Derry out but fans not down on big Euro night
Derry City exited European competition with a draw against CSKA Sofia but that did little to spoil the party atmosphere last night at the Brandywell.
Come on the Candystripes: Derry fans cheer on their team and (right) another supporter waves her scarf
There is no escaping the buzz in the city when a European fixture comes around and just as IFK Gothenburg and Paris St Germain discovered in 2006, City fans certainly leave an impression.
Even after CSKA striker Marquinhos struck to all but end City's participation in the Europa League, the 4,000 home fans rose as one to roar their team on.
And when Thomas Stewart headed in the equaliser just 10 minutes from time, it was as if Derry had won the tie, as a roar emitted around the ground that lasted until the last player had left the pitch and beyond.
The cocky Bulgarians had come to Brandywell minus club officials, who had gone to Switzerland to hear word of their next opponent in Europe, and there wasn't one City fan that didn't want to make them pay for that.
Fans as young as two years old crammed into the ground, bedecked in their red and white jerseys, praying for a miracle and praying that the Derry goal would remain unbreached throughout.
Retired bishops, aging clergy, politicians and bemused FAI officials crammed into the Glentoran stand to cheer the Irish minnows on with one overexcited fan refusing to sit as he stood among the dignitaries singing, ‘You're just a small team from Bulgaria’.
The tension reached such a peak that one supposedly impartial journalist stood up and gave a mouthful of vitriol to Sofia's Marquinhos, who rolled around on the ground like he had found religion after a 50-50 challenge.
The game remained open well into the second half and when Kevin Deery flashed a shot wide, a Derry City official almost toppled over four rows of bodies in front of him in his excitement.
The time continued to pass by with the 4,000 plus willing the ball into the Sofia net, any which way.
But just as the clock reached 70 minutes, disaster struck, when Marquinhos sent a free kick through a wall, which parted too easily, and into the net.
A row of Bulgarian fans erupted as if they had just won the Europa League itself but if they thought that the small ground would finally be silenced, they were sorely mistaken as the Brandywell roared even louder.
Three goals were needed and one arrived when Peter Hutton set up Thomas Stewart for an easy finish just minutes later.
Derry pushed and pushed and the red and white clan sung and danced but despite a succession of corners, the ball just wouldn't go into the net again.
Gareth McGlynn saw a straight red card to stall City's momentum, finally signalling the end of another European adventure.
Speaking after the match Brandywell Pride member Adrian McGowan said that if the City had gotten an early goal it could all have been very different.
“I was chatting to a lot of Derry fans before the match and we were all agreed — if they don't do that then they had no chance,” he said. “I never felt Derry was going to win the game but they battled well and deserved to get the draw.”
CSKA Sofia may have went through but they had just witnessed why a European night at the Brandywell is so special.