Brandywell: End of era at Brandywell ahead of redevelopment

Derry City legends Image copyright Kevin Morrison/Event Images & Video
Image caption Two teams of ex Derry City players including Gary Beckett played the final game at Brandywell ahead of the stadium's redevelopment.

When the final whistle sounded at Brandywell Stadium at the weekend, it paused almost 90 years of soccer history in Londonderry.

Two teams of former Derry City players graced the turf for charity in the final match at the ground in its current guise.

Redevelopment and modernisation work gets under way this week at the Lone Moor Road ground.

It has been home to Derry City since the club's inception in 1928.

The multi-million pound project will include a new stand, changing rooms and a new synthetic playing surface.

Among those playing in the ground's swansong was former Northern Ireland international Liam Coyle.

Image caption Derry City striker Liam Coyle in action against Barcelona at the Brandywell

The striker, a Derry City fans' favourite, grew up in the shadow of the stadium, following in the footsteps of his father Fay - part of the 1958 Northern Ireland World Cup squad - by playing for his hometown club.

"There's a lot of great memories here, making my debut and scoring a hat trick, winning the treble under Jim McLaughlin and winning the League under Felix Healy," he told BBC Radio Foyle.

"But progress has to be made and the ground has to be redeveloped".

A soccer stadium since the late 19th century, Brandywell was voted among the UK's top ten favourite sports venues in the UK in 2002 by BBC Radio Five Live listeners.

Title Triumphs, Cup Wins, European Glory

The ground has seen title triumphs, cup wins, European glory nights and some of the footballing world's great names cross its white lines.

Glamour friendlies brought Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United to the famous old ground - players of the calibre of Ronaldinho, Xavi, Iniesta and Gascoigne, among those to face the challenge of the ground's notorious slope.

Benfica, Steaua Bucharest, Gothenborg, Vitesse Arnheim, Paris St. Germain are among the European elite to take on Derry City in European competition.

There are darker days in the ground's long history too - in 1972 a supporters' bus from Ballymena United was burned on a visit to Brandywell.

Ultimately that would see the club expelled from the Irish League and forced in the footballing wilderness until their acceptance into the League of Ireland in 1985.

It was during that exile that the ground's other tenants - Brandywell is owned by the local council - helped keep the stadium from ruin.

The ground is also home to football's Derry and District and Saturday Morning Leagues while it has housed greyhound racing since the 1930s.

A final race meeting due to take place last week fell foul of the weather.

A new track at the adjacent Showgrounds will form part of the upgrade.

Michael McLaughlin of the Brandywell Greyhound Racing Company is looking ahead to the opening of the modernised facility in 2017.

Image copyright Derry City and Strabane District Council
Image caption The first phase of the ground's redevelopment is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

"I would like to thank all the people who have supported us over the years and look forward to seeing them again next autumn".

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council, owners of the ground, said the first phase of the ground's redevelopment would be completed in 2017.

It will include "a new 1,100 seater stand, a new pitch, new dog track and substantial improvement works across the stadium and perimeter walls".

A second phase, dependant on the securing of necessary funding, could further increase capacity to 5,000.

Derry City FC are now looking for a new home for the 2017 season while Brandywell is overhauled.

In a statement, the club said the redevelopment is a "very positive and affirming development for the future of the club".

"The project has been long in its gestation and the club itself and our supporters have, at times, been disappointed.

"To see the actual works begin in the stadium will help us all to relish the possibilities for the future.

"We can begin to look forward to having a stadium that properly represents the status and the history of this great club".

BBC Radio Foyle's Breakfast Show will be live from Brandywell Stadium from 0700 to 0900 GMT on Wednesday November 30.