Derry City 'Slaughtered in Snow' against Anderlecht - Derry's European's Dance (Week 3)

IFA’s controversial Brandywell ban overshadows Derry City’s historic European Cup clash with Belgian giants

Sunday, 21st June 2020, 6:49 pm
Updated Sunday, 21st June 2020, 6:52 pm
The Derry City players and officials prepare to depart for Brussels on November 1965 ahead of their historic European Cup tie against Belgian giants, Anderlecht.

The year 1965 began as one of the most successful in the annals of Derry City Football Club’s colourful history.

However, there was to be no shortage of controversy, acrimony and turmoil lurking ominously around the corner for the recently crowned Irish League champions.

In April Willie Ross’ team lifted the Irish League championship for the first time, finishing five points clear of runners-up, Coleraine.

How the 'Journal' reported the controversy surrounding Derry's second leg against Anderlecht.

Qualifying for the European Cup for the first time, Derry had defeated FK Lyn of Oslo 8-5 on aggregate in the preliminary rounds to write a new page in Irish football history.

As the first team north or south of the border to survive a round in Europe’s premier competition, City earned a glamorous tie in the first round proper against Belgian giants, Anderlecht.

Derry was well and truly gripped by Euro fever in anticipation of the classy Belgian outfit arriving on Foyleside but the bubble was suddenly burst as the Irish Football Association dropped a bombshell!

The Association had previously expressed doubts about the playability of the Brandywell pitch for European Cup games but it passed two inspections ahead of the visit of the Norwegian champions in September.

Prior to that second round tie, FK Lyn officials expressed their frustrations with the state of the pitch and later staged a protest ahead of Derry’s meeting with Anderlecht.

“This is the sort of ground we used to play on as small boys, but it is not a ground for senior football,” said F.K. Lyn team secretary, Per Torgersen after his players trained at Brandywell Stadium ahead of their second leg tie.

And so the bitter controversy which followed didn’t exactly come as a major surprise as the I.F.A decided they could not recommend Brandywell to UEFA as they contended the facilities didn’t suit the big occasion.

There was a slight slope on the right wing facing Brandywell Road, the surface was bumpy and was waterlogged in parts during the famous win over FK Lyn. Uproar ensued. The Derry City Board complained that having passed the pitch fit for purpose for the first round match, the IFA had passed it fit for the entire competition.

“But the national association, having passed the ground for the European Cup, do not pass it on a match to match basis, in our view,” said Derry City secretary, Mr. Patrick Maxwell as the club insisted on playing their second leg tie against Anderlecht on home turf.

In fact the Derry board didn’t mince their words when telling the IFA unequivocally that the home leg would take place in Brandywell or not at all as they threatened to withdraw from the money-spinning tie.

‘No Brandywell, no match!’ was the message coming from the Lone Moor Road club who refused to bow to the so-called ‘anti-Brandywell brigade’ in Belfast.

The I.F.A’s President, Mr Harry Cavan was standing firm on the Brandywell ban as they reached a stand-off with Derry who were refusing to play the ‘home’ leg at either Windsor Park or Coleraine.

“The official policy of the Derry City Board of directors is that if the European Cup game cannot be staged at Brandywell Derry will withdraw from the competition,” declared Mr Maxwell.

Derry’s relationship with the I.F.A had soured significantly and was now seemingly beyond repair as the point of no return had been reached.

“We feel that the root of the trouble lies with the I.F.A,” claimed Mr Maxwell in an interview with the BBC. “They passed this ground on three occasions and 10 or 12 days after the match they informed us that further matches would not be played on it.”

And in a strongly worded editorial in the Derry City programme the IFA was lambasted for its actions.

“Surely the president of an association of which Derry City is an affiliated member should be out fighting for that club and leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to promote the club’s interests.

“Instead the IFA listened to the protests of a well beaten team (FK Lyn) whose chairman was reported as saying before the match that they would not protest about the Brandywell pitch even if they were beaten.”

Even a visit to Brandywell of Anderlecht’s secretary general, Mr Eugene Steppe in a dramatic 11th hour bid to keep Derry in the European Cup failed to convince the powers that be in Belfast.

Clearly unimpressed by the state of the Brandywell pitch, Mr Steppe said it still wouldn’t have prevented his club from arriving for the second leg.

“In all honesty Anderlecht have never played on a pitch as bad as this,” he stated. “It is not a very good ground but we would not have complained about it.

“There is no point in asking a team to change their pitch. You might as well ask them to change their style of football.”

The controversy rumbled on and somewhat overshadowed Derry City’s toughest assignment on the pitch to date.

Willie Ross’ men travelled to Brussels for the first leg under that cloud of controversy and doubt. And what happened on that bitterly cold night in the Belgian capital on November 23rd ultimately brought to an end to Derry’s predicament.

