Ryan McBride family 'overwhelmed' as late Derry City captain's life immortalised in inspirational children's book
The beautifully illustrated picture book biography, aimed at children of primary school age, is a poignant tribute to the legendary Derry centre half as it documents Ryan’s journey from birth to his tragic sudden passing in March 2017, aged 27, and the legacy he left behind.
Readers follow Ryan’s rise from a young boy playing on the streets of the Brandywell with his father Lexie and three sisters while his late mother Noreen watches on from their Bluebell Hill Gardens home, to the realisation of his childhood dream of captaining his hometown club.
The iconic image of Ryan passionately celebrating a goal graces the front cover with key moments of his short and fulfilling life, including going to the Brandywell Stadium with his grandad, signing for Derry, his famous tackle on two Cork City players and winning trophies all featured in the book which was illustrated by Belfast based children’s book author and illustrator, Anthony Cooley.
Around 5,000 copies of the book, which was the brainchild of Ryan’s cousin Aisling Hutton (Bogside & Brandywell Health Forum) and manager of The Gasyard Wall Féile, Gareth Stuart, will be distributed free to homes across the city as part of the Féile celebrations next week - the city’s biggest community arts and cultural festival.
Produced by the Féile in partnership with the Bogside & Brandywell Health Forum, the project was made possible by funding from The Executive Office and a significant financial contribution from Derry City Chairman Mr Philip O’Doherty which allowed it to be distributed city-wide.
One of the central themes in the book was overcoming adversity and building resilience and Ryan’s sister Caitlin felt ‘The Brandywell Boy’ captured the magnitude of what her brother achieved and conveyed the manner in which his passing touched the lives of thousands of people throughout Ireland.
“In our own family we have children who never met their uncle Ryan and him not being here can be a very difficult subject to explain to young children but this book tells his story in such a beautiful way that it’s almost as if Ryan is telling his own story,” she said.
“Both our family and Ryan’s Foundation would like to place on record our sincere thanks to the Health Forum, Gasyard Féile and to Derry City FC Chairman Philip O’Doherty for coming together to produce this book. It is a fantastic way of keeping Ryan’s legacy alive and hopefully inspiring local children to follow in his footsteps.”
Health and Development and Social Economy Lead at the Health Forum, Aisling, explained how the book could be used as a conversational tool for parents and children to tackle themes such as the importance of family, hard work and dedication, pursuing dreams and dealing with tragedy and death.
“It’s about building resilience as well,” she said. “It was important to get that message across from the health and wellbeing aspect of it. Showing the children what he came through to build a successful football career; he lost his mammy and yet he still pursued his dream. So as much as the book celebrates Ryan’s life, the mental health aspect of it is an important theme.
“It shows the children that Ryan had a tough time building his career. He had a tough time losing his mammy and, God love him, he died at a young age but his legacy lives on through the renaming of the Brandywell Stadium and things like this book thanks to the Féile and the Health Board and Derry City.”
The colourful 24 page book, which will also be published for Irish speakers, will be distributed to homes in the Brandywell, Bogside, Bishop Street, Creggan and Fountain neighbourhoods on Friday, August 13th which would traditionally be the annual ‘Day for Ryan McBride’ as part of the Féile celebrations.
Due to Covid restrictions, the street football and other family fun activities planned are unable to go ahead and organisers felt the book was a fitting substitute which could make a positive and lasting impact among children in the community.
“Myself and Aisling came up with the idea of publishing a book,” explained the Féile's Gareth Stewart. “It was inspired by reading books to our own children about inspirational characters. So we thought a book based on Ryan would be a good idea.
“There was a children’s book on Pele and Messi and we thought if you’re from the Brandywell or from Derry in general and you’re looking for a role model to aspire to as a kid playing football then someone like Ryan who played on the streets and worked hard to achieve his dream would be perfect.
“This last year and half Covid has forced us into finding new ways of working. The other option was not to do anything. The easy option was to do nothing this year for the ‘Day for Ryan McBride’ but we had to find a new way to keep that event going and keep his memory alive.
“I think this will have a big impact, not just in the local area, but across local schools. Even that simple thing of a parent reading the book with their child and the conversations that it will start.”
Staying as true to Ryan’s character as possible, Aisling felt it was important to show how he managed to overcome his bad temper on the pitch as a youngster.
“That was a big part of who he was on the pitch as well. He had to work hard on controlling his temper on the pitch. And because I knew him personally it was always the topic of conversation. Our Noreen (Ryan’s mother) would always ask; ‘Did he crack up on that pitch tonight?’ He did have to work hard on that and it was a big achievement for him. Now, he didn’t stop it all together but during his D&D days he had more red cards than he had breakfasts,” she laughed.
“So there are children out there who have issues and might take it out on the pitch so, for me, Ryan’s story shows them they have to nip it in the bud if you’re going to pursue a career and be taken seriously.”
Illustrator Anthony Cooley said he was honoured and 'jumped at the chance' to get involved with the project explaining the importance of capturing Ryan's personality in illustration form by selecting the most poignant moments in his life after liaising with Ryan's family members.
"I was familiar with the story of Ryan McBride but as I had moved away from Derry in 2012, (now residing in Belfast) some of the details surrounding his life and untimely death I wasn’t fully aware of," he explained.
"As a children’s book author/illustrator myself I jumped at the chance to be involved in creating a book that involved someone so important from my hometown. In fact I was truly honoured to be asked to put ink to paper to tell Ryan’s story through imagery.
"I really enjoyed discussing ideas for the book with Gareth who was liaising with Ryan’s family on a regular basis. Through him I learned all about the man that Ryan was and how he battled against the odds to become captain of Derry City F.C despite many setbacks over the years.
"When it came to creating the imagery for the book itself Ryan’s family supplied many photographs of him through the years which for me told his story and showed me just how close they all are as a family. It also showed how determined Ryan was in his personal life off the pitch but also as a player for Derry City F.C. So I felt it was very important for me to capture his personality in illustration form, selecting the more poignant moments in his life that stood out to me.
"In terms of the illustration style, I adopted a more life-like approach to the drawings to give a sense of familiarity to the reader. My style is usually a lot more stylised but the brief asked for a more realistic look to the imagery within the book so Ryan himself would be instantly recognisable making it more personal to anyone reading it.
"The main message behind the book that we wanted to convey was how no matter what sort of background you come from, if you have goals and aspirations that you want to achieve in life anything is possible if you dream big and work hard enough to make it a reality. This is something Ryan lived by and we are hoping by telling his story it may inspire young children and others to do the same!"
The Féile, in partnership with the Bogside & Brandywell Health Forum, are also funding 40 free places for the upcoming Ryan McBride Foundation Summer Camp which will run from August 9th to August 13th for eligible children from the catchment area who are in receipt of free meals. There are limited spaces available. Contact Aisling at [email protected] if interested.