A Derry man who organised the minibus from Dundalk has spoken of his shock after the vehicle was vandalised and some of the young fans onboard were set upon after they left Brandywell Stadium.
Gary Stewart, who has lived in Dundalk for the past 19 years, said a police presence and escort plus secure parking within the ground now seemed the only option to limit the chance of away fans being attacked.
Mr Stewart praised his fellow “true Derry fans” and staff and patrons at the Bluebell Bar who came to the Dundalk group’s aid on Tuesday night.
He had booked the bus initially for family and friends, as there was no official buses going to the FAI Cup semi-final. A total of 14 people were onboard, including his father-in-law and another man in his 70s and several teenage fans whom he took to Free Derry Corner to get their pictures taken on what was, for many of them, their first trip to the city.
They then parked the van, on advice from local people, inside the Gasyard, the gates of which were then locked.
Mr. Stewart said that he saw a gang of 30 to 40 youths in the area as the Dundalk group made their way to the stadium.
“Whenever we went into the match they must have jumped the gates, slashed one of the tyres and broke a window. They also sprayed graffiti on the back window. Whenever we came out after the match we didn’t even get to the bus, these young fellows came over and hit a couple of the lads.”
The group lost one teenager who, it transpired, had been struck on the head with a bottle and was treated by the Derry team doctor. The boy got a lift home with a member of the Press from Dundalk. Another young fan was punched and knocked to the ground, and Mr Stewart had to get him to safety.
“We got the rest of them into a the bar and the driver and myself went round to check the bus. They must have scaled the fence to get at the van. The lads in the Gasyard all helped to change the tyre.
“I went back to the bar to keep an eye on the young lads and it was 11.15 pm before we got leaving. All this time the crowd was still there across the road. They seemed to grow. I couldn’t believe this could happen in my home town. It was a shock.
“You never think something like this could happen. Derry City fans aren’t like that , this seemed to be a gang of teenagers. The kids we had with us thought they were going to get hammered.
“Only for the proper Derry City fans, who covered the bar area so nobody else could get in, knows what this gang might have done.”
Mr. Stewart also praised those who helped change the tyre and who escorted the bus as an escort as far as the Prehen area.
He said that there now needed to be a rethink around security in the Brandywell during matches.
“There used to be a big car park at the Showgrounds and the only way I can see out of this is to let away fans’ buses park inside the grounds and for a police presence outside and to escort the buses out.
“The people down here will not go to the Brandywell again.”
He added: “People know it is not Derry City fans, but they think Derry City should be doing more to protect away fans. They are going to have to liaise better with the police. The Derry City fans are going to have to get onboard with this as well and say we need a police presence.
“We arrived in Derry at 6.45pm and we didn’t get away until 11.15 pm and there wasn’t one policeman to be seen and it’s not as if attacks haven’t happened before.”