Byline: Ian Starrett
THE news that Derry City Football Club may be vacating Brandywell Stadium in Londonderry has saddened every local boy who ever kicked a ball against a wall and dreamed of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final.
Forget Old Trafford, Wembley Stadium or Barcelona's Neu Camp - Brandywell Stadium was our Theatre of Dreams.
Can Brandywell really have reached such a dilapidated state that it could result in Derry City being banned from top flight European football, as well as being relegated from the Eirecom Premier League? Apparently so, and now Derry City Council, who own the ground, are reviewing its whole future, in consultation with Derry City FC who say they may now re-locate to another venue.
How sad that would be. What misty coloured memories - as the song so lyrically put it - of the way we were Brandywell Stadium conjures up for the born-and bred-Londonderry-man like myself.
My father, Sammy Starrett, family meat retailer of the parish, every Saturday afternoon lifted me over the turnstile to watch the likes of Jimmy Delaney, still the only footballer to have won Irish, English and Scottish Cup winners medals. After winning an FA Cup medal with Manchester United and a Scottish FA medal with Glasgow Celtic, the bald-headed Scots genius completed his hat-trick in 1954 by helping Derry City beat Glentoran over three epic matches, watched by over 90,000 spectators, an all-time Irish football record.
In the end, Derry City won 1-0, and I was there, a thrilled pint-sized boy, not only in the Belfast ground but perched on my father's shoulders as our homecoming heroes paraded in all their glory across Craigavon Bridge hours later.
Local folklore, I was too young to actually confirm it here, has it that a Protestant and Nationalist band met up to serenade Derry City's arrival and, together, they apparently lead our mid-1950s soccer idols from Waterside Railway Station to Guildhall Square.
I remember, in later years, travelling to Norway, with Derry City when they met Oslo's FK Lynn in the European Cup. Over two legs, they became the first Irish League side to progress beyond round one of a European competition. The Oslo first leg was played in the Bislet Stadium, famous for the great athletics feats that have been achieved there. I went down onto the pitch that Oslo night to take some souvenir photos of Dougie Wood, Bobby Gilbert, Jimmy McGeough, Joey Wilson and the guys, flashing an out-of-date Irish League press pass to get onto the field of play itself.
The late Jimmy Dubois, wonderful football writer of this newspaper, laughed heartily afterwards when I told him about my youthful cheek.
The return leg was one of the those magical Brandywell nights to forever remember when, in the pouring rain on the darkest of autumn evenings, Derry City played out of their candystriped shirts to romp to two leg triumph over the sophisticated Norwegians.
Wolves' Bobby Gould ending a fine Texaco Cup display by Derry City with a solitary goal, epic battles with Linfield and Glentoran, more recently the sheer brilliance of Brazilian Ronaldinho and the Catalan giants of Barcelona - Brandywell has an entrancing history of its very own to tell.
Not everybody paid to get in, one part of the ground was nicknamed the "unemployment turnstile" where those on the dole queues would be admitted for whatever they had in their pockets. Nippers like me were lifted over by adults and allowed in free. Others would stand outside the stadium, beside the gravestones, on the slopes of the city cemetery and others in the similarly elevated College Field and view for free.
Those pre-Troubles crowds loved to sing - The Holy Ground, a Clancy Brothers standard, was a particular favourite, and in later years former Northern Ireland 1982 World Cup international Felix Healy, a Derry City club stalwart of the …