I decided to go to Ireland for the Eircom League title decider between Gills legend Damien Richardson’s Cork City (nb remember his playing days not management) and Derry City, the latter being one point ahead going into the final match.
Cork hadn’t won the league for more than 12 years and despite having had four management stints at the biggest clubs in the Republic, Damien had never won it. The stage was set.
Having spent the previous day in Dublin we made the 3 hour journey to Cork on a train full of Derry fans, checked into the hotel, had a quick look round and then headed for Turners Cross by bus. Derry fans were marching there from the city centre, flags aloft, as we made our way past loads of full pubs and chippers. Having picked up our tickets for the 8,500 sell-out we dived into Dino’s heaving chipper (excellent) near the ground for some much needed food.
The ground is a bit old-fashioned but tidy and three-quarter seated the exception being The Shed, which looks exactly like it is one, or maybe more like a shunting yard tin cover. It’s half of one end and slants at a 45degree angle to the pitch! On entering we discovered that apart from ST’s and away supporters you can go wherever you like so made our way to a BM like stand at the opposite end. This was right next to the Derry supporters and as you’d expect there were a lot of songs and banter; but with no real barrier and only ONE STEWARD separating us there was not a hint of any trouble.
As the match started it was easy to join in with the chant of Rich-ardsons- barmy-army as the tune seemed vaguely familiar!
Cork top scorer John O’Flynn almost scored in the first minute and they dominated the first half, taking the lead on 18mins with a neat header from O’Flynn. Derry came out more determined in the second half but were still no match for Cork, who were playing some great passing football. The second came from Liam Kearney with an hour gone and 2-0 it finished, their performance in the remaining time having confirmed their superiority. This was the last match before The Shed is demolished and the fans nearly did the job themselves with multicoloured flares from the start and jumping up and down in unison for the last 15 mins.
Cork City wear green so being short of a Gills shirt that colour (not having been able to get hold of the famous one worn away at Millwall!) I wore my Celtic away shirt, but with a Gills shirt underneath so I could show it if I was able to get anywhere near the great man, or ‘’Rico’’ as they call him. NO CHANCE, throughout the second- half numerous announcements had been made about NOT invading the pitch but at the final whistle several thousand supporters rushed it and the stewards were helping them over the barriers! Damien was carried shoulder high in the middle of the throng and then after the presentations, and to our surprise, all of the Cork fans turned to applaud the Derry fans who were still singing their hearts out. On the way out everyone was either patting each other on the back or shaking hands irrespective of colours and it was the same in all of the pubs on the way back into the city centre where a few Murphy’s were sunk in celebration, again surrounded by Derry fans. What a real credit to football supporters everywhere were these two sets of fans.
I’ve seen quite a few messages recently about the possibility of Damien returning to manage the Gills and the choice is quite simple, League One games or Champions League qualifiers, what do you think ffs?
Next morning, first flight out of Cork to Gatwick, home to Brighton for the car and back up A23 to watch the Gills beat Hartlepool. It had been a great start to the weekend but I’d only just started my run of 6 games in 10 days – Barcelona for Barca v Werder Bremen and Espanyol v Palermo then on to Budapest for MTK v Ujpest and Ferencvaros v Debrecen, but that’s another story. (Sadly I chose to make these games in preference to going to (s)Layer Road, maybe that was a good decision!?!)
PatTerryHeader (And yes, I am that old!)