‘We can’t wait to take on Celtic Legends’

A young Derry football team who have become celebrities in the footballing world are set to play the game of their lives against an elite squad of Glasgow Celtic Legends next month.

Sunday, 28th April 2019, 10:52 pm
Updated Monday, 29th April 2019, 12:08 am
Adam and Caoimhin from the Oxford Bulls, ready to take on the Celtic Legends on 5th May.

The Oxford Bulls, whose players have Downs Syndrome, will showcase their competitive skills when they take on a star-studded Celtic side led by the Derry ‘Pele’ Paddy McCourt at the Ryan McBride Foundation Soccer Sixes event sponsored by sportswear giants O’Neills on May 5th.

Former Celtic and Aston Villa legend Stiliyan Petrov will also be on the visiting team together with other fan favourites, Jackie McNamara, Simon Donnelly, Alan Stubbs, Mark Burchill, Tom Boyd, Mark Wilson, and Rab Douglas.

A host of top former domestic and international stars will line out for what is expected to be a sell-out event in honour of Ryan McBride, the much loved former Candy Stripes’ captain who passed away suddenly in his sleep on March 19th 2017, aged 27.

However, not even a well-seasoned Celtic line-up will faze the Oxford Bulls, insists their manager, Kevin Morrison who commented: “The Bulls cannot wait to take the field against such an illustrious opposition. Our lads have experience of playing in the fantastic Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium and will not be overawed by the Celtic Legends - in fact they are impatient for 5th May to arrive.”

He continued: “The lads are already preparing for the game, having started a second weekly training session to hone their skills. Our coaches will be working on a game-plan in the coming weeks that will hopefully see the Bulls come out on top.”

Explaining the involvement of the Bulls at the Soccer Sixes event, Morrison explained that the Ryan McBride Foundation had been a staunch supporter of their club since its inception following Ryan’s death.

“It was one of the first organisations to support us in fundraising for our famous tour of Liverpool in 2018. The Foundation regularly promotes our team online and our lads will never forget the day a Ryan McBride Select team of Derry City stars came to train with and play against the Bulls which we won 8-2!”

The Oxford Bulls team who will take on Celtic Legends at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium on 5th May.

Ryan McBride’s sister Caitlin explains the significance of the Oxford Bulls to the McBride family: “Ryan loved the responsibility of being Derry City captain and was very conscious of the importance of the club in the local community. When the Bulls started out Ryan had messaged their coach to ask if he could come down to do a training session with the Bulls.

Unfortunately, Ryan passed away before he got the chance to hook up with the Bulls so by organising the Derry City game and now the Celtic game we feel that we are continuing Ryan’s work.”

Established in 2015, the Oxford Bulls have become a media sensation, not just locally in the North West but across the world. Morrison, whose son Adam is a member of the team, recalled: “We started out in 2015 as a group of parents, all members of the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust, who got together with the support of the Western Health and Social Care Trust to start a wee football session for our children and their friends. Since then, Oxford United Stars coaches got involved and volunteered to give us much needed expertise and encouragement. Since then we've gone from strength to strength!

“Our fan base is mind-blowing. We have followers right across the world. Fans regularly contact us from places like Croatia, South America, North America, Europe - you name it, the Bulls have fans there.

“One of our aims is to promote a positive image of kids with Down Syndrome doing what their typical counterparts take for granted and it is very rewarding to hear our message has reached so many people. One online video about the Bulls has been viewed over two million times.”

When listing key highlights from the Oxford Bulls’ sensational story to date, Kevin says there have been so many it's hard to narrow it down. “Our match against the James McClean Select Team was great craic and really raised the positive profile of our lads. Switching on the Christmas lights in Derry's Guildhall Square in front of 10,000 people was another highlight. Leading the Foyle Cup opening day parade into Guildhall Square two years in a row was something special, not to mention winning IFA Disability Team of the Year in 2017.”

A number of other important dates are also in the diary for the Bulls whose members hail mainly from Derry city and the surrounding hinterland. “We hope to lead the Foyle Cup parade this year again and then participate in the disability section of the tournament. We have also been challenged to another match against Buncrana Hearts and that is going to happen in the next few weeks.

“We have also been invited to participate in two disability football tournaments in the coming months so the Bulls’ diary is full as always. The journey so far has been fantastic. Our lads have shown themselves well and truly ABLE - able to play football, able to manage nerves before big games, able to adapt to new environments and experiences, able to compete with others, able to handle the publicity side of things (TV interviews etc), able to rise to any challenge, able to hold their head up high as valued members of their communities. Our motto is after all #AbilityNotDisability.”

The Ryan McBride Foundation and O’Neills are delighted to have the Oxford Bulls taking part in the Soccer Sixes in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium starting at 1pm on Sunday, 5th May 2019, featuring Glasgow Celtic, Derry City (defending champions), Czech Republic and PFA League of Ireland Select. Tickets are £20 adult, £10 child, £50 family of 4.

Tickets are available from O’Neills’ Waterloo Place Store or online www.mcbride5foundation.com/soccer-sixes

Tickets for the Gala Ball at the City Hotel with Scouse impressionist and online star Darren Farley providing the after-dinner entertainment, are £60/table £600. Please contact the Ryan McBride Foundation on Facebook or Twitter for further details.