Leicester City light up Brandywell in landmark Derry City friendly
THIRTY YEARS ago this week Derry City marked a momentous occasion in the club’s rebirth when the Candy Stripes took the scalp of English Second Division side, Leicester City in what was the first match under lights at Brandywell Stadium.
Treble winning manager, Jim McLaughlin invited his former Shrewsbury Town teammate, David Pleat, who was manager of the Filbert Street club, to officially mark the installation and switch-on of the new state-of-the-art floodlights in what was a landmark friendly fixture on January 1990.
Pleat brought with him a star-studded Leicester side which included, Creggan man, Paul Ramsey, loan signing from Arsenal, striker, Kevin Campbell and midfielder, Gary McAllister who was subject of a £1 million transfer to Leeds United shortly after the game.
Derry City were also littered with talent as Manchester United defender, Steve Bruce agreed to don the red and white Candy Stripes as a guest of the club alongside, Bradford City and N. Ireland international, David Campbell and ex-Glentoran star, Jim Cleary as thousands packed into the venue to celebrate around £750,000 of improvements to the ground.
Ahead of the match, McLaughlin who had the previous season guided Derry to an historic treble success, explained how much the city were looking forward to another colourful page in the history of the club.
“The club has been working hard to give the fans and everyone connected with the club a night to remember,” said McLaughlin. “For months the floodlights at Brandywell have been all the talk and now we know for definite that on Thursday, Brandywell will never have been brighter!”
Due to heavy rain the match was postponed until the following day, Friday, January 26th when a capacity crowd turned out to celebrate the Brandywell’s brightest date on what proved “a smashing evening, a superb night and one to treasure”, according to McLaughlin.
Recalling the match 30 years on, Derry man, Ramsey, who had spent the previous decade at Leicester City, remembered the buzz surrounding the switch on of the lights as he delighted in the opportunity to return to his hometown.
“I remember the match,” said Ramsey who made 290 appearances for Leicester between 1980 and 1991. “I think we might have been staying down at the Redcastle Hotel at the time. It was great coming back to Derry to play and I really enjoyed the experience and the chance to see my family.
“I can’t remember much about the game itself to tell the truth,” he laughed. “But I remember really looking forward to playing at the Brandywell. It was very competitive from what I can remember and I think wee Ally Mauchlen got into a few scraps. I remember it was a bit of a battle.
“I had played at Brandywell quite regularly before I went over to England, I played in some of the big D&D games but it was nice to play Derry City, to come back to my hometown and play at the Brandywell under lights.”
According to the ‘Derry Journal’ match report written by Kieron Tourish; “The most refreshing performance of the evening was from Liam Coyle whose career has been threatened by a serious knee injury. He looked as if he had never been away with a very skilful performance for Derry up front.”
In fact it was Coyle who carved out the opening goal for Jonathan Speak in the 19th minute of the game, controlling it beautifully before splitting the defence with a superb pass for Speak to latch onto. And from the edge of the area the Sion Mills striker drove a great shot low and hard past Leicester keeper, Martin Hodge.
Brandywell native, Coyle remembers how much of a memorable occasion the game was, not just because it was the first under lights at the venue but as it marked his first match back after a worrying four month spell out with that knee injury which had threatened his career.
“Thirty years this month - that’s unbelievable,” reflected Coyle. “It goes by like the blink of an eye. It was just a case for me of getting on the pitch after being out so long and to play well against Leicester at the time was a big thing.
“I was out from the previous September with a knee injury and that was my first match back,” recalled the City legend. “I remember I set up the first goal for Speaky and then (Liam) Curran came on for me and scored the second.
“It was a big occasion at the time. For Derry people to see a floodlit game then was unbelievable. The Brandywell hadn’t changed in 50 years apart from the Southend Park stand and then the floodlights.
“Everything else was basically the same, the changing rooms, the stand at the Lone Moor Road end but at the time the floodlights were the highest spec you could get around any football ground.
“All those big occasions, you obviously wanted to be a part of because of the importance of it all. We had played Benfica a couple of months before and then we had the lights coming on.”
It was a major coup for the club to attract Man United legend, Bruce to represent the club on the night, however, Coyle remembers little about how much of an impact the defender actually made on the night.
