Belfast Telegraph

We won the Cup... now give us our Brandywell money

By Eamonn McCann

Such was their determination to grab a bit of the glory bestowed on Derry by Declan Devine's magnificent men at Lansdowne Road last Sunday that I feared that the stability of the Stormont institutions might be put at risk by injury to key political players at this fraught and delicate time.

Every time is fraught and delicate at Stormont, of course, but that doesn't detract from my point. Some of the tackles in the course of the jostling to wave the FAI Cup aloft for the cameras would have been carded had they happened on the pitch.

I wouldn't have minded, except that, apart from John Hume, you rarely find these folk at the Brandywell; never at all standing on the terraces on a wet Friday night for a mid-table tussle against Drogheda.

I say 'standing', because football traditionalists don't hold with all-seater stadia. Seated, you can't stomp off for a fume when your centre-forward misses his third sitter, snarling that that's it, you're never coming back - an essential experience in the palette of true fandom the world over.

It is, incidentally, a tribute to the power of political propaganda that many continue to believe that all-seater grounds were introduced for safety reasons in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Not so.

The move was part of the gentrification of the game under the Thatcher regime, which regarded football fans as dangerous proles to be contained and corralled. Ticket prices beyond the range of working-class families and corporate boxes for company bosses to entertain clients were the result.

What happened at Hillsborough had nothing to do with terraces for standing and had everything to do with the South Yorkshire police funnelling 17,000 people into a caged area built to accommodate 11,000, displaying the same attitude as shown towards the miners at Orgreave and media workers at News International. The thinking which was to lead to the ban had helped trigger the tragedy.

Not that I feel a need to stand at every game. As long as the option is there, I'm content, particularly since the weather started playing havoc with the knees.

Perhaps I should concede at this point that I may have over-egged the egregiousness of politicians' avidity for a chunk of the credit last Sunday. But exaggeration is allowable in discussion of football - can even be de rigeur.

I say that, because if the same politicians' commitment to the Candy Stripes was entirely genuine, they'd have used the triumph as an open goal for hammering home objection to the failure of the Executive to provide the funding needed to refurbish the Brandywell. This has become an urgent issue now that we are set to storm Europe once more.

I think it fair to say that Derry people are known and loved throughout the land for the fact that we aren't given to whingeing.

Indeed, we are never accorded credit for our forbearance in the face of second-class treatment and our modest refusal to boast about the beauty of the town, or the unique accomplishments of its unfeasibly talented people.

But look, Caral Ni Chuilin, sports minister in the Executive, this treatment won't do.

You should know there's a history here. Back in 1966, which in the perspective of the football fan is only a wet week ago, when we boldly went where no Irish club, north or south, had ever gone before and beat Norwegian champions FK Lynn 5-1 for a 8-3 aggregate and a place in the second round of the European Cup, dark Belfast forces immediately intervened to declare the Brandywell unfit for European competition. Pure spite. It's still a sore point.

In May 2007, we were assured that work on refurbishment would start pronto. We were told in October 2009 that, 'The Brandywell stadium is to get a state-of-the-art stand as part of a major refurbishment.' In February this year, it was announced, 'Millions of pounds are expected to be made available for the development of Brandywell stadium.'

But just a fortnight ago, Ms Ni Chuilin announced that her department "has no money available to help fund the proposed re-development of the Brandywell Stadium." Ha.

Untold sums are being splurged on Windsor, Casement and Ravenhill. Now ask yourself this: what do Windsor, Casement and Ravenhill have in common which the Brandywell lacks?

There's another lesson from history, Ms Ni Chuilin, of which I'd thought you'd be aware - that the last time the Brandywell district was done down by a Belfast minister there was no end of bother. I don't predict any repetition of that. It won't happen. But take it as a warning, anyway. We've won the Cup. We want our money.


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