It’s in our own hands

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Over the past number of weeks former goalkeeper and Derry City historian, EDDIE MAHON, has been detailing the history of The Brandywell, its ups and downs, and the many attempts over the years to find a new ground for the club. In this article he examines the options for the future and details the reasons for his own particular preference.

Over the past number of weeks former goalkeeper and Derry City historian, EDDIE MAHON, has been detailing the history of The Brandywell, its ups and downs, and the many attempts over the years to find a new ground for the club. In this article he examines the options for the future and details the reasons for his own particular preference.

If the club have learned anything over the years it is surely that Belfast in all its guises i.e. Government, Irish Football Association, Invest Near Islandmagee, Cultural etc.etc. is certainly not our friend.

We are a proud people with a history dating back to Columba. We were an historic city before Belfast was a tented village, and the days of our sending sporting, political and business representatives up there to be patronised and patted on the head by people we wouldn’t allow to clean our toilets should be over.

As a proud “City of Culture” we certainly would not have, as our proudest boast and main selling point the fact that we built a ship which couldn’t complete its maiden voyage and sank with the loss of twelve hundred lives! On at least five major occasions (1977, 1986, 1997, 2007 and 2011) we were assured by ‘Belfast’ that monies were available for the refurbishment of Brandywell.

And on how many occasions were there promises fulfilled? On exactly the same number as the promises to make Magee a fully-fledged university!

The point I’m trying to make is that we are totally on our own here and not an ounce of progress will be made until we fully accept this. Or, as the modern idiom has it, come out of ‘denial’.

Step one. We’re not getting any money from Belfast and, if ever we were to, it would be directed towards a nonsense like the two ‘science parks’ and certainly not towards any advancing of our city’s prospects.

Step two is the acceptance of another FACT. Brandywell is not an option! This is not a matter where different people hold different, but equally valid, opinions. The FACT is that it is impossible to make Brandywell into a modern, secure, visitor friendly, UEFA licensed, health & safety compliant, cross-community friendly stadium. Opinions just don’t come into the equation at all.

As a base for other uses as detailed in a previous article Brandywell would, of course, continue to be a crucial ingredient in the sporting life of the city in general and Derry City FC in particular. So we have our starting point. NO money from Belfast; and NO Brandywell!

Now for the options for the future.

Possible locations

Over the years Derry City FC’s search for a new home has taken them to all corners of the city. From Kerr’s Field in the old Meenan Park area in the Bogside to Wilton Park on the Limavady Road with a few venues like St Columb’s Park, Whitehouse and the old Dunlop factory in Pennyburn Pass in between.

Most have either disappeared or changed beyond recognition with the passage of time to the point where none of the above are ever mentioned in current discussions on the future of the club. In essence only two locations are now seen as possibilities, Templemore and Fort George.

In terms of purely building a venue suitable for senior (and European) football either would more than adequately fill the bill but, if we are to take full advantage of this opportunity to build a state-of-the-art venue for the club, and the city, in my view there’s only one location which ticks all the boxes.

What’s required

So what are the attributes required to ensure our new home gives us the maximum returns in all areas of its potential uses; to meet basic needs and guarantee the financial future of the club. Let’s list the various areas of activity which require consideration when examining the suitability of any proposed location.

Accessibility

The location of the new ground must be such that it is readily accessible from all parts of the city and surrounding hinterland. This included an internal public transport service and easy walking distances to/from cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, fast food outlets etc

Fan friendly

It must be in a location where all sections of our community will feel completely at ease and comfortable. Cross community acceptance is crucial

Car parking

It must , naturally, have sufficient car parking facilities, either within its own footprint of close by, to accommodate its maximum capacity, major concerts not included as they always come under ‘park and ride’ schemes everywhere

Visibility

As it is envisaged that the new stadium would be an iconic building it should be in a prominent position in the city in order to show us off in our best light to visiting fans and potential investors in our economy

Versatility

Because of the myriad of uses other than football i.e. pop concerts, other sports, entertainments etc. it is essential that the stadium construction of the arena reflect these needs.

Proximity of support services

For the comfort and conveniences of visiting fans and locals alike and, indeed, for the image of the city itself it is imperative that, close to the ground, there are hotels, shops, bars, cafes, fast food outlets, conveniences stores in order to satisfy their pre and post-match requirements.

Maximising attendances

The new ground should, ideally, be in the part of the city which lies closest to major centres of population and/ or the main traffic arteries into the city

Commercial potential

This would be in the best position to provide financial support for the club.

Comparibility

So how do our two heavyweights compare as they go head to head in our Residential Debate? Let’s check it out.

On ‘accessibility’ both are quite easy to get to; although, as Templemore is in the outskirts of the city, for those on foot or those wanting to use ‘services’ Fort George wins hands down. As a ‘fan friendly’ venue either is eminently suitable. On car parking, again both are more than adequate. On the basis of providing an iconic landmark for the city (like the Millennium Forum should have provided on the Sainsbury’s site) Fort George, being integrated into the city itself would be the obvious choice

Regarding the versatility of use a stadium could be built in either location to accommodate all users.

The availability of ‘support services’ like those mentioned is just not there at Templemore while Fort George is surrounded by a plethora of such facilities.

A location which maximised the attendances at home games is a crucial factor in the decision of where to site a new stadium. Templemore, situated where it is close to the large residential estates like Galliagh, Templegrove, Hazelbank, Foyle Springs, Whitehouse and, to a lesser extent, communities like Hatmore, Grangemore etc. Then there are those like, for example, the large Creggan community who are near enough equidistant from both.

The Fort George catchment area, though is much larger. The entire city centre and all of the Waterside. Then there’s Strand Road and its tributary streets, Culmore Road, Kingsfort Park, Garden City, Troy Park, Farren Park, Racecourse Road, Belmont Estate, Shantallow, Talbot Park, Gleneagles, Mount Pleasant – all of whose residents are within easy walking distance obviating the need for car spaces.

All this before we include two of the main arteries into the city i.e. Inishowen including Carndonagh, Muff, Moville, Quigley’s Point, Malin, Culdaff (and, yes, Gleneely!). As well as those coming from Eglinton, Greysteel, Strathfoyle, Bayylkelly, Limavady via the Foyle Bridge.

So, on this basis, the balance falls very heavily in favour of Fort George.

And finally, the commercial potential or, to put it more simply, the ability of the stadium to provide an income stream to run the club; undoubtedly the single most important function of all.

As I envision it, a new stadium would include, integrated into the superstructure, about 30/40 small units available for renting to interested parties and encompassing such varied uses as educational, IT, commercial retail, office, social and community sectors.

The chance of having the likes of music centres and art centres within the structure would also be a huge plus. The very same uses as Ilex detailed as fitting their vision!

The rental income from these units would make this vision a very viable one and, in the process, safeguard the future of the club.

In this respect I was very much encouraged by the Ilex statement this week on the Mark Patterson Show that they would now listen to any serious proposals on the matter. Progress indeed.

There is one last but oh so important condition. This new stadium would not be owned by Derry City Football Club but would be vested in a ‘Friends of DC’ type trust whose brief would be to act in the best interests of the club and the academy attached thereto.

Something which apart from giving continuity unaffected by constantly changing boards who insulate the club against any future financial meltdlowns.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the researching and revisiting the club history over the last few weeks, and I hope you may have found my articles of some interest.

If you have your own views on the subject I’d love to hear from you via e-mail at eddiemahon@live.co.uk