Derry City director Denis Bradley has urged the football-loving public to get off the arm chairs and high stools and into the new 3,700 capacity Brandywell when it opens next spring in order to help the club scale the summit of Irish football for the first time in over two decades.
“People talk to me about the experience of going to football matches. I think people are looking to get outside of the television world of football.
“I think that they are looking for the intimacy and the cameraderie that you get at a football match, live football, that you don’t get anywhere else. You don’t get it in a pub.
“The truth of the matter is that Derry City has created a standard of very, very good football and I think that people who don’t attend the Brandywell don’t fully appreciate that,” said Mr. Bradley.
He issued the call after confirmation came through this week that the new stadium is on track for completion by the end of what’s been a draining year for the club in logistical, and, more importantly, in human terms.
Ultimately 2018 will be remembered by supporters for one reason and one reason alone.
“It’s been a very difficult year. We started so well and then Ryan McBride died and I think we went into a period of grief, shock and so forth, and never fully recovered,” acknowledged Mr. Bradley.
Football doesn’t count when set against the McBride family’s suffering, yet the practical difficulties the club faced in decamping 12 miles to Buncrana this season were real nonetheless.
News that a new 955 seater stand, bringing ground capacity up to 3,700, will be complete before Christmas, comes as a welcome boost as Kenny Shiels’ men aim to end 2017 on a high.
Mr. Bradley, neatly enough an ex-clergyman and Buncrana-native himself, believes Derry’s short tenancy in a ground named after a former coadjutor bishop of Derry, Edward Maginn, who left legacy in Inishowen, actually reinvigorated the support for the Candystripes that’s always existed on the peninsula.
“Maginn [Park] was very good for us in other ways,” explained Mr. Bradley.
“I think it resurrected the memory of Derry City football in Inishowen. I think a lot of those people will continue to come but the truth is we are moving on and I think that’s good.”
There’s no home like home, as they say, and the imminent return to a new Brandywell complex in which the dog track and football ground are now mercifully separated, offers an opportunity to grow the genuine football culture that has always existed in the city. The fact supporters will be right on top of the players when the ground opens will also help re-establish the famous ‘Fortress Brandywell’ in 2018.
“I don’t like football pitches that are too far away from the actual spectators. We used to complain that the doggy track got in the way a little bit. This is really...you’re in the face of the players, and they’re in the face of the crowd that will be hopefully surrounding them, so it’s going to be really exciting.”
Mr. Bradley insists, however, that packing the ground isn’t just an aspiration. Realistically, it’s an absolute necessity that will help ensure the club’s long-term survival.
“We want big gates. We need big gates. The truth of the matter is that this club is not self-sustaining unless we get big gates. If we are going to play in the Premier Division,” he said.
Mr. Bradley pointed to how the city punched well-above its weight in football terms. Two Derry men’s match-winning performances on Monday were cases in point, building on a European Championship last year, when, with the exception of Reykjavík, Derry and Donegal were perhaps the largest per capita supplier of football talent to the tournament in the whole of Europe.
“James McClean and young [Shane] Duffy this week playing for Ireland is the perfect example of the opportunities that exist if young people around this city want to put in the effort but it’s not just about that it’s also about the enjoyment and about the greatness of sport in that sense of having friends and having a purpose,” he said.
If the club can get this message across it’s onwards and upwards and anything’s achievable when you consider the now dominant Cork City and Dundalk were both plying their trades in the First Division less than a decade ago.
“This year we had to settle down and talk about bringing young players and local players through. We’re now beginning to talk about trying to win the league, to being one of the premier clubs on this island, and I think that becomes important for the future and that will bring the crowds too, as well as the new stadium.”