Home > Random Rovers thoughts > Hoops SC on Tour to ——derry

Hoops SC on Tour to ——derry

Friday night is match night for most League of Ireland clubs including Shamrock Rovers. For a home game some of the Hoops faithful will take a short walk to the stadium, a journey out on the LUAS for many or maybe a drive in the car to Tallaght (with parking in the stadium car park a nice perk for club members). Every second Friday is an away trip. Half the clubs in the top division of the league are in the Dublin environs (Bohemians, St. Patrick’s Athletic, UCD and Bray) so it can be a short trip. For the other fixtures that leaves trips further afield to Drogheda, Dundalk, Galway, Sligo and Derry. In the opening month of the season, Shamrock Rovers were faced with the two furthest away trips, first to Sligo and then last week’s trip up to Derry.

Having driven down to Sligo for their Saturday evening game, last Friday I travelled on one of the supporters buses that travelled to Derry. I booked in with the Hoops SC for the trip which was also made by five other supporters buses including ones from Ringsend and a couple from Tallaght. It was an afternoon departure from Liberty Hall for the Hoops SC who had a full 50 seater bus making the trip north of the border. Just like everyone has their favourite position in the stadium, fans have their own favourite seats on the bus so everyone settled into their customary positions as we headed towards the Port Tunnel and on to the M1. During a quick stop at a service station, the Hoops SC flag is unveiled for an early season team photo.

There is plenty of banter on the bus with stories being told. Today Robbie Gaffney, a former Rovers player, is on the bus. Robbie, as Rovers fans will know, played with the Hoops for several years, winning player of the year with Rovers in 1979/80 before moving on to play elsewhere including at St. Patrick’s Athletic. The tale of singing Rovers songs at the back of the St. Pats team bus with other former Rovers players en route to a Pats game goes down well with the Rovers fans that were all ears on the bus. Someone else tells the story of another former player Ger Rowe who knocked on this fan’s door just after Rowe himself was shown the door from Rovers by the then manager Pat Scully. His neighbour was a friend of Rowe and had let him know the house contained a Rovers fan. Rowe knocked on the door with a plastic bag full of Rovers kit as he wanted to pass it on to a fan that would make use of it. We are talking shorts, socks, training top, the works! Not wanting it to go to waste, he gave it to the surprised fan telling him “enjoy it and if you are talking to Pat Scully, tell him he is a _ _ _ _!”

We pass over the border and begin to see the signs for Londonderry or _ _ _ _ _ _derry on the road signs that are within spray paint level! Phones start to go off with the ‘Welcome to the UK’ text messages from the phone companies including 3 (who have a good phone deal going with Rovers if you are interested btw see here!). At Strabane, with the border being adjacent to the road across the bridge in Lifford, we pick back up the Irish phone coverage allowing a quick update for me in the Twitter world. We arrived cross the Foyle Bridge and head into the Bogside with a bit of time to spare ahead of the game.

There is enough time for fans to go for a quick drink, with fans of both teams mingling in the bars close to the Brandywell. I take the opportunity to go for a stroll venturing past the GAA Ground (Celtic Park) and down into the heart of the Bogside. There are still plenty of murals on the end of gable walls to be viewed. There is one commemorating the battle of the Bogside with the iconic image of a child wearing a gas mask and a Molotov cocktail in his hand. There is the ‘Death of Innocence’ showing schoolgirl Annette McGavigan who was killed during the troubles, a gable painted with images from Bloody Sunday and a mural commemorating the Hunger strikers who died in 1981. There are also several monuments to members of the IRA, which are visible in the Bogside around Free Derry Corner.

Enough of the political history though, it is time to head back to see a football match. A ticket is £12 or €15 and Derry will have take in a lot of sterling and euro this evening with a near capacity home crowd and Rovers bringing over 200 fans – the largest number of away fans I can remember us bringing to the Derry. We are located in the Bogside end of the ground and fans have hung a number of flags on the fence adjacent to the stand. Let us just say the Rovers contingent is stretching the capacity of this end of the stand. I’ve also seen better segregation in other away grounds but there is no hassle in the stadium. Behind me is three generations of Derry fans, with a grandfather, father and daughter and they feel free to cheer on Derry as we cheer on Rovers. It is all a little bit GAA though with no proper segregation for my liking! Shamrock Rovers line out unchanged for the fourth successive game which is unprecedented for Rovers manager Michael O’Neill. We also line out looking like a team of referees with Rovers debuting their new away kit in black with white collar.

The atmosphere in the ground is excellent with the Derry fans in decent voice and Rovers using our full range of songs including a few used especially for this trip. We ask the Derry fans “what’s it like to have a Queen?” and remind them that while “we are in the Free State, they are in the wrong league.” Disappointingly there is no singing on this trip about Thatcher building their floodlights. We must remember that one when we visit Derry later in the year close to the Glorious Twelfth in mid-July. There are some references to Libyan striker Eamon Zayed who gives an interesting interview in the Derry match programme about how he came to play for Libya, his experiences in games to date there and how close he was to sign for one of the big domestic Libyan clubs.

As for the match, well there isn’t really much to talk about. Both sides created few chances with Rovers probably the better team in the first half. Derry go closest with a long range shot in the second half but the ball was tipped nicely over the bar by Ulsterman Alan Mannus in the Rovers goal. At the final whistle, the Rovers players gather in the corner of the pitch in front of the fans as both players and fans acknowledge their respective efforts on the night. This result represents Rovers first dropped points of the campaign having had three wins out of three so far. Results elsewhere mean that Rovers remain top of the table and are now three points clear of Bohemians in second spot.

The Rovers fans are kept back while the Derry fans leave allowing the Rovers to walk through the ground to the car park. Once on the bus, everyone has a good idea of what is coming. Like driving out of Baghdad Airport on Route Irish, or how the British troops used to sprint out and back into base when on tours in the North, we know that there is the chance that we will be on the receiving end of, not IEDs or sniper fire, but missile fire. The shout goes up from the back of the bus to turn off the inside lights on the bus as we leave the car park. We pull the curtains across and wait. We can see the spotters run in front of the bus as we head towards the Foyle and everyone leans away from the windows. I’m thankful I’m sitting on the aisle seat as a couple of rocks or bottles bounce off the windows. BANG, BANG we get on the windows but no shattering of the glass thankfully. One of the buses behind us is not so lucky and has a window smashed just like happened us on our previous visit. You would think as this has happened before the police could prevent this but of course the PSNI have no visible presence in the Bogside so we have to put up with this anti-social behaviour. There is a discussion that these are probably not Derry fans but young lads out causing trouble and of course this can happen anywhere… Sligo or Dorsett Street anyone?

We trundle south of the border and stop in Emyvale for last orders where our euro is made very welcome. The Chinese takeaway is the only food available and they receive enough orders from the Hoops in the town that they are probably putting their kids through college on the back of the chicken fried rice etc. that they feed the hungry hooped hordes. Next stop O’Connell Street and another away trip is over. Next up it is a trip to Drogheda.

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