Sub zero conditions may have encompassed Derry on Friday night but there was a warm atmosphere inside the Brandywell football stadium as youngsters from all over the city turned up in their hundreds to get behind their local team before next weekend’s FAI Ford Cup final against St. Patrick’s Athletic at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Young children and their parents and guardians watched intently as Declan Devine’s Derry City took on the Derry Reserves in a warm up match.
After the game was over, the young fans got the chance to meet with the players for photographs and autographs.
“There’s a great atmosphere here tonight,” said Derry City supporter Eamonn Dobbins.
“I’ve brought my wee son, Ciaran, along here tonight and hopefully he’ll get the chance to meet all of the players. Ciaran is four years-old so he’s at an age where he’s starting to show an interest in football.
“Ciaran might be a bit young to go to the final next week but I definitely think that this will not be the last time he is at the Brandywell.”
Eamonn, like thousands of other Derry City fans, will make the journey down the M1 next weekend to cheer on his beloved Derry City in the final.
“I can’t wait. It’s going to be a great day out. I have my ticket bought and everything.
“I think the team have finished the season really strongly so I am going to predict that Derry beat St. Patrick’s Athletic 2-0,” he said hopefully.
Pat McKeever brought her grand-nephew Jamie Barr and niece Sinead McKeever to Friday’s family fun day.
“Jamie’s brother, Kevin Barr, plays for the youth team so I think you could say that Derry City is in Jamie’s blood,” she smiled.
Jamie, who is from Galliagh, plays for the St. Patrick’s P.S., Pennyburn school football team. Jamie said that it his dream to play for Derry City when he gets older.
“This is actually my first visit to the Brandywell but hopeful it will not be my last. I love playing football and I would like nothing more than to play for Derry City when I get older.
“I haven’t got a ticket for the final yet but even if I don’t go I intend on cheering the team on by watching the match on the television.”
Sinead said that she’d like to go the final and even went as far as to predict a Derry win.
“I know that the final is taking place in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin next week - it would be great if I was able to go.
“I think Derry will win the cup - they are the best team ever.”
Derry City F.C. director, Michael Doherty, who helped organise the event explained why the club wanted to engage with young supporters of the club.
“We wanted to use the spectacle that is next weekend’s FAI Cup final in Dublin as an opportunity to market the club much better to a younger audience.
“We have been aware of a certain level of apathy in the city over the last few years so we wanted to do something different to involve the young people of the city.
“Derry City players and the manager Declan Devine visited all of the local schools to try and generate interest in the final.
“One of the big problems we as a board have noticed over the last few years is that there are very few fans under the age of 30 coming to the Brandywell every week so that’s essentially why we wanted to try and get the young people of this city involved.”
Mr. Doherty said that he was delighted with Friday night’s turnout and added that ticket sales for the final have being going extremely well.
“We are over the moon with ticket sales at the minute and apparently there is close to 70 buses heading to the final. But I want to stress that it’s not too late to get you hands on tickets. They are reasonably priced at £5 and £10 so anyone looking for tickets should contact the Derry City F.C. office.”
He added: “I know the weather hasn’t been great tonight but all you have to do is look at the crowd of people around the Derry City players tonight.
“There are children of all ages and from all parts of Derry here tonight to meet the players. It’s important as a club that we do things like this because the reality of the situation is that the young people here tonight are the future fans of Derry City F.C.”
Should Derry City win next weekend’s final, they would qualify for next season’s Europa League. Mr. Doherty said that the prospect of European football at the Brandywell in 2013 would be made extra special due to the fact that the city would be in the middle of its year as UK City of Culture.
“Hopefully as many people as possible will make the trip to Dublin next weekend because this is a city to be proud of. We have just celebrated the launch of the City of Culture programme for next year but how amazing would it be if we were able to add European football to it?”
Former Derry City right-back Eddie McCallion was at Friday’s training session in the Brandywell.
McCallion, who now plays for Irish League side Glenavon, has continued to train with the team since his departure a few months ago.
“It’s great to see so many young people here tonight to support their local team,” said McCallion.
“I might not be a Derry City player anymore but I will always be a fan. Glenavon have a match on the Monday after the final but I will definitely be at the game in Dublin next Sunday cheering the team on.
“It’s a great occasion for fans and players and it’s something that many people in this town are really looking forward to.
“There’s a great atmosphere amongst all of the players and they finished the league season pretty strongly so I think that everything’s looking good for the lads.”
He added: “I think it will be a very tight game but the way the boys finished the league season will definitely help. There will not be much in the game but I think the boys will go on and win it.”
For ticket information contact the Derry City F.C. office on 028 7137 3111