs fans gather around its pool table and fire in winter – there’s a beer garden in summer. TV sport is a major focus.

The closest pub to the ground, also handier if you’re coming by bus, is The Windmill House, by the stadium car park behind the main stand. In place for a century or more, it has long served both United Park and Lourdes Hospital. On match nights, home and away fans gather to sink pints of Carlsberg, watch sport and take advantage of the beer garden in summer.