Derry City's 'Charlie' McGirr bids Brandywell farewell after 25 years
The highly respected 58 year-old, who originally hails from Scottish town, Kirkcaldy, has been an ever present at the Brandywell Stadium in various club roles since 1995.
And from 2000 when he first took up his role as matchday steward and following his elevation to Chief Steward, ‘Charlie’ has been a familiar face with a fixed expression from under a black beanie hat and clad in a hi-vis orange jacket at Derry City games.
It hasn’t always been plain-sailing for the Scotsman who moved to Castlederg at the age of five before eventually settling in Strabane when he married local lady, Ann Marie in 1986.
Indeed, it was never going to be easy for a Strabane man tasked with telling Derry men and women what to do.
However, he was accepted as one of their own by the Match Day Management Team which was evident when he served the club for the final time last Friday and they gave him a well deserved and ‘emotional’ send-off after the 2-0 win over Shelbourne.
“At the end of the day they accepted a wee Strabane man to tell them what they have to do,” laughs Charlie. “But a wee Strabane man telling Derry men what to do didn’t go down too well at times.”
Reminiscing about the past 35 years from when he first set foot in Brandywell as part of the Strabane Derry City Supporters Club, it’s clear Charlie has experienced many highs and lows at the club.
From financial difficulties, changes in management, relegation and the sad loss of club legends, Mark Farren and Ryan McBride, there have been many difficult moments.
However, he holds fond memories of being involved with the club having worked at European games, cup finals and prestige friendlies such as games against Barcelona, Man United and Real Madrid.
But it’s the people he’s met along the way though and the camaraderie among the staff which ensures Brandywell will forever hold a special place in his heart.
As part of the matchday steward team, he’s one of the first faces fans see when entering the stadium and he’s proud to be considered ‘the face of Derry City Football Club’ over the years.
He was presented with a special plaque to thank him for his loyal service on Friday night and claims memories came flooding back as his wife joined him in saying farewell.
“A lot of good and a lot of bad memories came flooding back,” he said. “It was quite emotional. The wee plaque and the presentation from the club took me back a bit. I didn’t expect anything and the players gave me a bit of a reception on the pitch as well.
"I got a couple of messages from referees when I was standing down and one or two former players thanked me which was nice.
“I made the announcement at the end of last season that I was going. I decided this season was my last. I thought it was time for new blood. I had done my stint and it was time to give someone else a chance. It may have needed new ideas, different faces.
“Between myself, Billy Scampton, Martin McGuinness, Patsy Bradley, Martin Bradley, Michael Wilson and a few others, it sounds crazy but there’s 150 years of service between six or seven of us.
“Others did 15 or 20 years and have left like Paddy Canning, Eoin Kivlehan and some of the boys who passed away, Paddy McDermott and Terry Doherty.
“You also have boys like Nucker Tierney and Martin Dunne who have been there off and on and put that dedication in over the years. I’d also like to thank Bert Martin, Eamon McCourt, Jim Roddy and various others who helped along the way.”
As a steward you must always remain vigilant for potential flash points, the potential for flares and smoke bombs or low level incidents like drinking or arguments in the terraces.
Thankfully there has been nothing Charlie and his team haven’t been able to manage during the years but there have been a few notable moments which certainly didn’t flatter.
“The team is simply the best,” gushed Charlie. “We were the first ever trained stewards in the League of Ireland.
"You had the Linfield Setanta Cup game when it all kicked off in the Showgrounds but it got stopped very quickly and never got out of hand.
“The Dundalk Cup Final last year, it got a bit ropey outside with the buses but we got them out and there was nobody hurt.
“We had the play-off against Finn Harps as well when emotions ran high between fans, players and managers and it got quite heated at times.
“And then there were times when a dog went on the pitch and the stewards had to run after it and it gave the run around in front of the crowd. Thankfully I stood back on that occasion, you learn to delegate in those situations!
“There was a time when we had to take an opposition player off on a stretcher during a European game and one of the boys tripped and dropped the stretcher. I remember the boys were complaining about the weight of the fella.
"They tried to lift him over the white fences that used to be around the doggy track and one of the stewards tripped, let the stretcher go and the player fell off it. You can’t laugh on those occasions but it was funny.”
Charlie has also served as a board member when the late Derry Chairman, Kevin Friel asked him to come on board in 1996 and it’s been very much a family affair since.
His three children, Christopher (27), Charlene (31) and Laura (29), spent close to eight years going to games with their father and it was very much part of their childhood.
While his wife will be delighted to spend more time at the weekends with Charlie, he promises it’s not the last we’ve seen of him at the Lone Moor Road venue.
Of course he will continue in his role as part of Institute FC’s matchday security team and he can’t wait to return as a Derry supporter with the pressure very much off.
“I’m looking forward to taking time for myself now. The bottom line is I’m a fan and the wife always says it’s part of her wedding vows that I would be at the Brandywell,” he laughed.