Enda O’Doherty writes: In my earliest memories, the football team that I later came to know as “the Candystripes” wore amber shirts and black shorts, but by the time I was attending the Brandywell with any regularity they had reverted to the Sheffield United-style red and white shirts they had first started wearing in 1934. I went to my first Derry City home games with my father, and we normally sat in the stand, where there would be less chance of him being offended by the “foul language” which was certainly common on the terraces. Foul language, I’m afraid, was always a trial to him. A few years later, however, I was allowed to go on my own, that is to say with a friend, but without adult accompaniment. We didn’t bother with the stand.
My father had, in a way, been one of Derry City’s earliest fans, though he didn’t pay in. The Brandywell stadium lies on low ground in the south of the city, quite near the Foyle river. It is overlooked by the hill on top of which is perched what used to be St Columb’s College (now Lumen Christi College), and from this point my father and many other unfortunate boarders, starved of entertainment – indeed starved in general, apparently peered down on a Saturday afternoon to catch whatever they could of the games being played below. This must have been in the very first years of the club, in the late 1920s or early ’30s. My own sketchy memory, from my time attending the same institution as a day pupil more than thirty years later, is that you could only make out part of the ground from St Columb’s; you could hear the roar though, to tell you that you’d just missed a goal being scored in the non-visible sector.
The boy spectators would occasionally be chased away from their vantage point, my father said, by one of the college priests, who ridiculed them for their enthusiasm for what he called “lame Scotch footballers”. This hostility may have derived from an attachment on his part to the rival Gaelic code, or just from a natural desire to stop young boys enjoying themselves. But why “Scotch”? Well, as I think may still be the case to a degree, footballers from the higher end of the ability spectrum (or from higher divisions) would tend, in their declining years (their middle and later thirties) to keep on playing as long as they could, but for smaller teams (and of course for smaller wages), perhaps having no other employment in prospect. And many of those who came to Derry to play out their final active years were from Scotland. An early Scots import was Archie McLeod, who actually arrived as a young man and who scored an almost incredible fifty-seven goals for the club in the 1934/35 season. Lame indeed. (Irrelevant footnote: McLeod married a Derry woman and his grandson is an actor by the name of David Tennant. Who? Yes, Who.)
The Scottish connection was still alive in the 1960s when I was going to the Brandywell, with two players I remember well who were also far from lame: Douglas “Dougie” Wood, formerly of Raith Rovers, and Johnny McKenzie, formerly of Partick Thistle and Dumbarton. McKenzie, who played on the right wing, would have been very close to forty when Derry won the Irish League in the 1964/65 season. He was capped nine times for Scotland during the 1950s. When he had played for Partick he had been nicknamed “the Firhill flyer” (Firhill being the Partick stadium). Even at thirty-nine in the Brandywell he still flew a bit. (Second irrelevant footnote: according to Wikipedia, McKenzie is the only speaker of Gaelic known to have been capped for Scotland.)
The team whose names I can clearly remember (without recourse to the internet) was probably a fairly regular one in the mid-’60s: Mahon, Campbell, Cathcart, McGeough, Crossan, Wood, McKenzie, Doherty, Coyle, Wilson, Seddon. A little later, I think, it was “Mahon, Blake, Cathcart” and then at some stage Frank Connor in goal rather than Eddie Mahon. A particular delight for us attending was the announcement over the public address system of the teams. The names of the visitors tended to be booed, pretty loudly if it was Linfield. Then we listened out for, and joyfully chimed in with, the announcer’s favourite mispronunciations: McGYOCK, WOODS and SNEDDON. No one ever seemed to tell him, not even McGeough, Wood or Seddon. Or perhaps he just knew better. What, I wonder, would he make of Derry City’s current star forward Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe?