“I don’t remember anything about Steve Bruce,” he laughs. “I remember the Dubs, Mick Neville and Paul Doolin, were staying in the Everglades and Steve Bruce was staying in the hotel that night and then flying out the next morning. I have no idea how they even got him to guest. I remember them talking about how great a fella Bruce was.”
Felix Healy captained the team that night and he recalls how the Derry manager lifted the phone to United boss, Alex Ferguson in a bid to get Bruce to play in the game. However, the ex-Northern Ireland international wasn’t overly impressed by the big centre half.
“Jim knew Fergie and he was always decent like that, he could lift the phone and ring him. So I think that’s how he got Bruce to play. I remember the one thing myself and Jim talked about afterwards was how poor Bruce was in the match and how poor his positional sense was.
“Jim and I had breakfast with him the following morning in the Everglades and I probably remember more about that breakfast than what I do about him playing in the match,” he laughed.
Kevin Campbell was one of three English First Division title winners who played in the match alongside Bruce and McAllister and Healy was impressed by the young striker.
“I remember Kevin Campbell playing and how quick and sharp he was. I was lucky enough to play against Gary Lineker, Ian Rush and Trevor Francis who were all lightening quick and Kevin Campbell was so quick too.”
Healy says the occasion of playing under the lights felt like it was the next step in the club’s development.
“As a young fella from the Brandywell, it was great to play under lights having watched them being built. They were state-of-the-art at that time. I think they were actually made by a French company in France. It was always the next step to have games under lights.”
While Scottish international Gary McAllister joined Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United weeks after the game at Brandywell for a £1 million fee, Derry fans were more excited about the performance of talented striker, Coyle
“I remember a boy coming up to me in a bar after the match, God rest him, he was a big Derry City fan, ‘Geordie’ McGilloway,” said Coyle. “He said there was all this talk about McAllister going for a million pound but there was only one million pound player on the pitch and that was you,” laughed the City legend.
“I remember that more than anything because ‘Geordie’ died not long after that. However, McAllister was different class that night.”
While the Scottish midfielder impressed Coyle, the standout performance on the night belonged to another Derry man, former Northern Ireland international, David Campbell who made a guest appearance for his hometown club from Bradford City.
The ‘Journal’ report continued:“The man who caught the eye most was Bradford City midfielder, David Campbell who was superb in the middle of the park for Derry, dictating the play.”
Campbell was named ‘man of the match’ and in an interview after the game said he was ‘honoured’ to be asked over.
“I was honoured to be asked to come over and play in this game,” said Campbell. “I was pleased with my own performance and I thought the team played well as a whole despite the large number of substitutions. In the second half I was trying to find Felix Healy or Paul Doolin but they had gone off,” joked Campbell.
In the 23rd minute of the game Campbell almost added a second for Derry when he finished off a slick move with a fine shot which swerved around the post.
In the 59th minute Leicester got an equaliser which came about due to indecision in the Derry defence. Winger Gary Mills made headway on the right flank before crossing to the unmarked Kevin Campbell who steered the ball past Tim Dalton from close range.
There was to be more drama as Derry reserve team striker, Liam Curran made a memorable debut with a well taken goal. In fact he was only on the field for a minute when he was on target. Campbell flighted over a corner from the left flicked on by Bruce and Alex Krstic and Curran was at the back post to acrobatically turn the ball over the line.
There’s been many memorable nights under the lights at the Brandywell venue since that historic date with the Midlands club three decades ago but that night with the Foxes forever transformed the matchday experience for spectators.
And while the stadium experienced a long overdue facelift in 2017 with the laying of a 4G pitch, the erection of the Mark Farren stand and the renaming after the late club captain, Ryan McBride, those same old flood lights still shine a spotlight on the city’s only professional football team to this day.
Derry City: Dalton, Vaudequin, Brady, Curran, Bruce, Doolin, Caryle, Coyle, Speak, Coyle, Campbell, Healy: Subs - Cleary for Healy (40mins), Neville for Vaudequin, Krstic for Speak, Hegarty for Doolin and Coady for Carlyle (56 mins). L. Curran for Coyle and Kaey for P. Curran 77, S. Campbell for Brady 85mins.
Leicester City: Hodge, Mauchen, Spearing, Ramsey, Walsh, Paris, Mills, Oldfield, Campbell, McAllister, Wright.
Referee - Mr Wilfred Wallace (Donegal).