Derry City: The Team That Left | Gunshots and Goalposts #2

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The open sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, known as The Troubles, roared into being in the late 1960s. Football did not escape. One of the clubs most drastically affected
by this low level warfare was Derry City FC, a club founded in 1928
and based near the predominantly Irish nationalist Bogside area on the left bank
of the Foyle river, in the city known either as Derry, or Londonderry, depending on which side of the sectarian divide find yourself in. Having won the Irish League title in 1965,
by 1969 Derry City’s footballing future was in doubt. Rioting around their ground, the Brandywell,
meant teams became sceptical about visiting and a number of their home games were postponed. Their first fixture at the
Brandywell did not take place until October 18th, ten weeks after the start of the season. The rest of the season followed a similar
pattern, and Derry City’s Irish Cup tie with Linfield – a team supported exclusively by British Unionists – the following March was the scene of
violent clashes in the stands. The return fixture was scrapped because the Royal Ulster Constabulary feared a breach of the peace if it took place. Though the next one was relatively peaceful,
the 1971/72 season would be Derry City’s last in the Irish League. Tensions in the Bogside around the Brandywell
were heightened once more by the presence of British soldiers,
and the opening three games of the new season were either postponed or played thirty miles
away in Coleraine. I n early September 1972, a seven year old
boy was killed when he was run over by a British Army Landrover, leading to a further outbreak of rioting. Amid the stones, bottles and petrol
bombs a shot was fired at soldiers from within the structure of the Brandywell and the police
returned fire. The next day there was a home game against
Ballymena United, which went ahead despite the objections of the away side. Kicking off as rioting continued outside the
ground, those inside could hear rubber bullets being discharged and smell the familiar odour of CS gas in the air. A small group of rioters
entered the the ground, gaining access to the Ballymena team bus and pushing it out of the Brandywell and into the street, where it was set alight. The security services and the Irish League
were now adamant that Derry City could no longer play their home games in the Bogside and would have to be hosted at the Coleraine Showgrounds instead. The gate receipts were terrible, with one
Ulster Cup match against Crusaders yielding just £33. Falling revenues and a precarious security situation were not conducive to sustaining a football team. Though the Royal Ulster Constabulary indicated
that football could return to the Brandywell, the majority of Irish League
clubs refused to agree and on October 13th 1972 Derry City issued a statement explaining they would be withdrawing from the league immediately. After forty-three years, a league championship
and three Irish Cups, Derry City were gone, replaced in the middle of the season by Larne FC. Today, Derry City compete in the League of Ireland, the competition for teams based in the Irish Republic. After thirteen years in the wilderness of
amateur football, the club received special dispensation from the IFA, UEFA and
FIFA to join the Football Association of Ireland, a unique arrangement agreed to because of
Derry’s location close to the political border which separates Northern Ireland from the neighbouring Republic. For the last three ​
decades, permission has been granted for the club to police their own games, the presence
of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and latterly the PSNI seen as potentially inflammatory. Several sites away from the Brandywell had
been considered, including on the predominantly Protestant Waterside of the Foyle, but ultimately the club returned to familiar territory. Seven thousand fans were present for their
first League of Ireland fixture against Home Farm. By 1989 Derry City had pulled off a league
and cup double and when Derry played Benfica in the first round of the European Cup the
following season they became the first team to have represented two national leagues in the same tournament, having done so against FC Lyn of Oslo and Anderlecht in 1965 on behalf of the Irish League. In 2017 Derry City have spent a season away
from the Brandywell while it is refurbished, playing their home games instead at Maginn
Park in Buncrana, County Donegal and currently sit in fourth position in the League
of Ireland table, thirty two years after finding their home in greener pastures.

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