Belfast Telegraph

So, where did it all go wrong for Derry City?

Peter Hutcheon reflects on the incredible highs and lows of the Candystripes who are now facing an uncertain future

Whatever happens at the Brandywell in what will be the most traumatic close season in Derry City’s history, nothing can take away the memories of the past 30 years.

I’ve shared in some amazing times in that time on Foyleside, in Dublin and in Europe and now for the third time seen them go to the very brink of extinction.

It’s impossible to forget the magic of that Uefa Cup night in 2005 in Motherwell when Gretna were put to the sword with five magical goals.

Or the excitement in the Ullevi Stadium in the previous round as they held onto the lead Sean Hargan had given them over Gothenburg — and then beat them in the Brandywell for good measure.

There have been tough times as well. The longest coach trip of my life was the return from Athlone with the team when they failed to win the league title on the last day of the 1994-95 season.

Stuart Gauld sat at the back of the bus, inconsolable at having missed the penalty which would have given the Candystripes what would have been only their second League of Ireland title.

Their current plight is down to simple economics.

Wages need to be paid and the club has simply run out of money to pay them.

The loss of two main sponsors midway through the season has been the catalyst for the financial troubles facing the club.

In the current climate it has proved impossible to replace them but the loss of income was not matched by a drop in the club’s overheads.

Having to cancel the planned friendly with Celtic at the eleventh hour was a bitter pill to swallow and an indication of the seriousness of the situation came when a board member seriously suggested that season ticket holders pay to see the final league game of the season.

City have stared into the abyss and survived in the past.

It’s a football-mad city and a huge void was left when the club left the Irish League in 1972.

The need for football in the city led them to the League of Ireland in the mid-80s.

But although they have enjoyed great success over the years — two championships, four FAI Cups and nine League Cups — potential disaster has been lurking.

In 2000, Celtic and Manchester United sent over teams to play friendlies at the Brandywell in a desperate attempt to raise revenue.

MP John Hume became involved and persuaded Real Madrid and then Barcelona to visit Foyleside.

While there were grumbles over the distinct lack of recognisable players in the first of those games, Barcelona delivered with Ronaldinho leading a host of star players and delighting the crowd on the ball.

And it was suggested that Barca sent over such a strong team only because of complaints about the Madrid team.

But it’s a measure of how success and potential disaster have long gone hand-in-hand at Derry that, immediately after the Barcelona game, the players boarded a bus for a trip to Cyprus to play Apoel Nicosia in a Uefa Cup match.

The Derry fans have been blessed by some wonderful talent, both local and imported, over the years.

Liam Coyle served the club with distinction for many years despite being warned repeatedly by doctors that he faced terrible trouble in later life if he continued playing.

Yet there he was with the slightly dubious goal which saved them from relegation in a play-off against Finn Harps. And again with the winner in the 2002 FAI Cup final at Dalymount against Shamrock Rovers.

Over the years there have been so many faithful servants from the flamboyant Frenchman Pascal Vaudequin to Felix Healy, who delivered on the

pitch in the treble-winning side of 1989 and again as manager when he led them to the second title in 1997 to Peter Hutton who has led the club with such distinction and now, sadly, released by the club.

The trip to Paris in the 2005 Uefa Cup was perhaps the high point of City’s incarnation as a League of Ireland side.

Stephen Kenny had assembled an exciting young team and it looked as though a new era of success was beginning.

After the goalless draw against Paris St Germain at the Brandywell — Derry could have filled the ground twice over — there was a genuine feeling that they could complete the victory at the Parc des Princes.

Some 3,000 Derry fans flocked to the French capital after the previous successes in Sweden and Scotland.

It was to be a trip too far on the night as the superior French won 2-0, but progression through two rounds of European football was a sign that the club’s policy of operating on a full-time basis was bringing success.

Which makes it all the more ironic that the need to meet wage bills has landed the club in the situation it currently finds itself in, kicked out of the league and with no-one sure if there will even be a Derry City to support come the start of the new season.

It is to be fervently hoped it can come through in one guise or another. Derry needs a team and Irish football needs a Derry City.

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Derry City: 25 years of triumph and turmoil

September 1985: A new era for Derry City FC begins when, after being accepted into the League of Ireland, they host Home Farm in the first game — a League Cup tie, which Derry won 3-1.

April 1987: Two seasons into life in the League of Ireland Derry clinch promotion into the Premier Division.

May 1988: Having taken over from Noel King, Jimmy McLaughlin leads Derry to the FAI Cup final, but the Candystripes are beaten by his former club Dundalk.

May 1989: Derry City overcome the disappointment of that Cup final defeat to win a historic treble in the following season, lifting the League Cup, FAI Cup and the League of Ireland title, beating Cork City in a replay to lift the FAI Cup and complete the three-trophy haul.

September 1989: Twenty-five years after beating Lyn Oslo of Norway in the European Cup, European football returned to the Brandywell — and in style, with Derry drawn to face Portuguese giants Benfica.

1991: Derry failed to follow up their treble win and it was two years before they won another trophy, in the shape of the League Cup, which was then retained in 1992 and won again in 1994.

1995: The FAI Cup is won for the second time in Derry City’s history, following a 2-1 win over Shelbourne.

1997: After an eight-year wait former Derry City player Felix Healy (right) guides the club to their second League of Ireland title.

2000: Financial problems begin to grip the club with threatened bankrupcy. A series of friendlies against Celtic and Manchester United as well as Barcelona and Real Madrid raise the money to keep the club afloat.

2003: A year after winning their third FAI Cup, Derry come close to being relegated from the Premier League, only maintaining their top flight status thanks to victory over Donegal rivals Finn Harps in a two-legged play-off.

2005: A League Cup victory begins a four-in-a-row sequence of lifting the trophy, but 2005 was more memorable for Linfield’s first trip to the Brandywell in over 30 years for a friendly in February. The teams drew 1 -1.

2006: Probably the most memorable year in the club’s history — certainly since entering the League of Ireland. They faced both Linfield and Glentoran in their first venture into the Setanta Sports Cup and lifted the League Cup.

It was the club’s European run that drew the biggest interest, though, with Derry City knocking Swedish side IFK Gothenburg and Gretna of Scotland out of the UEFA Cup.

In the first round proper Paris St Germain were held to a scoreless draw at the Brandywell before Derry suffered a 2-0 defeat in the French capital.

They then went on to complete a cup double, beating St Patrick’s Athletic 4-3 in a thrilling FAI Cup final at Lansdowne Road.

2009: A year that started with great optimism after a penalty shoot-out defeat to Bohemians in the 2008 FAI Cup final, descended gradually into farce.

In August it transpired that players would only be paid one weeks wages for the month, and by the end of October they were owed around £200,000 collectively.

After finishing the season with a 2-1 win over Dundalk to claim fourth place in the League of Ireland Premier Division, less than 24 hours later they were thrown out by the FAI for breaching their participation agreement.

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