‘Soccer Slaughter in the Snow’ read the headline in the ‘Derry Journal’ the following morning as Anderlecht ran amok in front of 30,000 spectators at the Astrid Stadium. And while an English newspaper had gotten the scoreline badly wrong, declaring a 0-0 draw despite being accompanied by a report to the contrary, Derry City were thrashed 9-0 as the Irish League side, ironically, failed to master the almost unplayable icy conditions!

“We were coming back from Belgium and stopped in London,” recalls Derry City defender at the time, Jimbo Crossan., “The Ireland team were coming back from Holland. Bertie Peacock was manager of Ireland at the time.

“So we were all in Heathrow together at the same time. I asked Bertie where Jobby (his brother) was and he said he was at the Manchester gate with George Best. I went up to the Manchester gate and Best was standing with his Robin Hood hat on him with a feather about four foot long coming out of it. “And Jobby said ‘Jeez, yous had a great result last night’. I asked what he meant. He saidnil-nil’ and I started to laugh. “The headline in the paper was ‘Derry City hold Anderlecht’ to a 0-0 draw’ I told him we were beat by nine and he started to laugh.”

The ‘Journal’ report provided a more accurate assessment . . .

“Moving like a jet-propelled white wraiths on the slippery, snow carpeted surface of the Astrid Stadium, Belgian champions, Anderlecht not only wrote ‘finish’ to Derry City’s European Cup sojourn but illustrated with grim clarity and merciless efficiency the unbridgeable chasm that separates Irish League football and the brand accepted as the norm in ruthless world class soccer.’

Derry goalkeeper, Eddie Mahon who sat the game out, described the pitch as a ‘sheet of ice’ and the home side were well prepared for the conditions.

“Every time Anderlecht attacked there was a goal. All our defenders fell trying to turn. After the match I went into the changing room and Jacques ‘Jacky” Stockman was the centre forward at the time and I went to talk to him. I discovered they were all wearing spikes. They had all their rubber studs sharpened to give them a foothold in the ice whereas all us guys were wearing steel studs and slipping everywhere.”

Right up until the day of the game Derry had persisted in their attitude that Anderlecht should make an approach to the IFA asking them to remove their ban on Brandywell for the second leg and eventually the Belgain club agreed.

But on the day of the first leg the Belgian Football Federation stepped in and forbade Anderlecht to send a telegram. They told the Brussels club that they could not allow them at this stage to get involved in a dispute with the Irish Football Association.

With the Brandywell ban now a closed subject as far as Belgium was concerned Anderlecht again suggested to Derry’s directors that the game should be played at Coleraine. A majority of the board agreed that if the Brussels match ended with only a small margin of goals separating the teams, a game at Coleraine would have to be seriously considered. The emphatic result, however, removed from the City directors the necessity of making another controversial decision to add to the long standing controversy over the tie and venues. The Derry City directors announced within minutes of the end of the first leg match that they had officially informed Anderlecht that they would be forfeiting the second leg of the tie.

That decision ended two months of controversy about the match and the banning of the Derry ground but left a bitter taste in the mouths of all associated with Derry City. So there famously wasn’t to be a second leg but it proved a memorable trip regardless for the 26 strong travelling Derry City party. Indeed, players, officials and supporters were given the red carpet treatment by their Belgian hosts and were overwhelmed by the hospitality. And Anderlecht gave Derry £1,500 as a gesture of sympathy for their losses having missed out on a home gate.

Derry City chairman, Mr Joseph Williamson said: “I am glad we made the trip. It is a great experience for the players to play in a competition like the European Cup and I believe that we made a lot of friends and left behind in Brussels a good image of Derry.”

Derry City boss, Willie Ross added: “I thought our team played below their best form, allowing for all the circumstances, but there is no doubt that no Irish League club is remotely in the same class as teams like Anderlecht. We played some quite good football but hadn’t the speed to make it effective.”

It had been a footballing lesson but off the field the club had enough of the Brandywell farce and decided to call it a day. And so Derry’s European era as an Irish League club, which included a games against Steaua Bucharest, FK Lyn and Anderlecht, had come to an abrupt end - the Candy Stripes banned from European competitions for two seasons for refusing to bow down to the I.F.A decision-makers. It would be 23 years before they returned to the continent!

Anderlecht: Trappeniers: Heylens, Plaskie: Verbiest, Cornelius, Hannon: Jurion, Stockman, Mulder, Van Himst, Puis.

Derry City: Connor: Blake, Cathcart; R. Wood, Crossan, D. Wood; Wright, Doherty, Coyle, Wilson, Fullerton.

Referee - Mr Jaoacium Campos (Portugal)

Next time we take a look back at Derry City’s return to European competition against Cardiff City in 1988 which began another glorious chapter on the continent for the now League of Ireland representatives.