My son Blaise, who is seven, came with me last March to Tolka Park to see Shelbourne take on Waterford in the SSE First Division. The game ended 2-2 and so was a good one for him to have seen, with 4 goals and a few incidents to talk over. On the walk home though he asked me something I hadn’t seen coming. He wanted to know when Waterford had moved over to Ireland from the English Premier League.
I didn’t know where he’d got that from. At that age the young football fan can get confused. I remember as a young boy being confused by the difference between the League and Cup. I thought that if say, Scunthorpe United knocked Liverpool out of the Cup, then they would take Liverpool’s place in the League, and Liverpool theirs, in a kind of football snakes-and-ladders exchange. It took some patience and several explanations by my Dad before I got it.
When we got home Blaise opened his ‘Match Attax’ book at the Watford page and showed me. The penny dropped. He was confusing Watford with Waterford. I could relate to that. As a boy I’d always got Chester, Chesterfield and Colchester mixed up. ‘’The Three Chesters’’ I ended up calling them, a name inspired by ‘’The Adventure of the Three Garridebs’’ Sherlock Holmes story. Occasionally their stars came into orbit in the same division for a season, which really confused things.
I explained to Blaise that Watford and Waterford were two different places in two different countries, and that their football teams had no links. He understood, but still gets them the wrong way round – ‘’Dad, Waterford are playing Leicester on the TV’’; or ‘’Dad, if Bray are playing Watford away this year, can we stay overnight’’ [we usually do one football overnight a season as a family].
An overnight to Waterford is something I would enjoy very much. We used to holiday in Waterford every year when I was young [in Tramore] until 1982 when we suddenly changed to Clare, a change that coincided with, but I’m sure was not in any way connected to, Waterford FC’s change in name to Waterford United [they changed back in 2016].
I did get to see Kilcohan Park a few times [Waterford’s home before moving to the RSC] in those days but there was never any football on as it was always off-season.
Once my parents went out for dinner when we were on holidays and left us in the charge of a local babysitter. Being a football-mad youngster I engaged the babysitter in conversation about soccer and was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did she know about football but had played for Benfica [Benfica WSC, who I think were called Benfica LFC back then, are one of the longest-established women’s soccer clubs in Ireland and currently play at the RSC along with the men’s team].
I always looked out for Waterford’s results in the newspapers even after we stopped holidaying there. Eventually Bray Wanderers joined the League but I don’t remember too many games against Waterford. Even though we have been in the same division a lot since 1985, we have often been in different divisions, occasionally waving to each other on the elevator as one went up and the other down [for example, when Bray last went down in 2002-2003, Waterford were busy winning the third of their 4 First Division titles].
Three games against Waterford stick out most in the memory. One for the right reasons, from 1995, when we overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit in the First Division Shield final [thanks to two penalties from Philip Gormley and a Richie Parsons goal] and won on penalties. The story associated with that game about the ‘’Three Swans’’ is as good as the ‘’Three Garridebs’’ or the ‘’Three Chesters’’; I’ve told it before in this column!
A game against Waterford to remember for all the wrong reasons was a 5-0 thumping by them for Bray in a friendly match last season. It summed up the mood of despondency that was circulating around the Carlisle Grounds at the time. The third game that sticks out was not for football reasons, but because I got to meet Paul McGrath, who was working with The Blues at the time. He was very kind and humble and chatted to a group of us Wanderers fans for a while.
Over the years I’ve heard about great Waterford sides from the past, and great players like Alfie Hale and Al Finucane, but I have to admit that it wasn’t until sitting down to write this column that I looked up the club’s history in more detail. I was well impressed to learn that after Dundalk and the 4 big Dublin clubs, Waterford actually have more League titles  than anyone else. Like Bray they also have 2 FAI Cups – from 1936-37 and 1979-80 [when Brian Gardner scored the winner against St Patrick’s Athletic].
Those 6 league titles came in a powerful 8-year period of dominance of Irish football between 1965 and 1973 [the club were even League Champions the year I was born – 1969!] when European football was played against the greats of the time, including a Matt Busby led Manchester United in 1968-69 when the Old Trafford side were defending their maiden European Cup win, and a tie against Glasgow Celtic [the side who had won the European Cup immediately prior to United] in 1970-71.
So match days 4, 13, 22 and 31 of 2018. Friday 02 March and Friday 15 June in the Carlisle Grounds; Friday 20 April and Friday 14 September in the RSC. Bray versus Waterford in the Premier Division. I’m going to try and make as many of them as I can. I’ll definitely aim for an overnight in Waterford. For me I always think of these games as south-east derbies; I’d say Waterford regard their derby game as versus Cork, a Munster derby.
I wish Waterford a successful season back in the top flight!