Derry Journal editor Arthur Duffy, who has covered Derry City since their return to the League of Ireland, gives his take on the current situation at the Brandywell.
It’s been anything but dull supporting Derry City Football Club.
From the political upheavals of the early 1970s - which resulted in the club leaving the Irish League and wandering in the footballing desert for 13 years - to emerging as a breath of fresh air by joining the then League of Ireland First Division back in 1985 - it’s always been a rollercoaster ride as a DCFC fan.
Over the past 33 years, 16 managers (not including ‘caretakers’) have come and gone, some leaving the club in good standing, others departing leaving a legacy of frustration and controversy in their wake.
Unfortunately, for current supporters, the latter appears to have been case as the “Candy Stripes” dispensed with the services of Kenny Shiels following a hugely inconsistent 2018 campaign.
Despite a decent start, the club concluded the campaign third from bottom of a 10 team league, a finish which does not inspire confidence. There’s no getting away from the fact that, for many different reasons, 2018 will be viewed as devastating for Derry, both on and off the pitch.
As a sports reporter and subsequent sports editor who has covered the ups and downs of these three decades, I am well used to a Derry City story filled with twists and turns. In the past, the club has been rocked to its very foundations with stories of financial irregularity and ‘double contract dealing’ which saw Derry City enter Administration on two occasions.
Penalised by UEFA for breaking the rules, the club was automatically relegated by the FAI to the First Division 10 years ago but battled its way back immediately, returning to top flight football in 2010 after spending one year back in the graveyard that is the lower league.
Therefore, it goes without saying that Derry City fans are well versed with high profile controversy and frustration in terms of senior football.
But, back to the frustrations of the past 12 months. Supporters of the City team which completed the 2018 campaign would have to admit that, if they were managing the squad, there would be very few of the current players retained. Thankfully, very few remain under contract, with quite a few having already said their goodbyes, not expecting an approach offering another contract.
With that in mind, the new incumbent in the manager’s chair may not have his sorrows to seek but, at the same time, he will not be inheriting a squad which remains under a contract agreed by his predecessor - players whom the new boss may not have rated.
And that scenario could prove a blessing in disguise with the new boss given a free hand to attract his own players and the chance to build a new team. The vital ace in the City pack is always the loyalty and commitment of chairman, Philip O’Doherty, whose generous financial input can neither be ignored nor taken for granted.
It’s an open secret that Mr. O’Doherty has covered the annual financial losses during his tenure and, without that commitment, the Brandywell club would, without doubt, have been facing an uncertain future.
With the current set-up in total disarray and with so many supporters having lost faith during the 2018 season, it’s important that the powers-that-be at the Brandywell sit back, take stock and, in the fullness of time, attempt to build a club capable of challenging for major honours.
The chairman, while totally committed to his home town club, has enough on his plate as his engineering interests continue to flourish worldwide and wouldn’t it be fabulous if his interests at the Lone Moor Road venue could match that of his business acumen?
Mr. O’Doherty had been happy to hand over the running of the club to others, however; those appointments appear to have failed to reap dividends and, if Derry City is to return to prominence, then professionalism, on and off the pitch, must return.
On that front, Derry City & Strabane District Council’s ratepayers have provided a platform for such a positive response. Indeed, very few could argue that the recently renamed Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium has been the only real positive associated with the football club over the past year.
So, with the search now on for a new manager - who will, hopefully, relish the challenge of managing a club with so much going for it - the opportunity for a renaissance, a rebirth with professionalism leading the way, comes to the fore.
Over the days and weeks ahead, supporters will debate the strengths and weaknesses of those speculated to be in the running for the job and I firmly believe there will be no shortage of qualified candidates.
And next season it’s also important to note that any manager operating in the Premier Division of the Airtricity League MUST hold a current Pro-Licence Coaching Badge. There will be no exceptions to that ruling. Any manager must hold that licence and it takes two years to complete the badge, so that in itself, will rule out quite a few local candidates’ chances.
Knee jerk reactions rarely solve major problems, particularly in football, and it’s very important that those charged with selecting the new boss don’t rush into making decisions based on the recommendations of others. Indeed, Derry have been guilty on that front on quite a few occasions since 1985.
While Mr. O’Doherty and the club CEO, Sean Barrett, would be considered the decision-makers these days, it would be very interesting to note what the other Board members actually do on a weekly basis.
Given that the once highly efficient Development Committee appears to have evaporated over recent years, the club has taken a very short-sighted attitude when depending so heavily on the generosity of the club chairman.
Granted, the long-standing Monthly Draw team remains in place, as does the Lotto Draw, the half-time raffle andmatch programme people and while great credit must be heaped on such individuals, those groupings would be the first to agree and admit that fundraising efforts have fallen well short of what they should be.
That said, the introduction of a new group dealing with merchandising issues must also be warmly welcomed and supported. However, it’s my view that a background of professional support must be considered and deployed if the club is to successfully rebuild. Those holding positions within the club must contribute - if they don’t, then they really should move out.