English visitor pens letter to Derry City thanking fans for 'memorable' derby, 12 years on

AN Englishman who visited Brandywell Stadium with his teenage son to watch Derry City’s North West derby against Finn Harps more than a decade ago has written to thank the club’s supporters for their generous hospitality.
Derry City fans gave English visitors a welcome reception at the North West derby 10 years ago, a visit which lives long in the memory for Bill Holden from Lancashire.Derry City fans gave English visitors a welcome reception at the North West derby 10 years ago, a visit which lives long in the memory for Bill Holden from Lancashire.
Derry City fans gave English visitors a welcome reception at the North West derby 10 years ago, a visit which lives long in the memory for Bill Holden from Lancashire.

Bill Holden from Lancashire recalled his ‘memorable’ visit to the maiden city on August 29th 2008 and wanted to thank those fans responsible for such an ‘enjoyable evening’ and matchday experience.

It was a trip which obviously stuck long in the memory for Mr Holden and his family and only recently when discovering the history of the football club and the city’s troubled past, he felt the need to get in touch to show his appreciation to the unknown City fans who made them feel so welcome.

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But why after all these years did he decide to reach out and show his appreciation?

Mr Holden, who was unaware of the politics involved in football in Northern Ireland and its often divisive nature, brought his 14 year-old son, Sam to the nationalist Brandywell area proudly wearing a Northern Ireland jersey he had bought as a souvenir of his stay.

And while Derry City Football Club offers an inclusive, safe environment at matches and nationalists and City fans can certainly support Northern Ireland without judgement, Mr Holden realised years later why his son was very much on his own in terms of his choice of attire.

That’s why he felt the needed to remark on how inclusive and welcoming the Derry City fans were as they extended a hand of friendship to his family during their stay on Foyleside.

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Mr Holden’s email, sent to the ‘Journal’ this week, is reproduced below.

A lovely message and reflection of Derry City Football Club and its supporters. However, it’s just as well young Sam wasn’t wearing the blue of fierce rivals Harps that night.

Just like Mr Holden and his son, the home fans also went home in fine voice thanks to the late Mark Farren who headed home Niall McGinn’s cross for a 1-0 victory for Stephen Kenny’s side!

"I've been meaning to write this email for a while now, ever since it dawned on me what had happened.

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"My mother is from Belfast (born near Sandy Row, so you can imagine ...) but had lived in Accrington, Lancashire since just after the war.

"In her later years my sister and I took her on little trips around Ireland for her birthday. We visited: the north, Donegal, Galway, Connemara, Kerry, Kinsale, Dublin and Wicklow.

"Wonderful trips and met [sic] wonderful people everywhere . . . just a pity about the weather occasionally. She died in 2016 aged 92.

"I must have gone on about how nice Ireland was because my wife decided that, never mind these trips with your Mum, we would have our family holiday in Ireland.

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"And so in August 2008, myself, my wife and our 14 year old son, Sam, had a wonderful holiday ... just a pity about the weather .. based in Ballyliffin, just over the border in Donegal.

Apologies for banging on .. I'm getting there.

"My son at the time was very into football and so one of the things on his to-do list (and mine) was to go to a football match in Ireland.

"The match we picked was Derry City v Finn Harps, 29th Aug 2008. Earlier that day we had been shopping in Derry/Londonderry and Sam had been really happy to get a Northern Ireland replica shirt - he liked the colour.

"And so proudly wore his new shirt to the match v Fynn Harps that Friday evening.

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"We had no idea what to expect. How big the crowd would be, what the stadium would be like, the quality of football ......

"The crowd was big . . . and very noisy as we walked to the ground. And imagine our surprise, when as soon as we were in the ground, we were approached by a couple of nice old guys who asked us if we were visiting from England (they might as well have said Mars) and insisted on taking us to to some really good seats, close to them, right on the halfway line. We all had a great time. And got home happy and safe.

"And it was only years and years later when I was talking to someone who actually knew something about Derry FC and which league they played in and which international team most of their supporters might identify with and the importance of identity at a time only just removed from terrible troubles . . . that I realised that wearing a NI shirt to a Derry v Finn Harps game could have been misconstrued.

And we could have upset some fans. And maybe not had such an enjoyable evening if we hadn't been looked after by Derry FC.

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"So .. very, very late thanks to whoever greeted us that night and made our night memorable. And good luck to Derry FC in the League of Ireland this season. I see you're 7th .. but your above Finn Harps !!!!!

Yours thankfully,

Bill Holden

Clitheroe, Lancs