For years, they were the team that no one wanted. But the days of isolation for Derry City FC are over and right now everyone wants to be a part of the Brandywell club.
Derry is the second largest city in Northern Ireland but for more than a decade, had no football team. Unable to compete in top-level football due to the deteriorating political situation, Derry dropped out of the league in 1973 and were extinct for 12 years. Still experiencing problems in Northern Ireland - where Derry is located - they went across the border and were admitted to the league in the Republic of Ireland in 1985.
Sense of exclusion
There is still a feeling of exclusion in the city and Derry manager Stephen Kenny recently complained that despite the city's population and proud football tradition, only a handful of Derry-born players have been capped at senior level by Northern Ireland in the last 20 years. But all that is starting to change on the back of the side's success in the UEFA Cup this year. Having beaten former winners IFK Göteborg 1-0 home and away in the first qualifying round, Derry then went to Scotland and beat Gretna FC 5-1, meaning they should complete the job at home tonight.
With the capacity of their home stadium, Brandywell, cut to just 2,500 due to UEFA regulations, there is already talk of finding a bigger venue should the club make it into the first round proper and Belfast club Linfield FC have already offered their 14,000 capacity home, Windsor Park. Dublin-born manager Kenny and his players have taken the plaudits for their success, as the former Bohemian FC boss has rid the club of its part-time status and now most of the players are full-time. However, Kenny is more keen to praise the people who made the club what it is, the supporters and the local community.
"People say that Gretna is a dream, a romantic story, but our story is about supporters saving the club and about community," he said. "Our players grew up with Derry and you can see the passion. One of the things which has given us a tremendous lift in this European campaign has been the number of Derry supporters prepared to travel. It's unique and they deserve so much credit. It shows how much they love the club when we can bring 3,000 people to Scotland. Not just 3,000 supporters, but 3,000 people who are passionate. They give everything of themselves, they're unbelievable."
Derry have some very powerful supporters. Back in 2000, the club were financially crippled and on the verge of extinction due to an unpaid tax bill. Derry-born politician John Hume, then a member of parliament, a Member of the European parliament and a winner of the Nobel Peace, got on the phone. His powers of persuasion convinced four former European Champion Clubs' Cup winners to come to the Brandywell and play friendly matches to raise funds: Celtic FC, Manchester United FC, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF. Not bad company for a team that spent so long in the footballing wilderness.
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