This weekend all involved in League of Ireland – players, managers, coaches and supporters – pause and remember the late Ryan McBride, who had been Derry City captain. Whether we are Bohs or Bray, Wexford or Waterford, we stand together to honour Ryan’s memory, celebrate his life and playing career. We stand together with our brothers and sisters from Derry, both Derry City the soccer club and Derry the city.
Derry this week has had to mourn not just the loss of one inspirational leader, but two. In addition to the city’s soccer captain passing away at a young age, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has also died. Both were laid to rest on Thursday after services in the city’s St. Columba’s Church.
McGuinness was a man who, despite his paramilitary past, embraced electoral politics and helped bring peace to his nation. Those horror years of The Troubles were years that affected Derry City FC deeply. Security concerns around playing Irish League matches at The Brandywell resulted in them pulling out of senior football and having to play junior soccer for more than a decade until they were admitted to the new League of Ireland First Division in 1985.
City joining our league was symbolic. It showed that sport could transcend geographical, political and sectarian divides. It showed that a city could be offered hope, could be lifted up off its knees. The Peace Process was just around the corner. Hope was given to us all. Bridges were built before Mary Robinson had even thought of the phrase.
I will never forget the first time Derry City came to Bray to play Wanderers in that 1985-86 First Division campaign. They brought about 2,000 supporters with them, outnumbering the home support 3 to 1. The entire length of Bray’s promenade was lined with buses, coaches and all manner of northern-registered vehicles. The friendliness of the people who had travelled was infectious.
I’d never been to Northern Ireland at that point. The place was associated with violence and mayhem. Derry City taught me that The Troubles was only a part of the picture. Northern Ireland was a place where real people lived, played and supported sport and just wanted to be like everyone else.
I’d never try to play down the seriousness of The Troubles. When I travelled to Derry for the first time to see Wanderers play at the Brandywell, I got lost and ended up in the wrong part of the city, where everywhere was painted with union-jack colours. After wandering around for ages I walked into a bar and asked the barman if he knew where The Brandywell was. The pub went silent. I realized I’d just spoken in an obvious Dublin accent. Maybe this was a Loyalist bar. The barman saw the look of alarm on my face, then broke into a smile. ‘’Don’t worry son, this is a Republican bar. The Brandywell is just a few minutes away. Have a drink before heading over, on the house.’’
As League of Ireland clubs we all know what it is like when someone in the club passes away. It is like someone in your family dying, because clubs are close-knit units just like your actual family. It is rare though to have to mourn the loss of a serving player. Derry City had to suffer the loss of Mark Farren last year, now Ryan McBride. Too much pain.
Ryan McBride did his talking on the pitch. A big, brave man, he wore his jersey with pride and was a great example to younger players. Since he died I have listened a good bit to the music of The Undertones, possibly the finest band to ever come out of Derry or even Northern Ireland. They were around during The Troubles but didn’t sing about politics or war. They sang about normal teenage stuff, love and angst, football and friendship. They spoke through their musical prowess, just as Ryan spoke through his football skills. Rest in peace, Ryan.