AN emotional Kathleen Farren felt a surge of pride as she sat for the first time in the new stand at Brandywell Stadium named in honour of her late son, two years on from his untimely passing.
Flanked closely by her husband, Michael, she paid a poignant first visit from Greencastle to the ‘Mark Farren Stand’ on the Lone Moor Road side of the refurbished venue which will keep alive the memory of one of the ‘Candy Stripes’ much loved former players who made such an indelible mark on the Brandywell club and all those he met along the way.
As Kathleen sat in the impressive new stand in the stadium where Mark weaved his magic for nine glorious years, her mind drifted to thoughts of what her son would be doing now, had he not been taken so tragically from her when his brave battle with a brain tumour came to an end on February, 3rd 2016, aged 33 years.
The club has already retired Mark’s famous No. 18 shirt but the stand is a fitting, permanent tribute to her son who ‘lived for football’ and it will offer some crumbs of comfort as she believes Mark’s spirit will live on in a place which is home to so many special memories for the Farren family.
“Mark played nine-and-a-half years here and this really was his place - Derry City was always his club it was as simple as that,” said Kathleen.”
Mark was such a gently-spoken, quiet man off the pitch and shied away from publicity but Kathleen is sure he would be ‘honoured’ to have his legacy live on in a place where he gained his reputation as one of the best strikers ever to have graced the League of Ireland.
“I’m sure he would be honoured to know his name will be on the stand for a long, long time to come. I’m very, very proud myself that they’ve decided to do it for him. He deserves it. Anything that honours Mark is alright with us,” she smiled.
“He was always a quiet fella. He just lived for his football. He made Derry and the Brandywell his home and we attended every match here. We knew from four or five years of age all Mark wanted to do was play football. Every conversation, at dinner or anytime, was always football. If we went on holidays anywhere he just wanted to buy a football and he was happy. I think Derry meant an awful lot to him. We have so many fantastic memories of Mark playing here.
“I often wonder what he would be doing now. He achieved so much in such a short time and I reckon he would’ve achieved an awful lot more.”
When the new stand is officially opened by Derry & Strabane District Council in the coming weeks, Kathleen is bracing herself for a wave of emotions with Mark’s absence still weighing so heavily on her heart.
“It’ll be a mix of emotions for us. After Mark passed away the first match back at Brandywell was very, very emotional. I just kept thinking he should be coming out onto the pitch. He should have been out there playing. I often wonder what Mark would be like now. I know he achieved an awful lot during his short time on earth. We’ve been here a good few times since Mark died but it’s not the same. The first match was the worst for me I just thought, he should still be here.”
Mark played for Derry City from 2003 to 2012, scoring a record 113 goals in 209 appearances for the club. And his father, Michael, who played such an integral role in his career, takes great pleasure from hearing ‘there’s only one Mark Farren’ chants reverberating around the stadium on matchdays.
And so he’s ‘proud’ to know Mark’s memory will live on in the place he regarded as his second home.
“The naming of the stand after Mark is a big thing for us,” said Michael. “It’s a big honour for Mark. It’s a lovely gesture. We miss him big time. He left us with good memories. He touched a lot of the Derry City supporters and there’s nobody could say a bad word about Mark.
“He left such an impression in the short space of time he was here. It’s unbelievable. He did all his talking on the pitch. He never looked for anything other than the football which was his life.
“Mark would’ve thought an awful lot about this stand. He had a great life in football but it was far too short as far as we’re concerned.
“I’d say the first match when we return here will be very emotional for us but we’re so proud this has happened. They still call his name and sing ‘there’s only one Mark Farren’ which is nice. I’ve heard that so much when he was playing and they still sing it the odd time which is great.
“If Mark was still alive Derry City would still be his club. He was down at Glenavon and made a big impression there but Derry City was his club.”
Mark did his talking on the pitch, scoring the 2006 FAI Cup winning goal, the headed goal which clinched promotion to the Premier Division in 2009 and the goal against Finn Harps which kept Derry in the top flight. But he was his own biggest critic as Michael recalls.
“Mark wanted to be so perfect playing football,” explained Michael. “I would wait and take him home from some matches and I’d say ‘you played well tonight.’ He may have scored a goal or maybe two but if he missed two passes he would not be happy, laughed Michael. “He was very hard on himself but that’s how he came to be such a good player - he hated losing a game.”
Mark left behind heartbroken parents, his wife Terri-Louise, brother Philip and sisters Bridget and Catrina.
However, his father is content knowing his memory will live on at the Brandywell with Derry supporters continuing to sing his name from the new Mark Farren Stand.
“He was such a special person. Football was his life. And this place will always be a part of our lives now.
“Even though Mark is not here, his spirit is here.”