The middle period of my adolescence, which coincided with my greatest enthusiasm for attending football matches, was also, coincidentally, the period of Derry’s greatest glory: they were cupwinners in 1964 and won the league in the following year. This success led to participation in European competition, which normally involved a considerable coming down to earth. And so Steaua Bucharest beat Derry 5-0 on aggregate in the Cupwinners’ Cup in September 1964. Next year, however, something remarkable happened when Derry became the first Irish League team to progress beyond the initial (“qualifying”) round of a European competition, beating Norway’s FK Lynn 8-6 on aggregate in the European Cup. The second leg was played to a packed house at the Brandywell. Lynn had won the first game 5-3 in Oslo; Derry won the second 5-1 at home. I still clearly remember one of the goals, a drive from maybe forty yards out from centre-half Jim (“Jimbo”) Crossan. Clearly, but perhaps not accurately – who knows? The next stage of the competition brought Derry up against a club with something of a name, Anderlecht of Brussels. There were doubts about whether the Brandywell was up to the required standard for international competition. At any rate the first leg was played in Brussels, on November 23rd, 1965, on a frozen pitch which the Derry players seemed completely unable to negotiate. I listened to live commentary of the match on the radio. Anderlecht 9; Derry City 0. At least I didn’t have to watch it. When the quintessentially Protestant team Linfield (Derry’s players were both Catholic and Protestant, their support mostly Catholic) next visited the Brandywell their supporters maintained the chant throughout “Anderlecht! Nine more!” The Derry crowd retaliated: “It’s a long way to the station, It’s a long way to go.” Which it was.
Foul language was not the only hazard at the Brandywell. There was occasionally some crowd trouble too at the game, and more often afterwards, particularly if we were beaten, as indeed we usually were by Linfield. I remember on one occasion a sneak attack on the Belfast team’s supporters as they were processing after the match en masse along the Lone Moor Road. (This, through a densely populated Catholic area, was not the quickest route to the train station, on the other side of the river, so there may have been something of the parade about the process.) An opening into the City Cemetery provided a fairly safe means of escape, up towards Creggan estate, for the perpetrators of the attack: hit and run. All the same, that someone thought it so important to assault some unknown Protestant or Protestants from Belfast, and in the process risk being half-killed themselves, I found both horrific and incomprehensible. I was obviously far from in tune with the wave of the near future.
Football and Scotland went together for me in other ways too, and this had nothing to do with either Celtic or Rangers. Indeed I knew that my Uncle Jack Murphy, who was a schoolteacher in Glasgow, forbade any of his large brood of boys to go to Celtic matches. They were condemned instead to follow Clydebank or Partick, I forget which. Less glory certainly, but less poisonous sectarianism too. But for me Scottish football principally meant the Saturday afternoon football results, listened to first on the radio and later watched on television (and with the smell of the Saturday teatime fry wafting in pleasantly from the kitchen). First you had to go through four divisions in England. But that was not music. Nor indeed was the Scottish first division: Rangers, Celtic, Dundee, Falkirk, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock … prosaic names all. No, it was down in the depths with the no-hopers that the music began, with the romantically named Cowdenbeath, Stenhousemuir, East Fife, Airdrieonians, Hamilton Academical, Brechin City, Alloa Athletic, Forfar and Queen of the South. An added delight was the knack the announcer had of indicating, purely through voice tone, the result of the match in advance of actually completing it: home win, draw or defeat: this was particularly helpful to participants in the football pools. Thus Hamilton Academical 2, Stenhousemuir (falling tone) 1: home win; Hamilton Academical 2, Stenhousemuir (very slightly rising tone on last syllable) 2: draw; Hamilton Academical 2, Stenhousemuir (sharply rising tone) 3: home defeat. And there were particular (theoretical perhaps) results to be looked forward to for their very special musicality. Queen of the South 3 (an excellent day out for the Dumfries side you might think, but no, hold your horses, it’s Queen of the South 3, Forfar 4).
They say that having a pet is good for children and teaches them important lessons about life, and, more importantly, death. Supporting a football team can do the same thing, though mind you the lesson may not always be learnt. One thing I think I learned as an adolescent however was that no matter how sweet the victory might be, no matter how great you thought you were, no matter that you’d just beaten a fancy foreign team 5-1, there could well be another one lying in wait for you ready to put you down 9-0. Or to put it in musical, Scottish terms: Forfar 4 … East Fife 5.
‘He always beat me at Subbuteo ’cause he flicked the kick and I didn’t know.’ The sleeve for the Undertones’ My Perfect Cousin celebrates Derry City.
David Tennant at the Brandywell during the filming of an episode of the BBC documentary series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’