When Derry City first entered senior football in 1929 their first task was to find a venue for their home games.
By EDDIE MAHON
The first thought was to buy a ground but the fact of life was that it could not be made ready in the time available before their first game against Glentoran in August of that year. So the Corporation was approached for the use of Brandywell.
Brandywell was a ground owned by the Honourable the Irish Society, whose charter called for the ground to be available for the recreation of the community. Subject to this stricture, the Council voted unanimously to give the ground to the football club.
And there Derry City have resided (with the notable exception of an Irish League dictat due to which, for a time, home games were played at Coleraine in the early seventies) to this day.
As well as hosting Derry City FC, the old ground has also been the home of the Derry & District Football Association, whose league and cup matches have always been there since 1922. There’s special reference to their Blue Riband trophy, the McAlinden Cup, whose final is always at Brandywell.
The North-West Football Association, an associate body of the Irish Football Association, has also, historically, played its games there.
During its lifetime, Brandywell has played host to some of the game’s great names. In competitive European football we’ve had Benfica, Steaua Bucharest, Gothenborg, Vitesse Arnheim, Paris St. Germain - but, sadly, no Anderlecht!
When we became the first Irish club (north or south) to win an actual tie over two legs by beating FK Lyn 8-5 on aggregate, the annoyance became just too much for Harry Cavan of the IFA, who vowed there would be no repeat of what was a great night for Derry. How do I know? Because I was sitting directly behind him in an improvised VIP stand erected for the evening in front of the Glentoran stand when he made one of the most amazing (and revolting) statements I’ve ever heard in the game.
Frank Connor was in goal and, as there were no substitutes allowed in 1965, myself, Frankie Campbell and Ronnie Wood were housed with the great and the good, directly behind the aforementioned Cavan and the Derry City representative to the IFA, Mr William Wilton, a relation of our late chairman, Claud.
As the final whistle sounded, Mr Wilton turned to Cavan and said; “A great night for Derry football, Mr Cavan”, only to hear the IFA secretary respond, “I can assure you, Mr Wilton, it will be the last!”
And it was. For the next round against Anderlecht, even though the tie was over as a contest after a hammering in Brussels, Cavan pronounced Brandywell ‘unfit’ to stage the tie even though the Belgian team were anxious to travel. Derry directors, in turn, adopted the principled stand of ‘No Brandywell, No match’, thereby frustrating Cavan’s intention of bringing it to Belfast. So his ‘victory’ was a very hollow one – as the second leg never took place!
The next Brandywell ‘crisis’ came in the early days of ‘The Troubles’ when, with the Brandywell in a ‘no go area’, a relatively innocuous incident involving the Ballymena United team coach resulted in some other Irish League clubs refusing to come to play here. For a year, starting in the 1971-2 season, we were forced to play our ‘home’ games at the ground of our great enemies, Coleraine, who later earned the eternal odium of all Derry City fans when their refusal to support our re-entry into the Irish League resulted in the demise of senior football in the city for thirteen long years. That was until, in September 1985, Home Farm FC from Dublin were our visitors in the FAI League Cup game (Derry won 3-1) which saw Derry City FC become the only club in the world to play in a league outside its own political jurisdiction. And the rest is history.
As well as our European exploits the old ground has hosted visits from the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Celtic, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest – all of whom have played ‘up the hill!’
And all of the above in addition to hosting an inter-county game of Gaelic Football and A GAME OF CRICKET! More of which in later weeks
What’s in a name?
The origin of the name ‘Brandywell’ is clouded in the mists of time. Theories abound, but no one really knows how it came about. In Frank Curran’s excellent book, ‘The Derry City FC Story’ published in 1986 my good friend gave us his personal one. I quote;
“Historians have never been quite certain of its origins, but the most likely explanation is the a ‘well’ that was celebrated in the nineteenth century for what was considered its remarkably pure water was situated at the head of what is now Brandywell Road, outside the football ground’s location. Old residents enjoying the then fashionable ‘constitutional’ walk, used to bring flasks of brandy, and they declared that the water in the well was ‘as good as brandy’. So the place became known as ‘the brandywell’!”
Well that’s the theory, anyway; and, if it was good enough for Frank, it’s good enough for me. Unless, of course, you know different.