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11 Aug 2022

Derry City in Europe: From Cardiff to Riga, and all the adventures in between

Derry City in Europe: From Cardiff to Riga, and all the adventures in between

Stephen O’Flynn hit an historic winner against IFK Gothenburg at the Brandywell in 2006. (Photo: David Maher, Sportsfile)

From players running away from their manager in Cyprus to players playing for their wages in Riga. From Eusebio gracing the Brandywell to disappointment at not beating PSG; there is just something special about European football.

Over the years, Derry City have been involved in some spectacular games against some world famous teams, and be it a short trip to Aberystwyth or a gruelling slog to Belarus, Derry City fans have been there to savour that unique feeling of European competition.

  1988/89  

Derry City vs. Cardiff City

Cardiff win 4-0 on aggregate

The Brandywell was filled to capacity as Cardiff came to town for the much-anticipated Cup Winners’ Cup clash on September 7, 1988.

After concerns over travelling hoodlums and even a threatening letter advising Cardiff not to travel, the game passed without incident in front of 11,000 fans. On the field Derry bossed the first 20 minutes, but when the visitors finally settled, they took charge. There were half chances for Speak and Larkin, but the crucial goal just wouldn’t come and the game ended scoreless.

Derry’s 12-game unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt in Cardiff on October 5 however as a combination of poor goalkeeping and poor defending saw the Welsh outfit run out 4-0 winners in the second leg of the Cup Winners’ Cup tie.

Although the game was still evenly poised at half time with Derry just a goal behind, a second half hat trick from former Arsenal striker Jimmy Gilligan sent the Irish side crashing out in spectacular fashion. It was a night to forget for several Derry players, some of whom had their worst games in a Derry shirt.

  1989/90  

Derry City vs. Benfica

Benfica win 6-1 on aggregate

The city came to a standstill on Wednesday, September 13, 1989 as Benfica, one of the true European powerhouses, came to the Brandywell.

The fans’ excitement, already at fever pitch, increased even further by the appearance of football legend Eusebio, one of the greatest footballers ever, who was paraded before kick-off.

Benfica’s class eventually told as they went 2-0 up in the second half, but Derry quickly hit back. Liam Coyle’s through ball sent Felix Healy in behind the Benfica defence and his left-footed shot across goal beat Silvinho, only to bounce back off the base of the post. Fortunately for Derry, the loose ball ran into the path of Paul Carlyle, who kept his composure to drill the ball into the vacant goal from 18 yards.

McLaughlin’s team could not get the equaliser in the closing stages, but they could hold their heads high after a brilliant performance.

The second leg two weeks later was completely one-sided however as Benfica hammered Derry City 4-0. Alex Krstic missed a penalty on a night when the Irish side was completely outclassed.

“We had no chance,” Paul Carlyle said. “When we went over there it was like the Charge of the Light Brigade; they were just coming at us in droves. They were immense and the noise from the fans was unbelievable. There were wooden seats on concrete and the fans just battered them non-stop. Benfica were powerful. They only conceded two goals on their way to the final; one at the Brandywell and one at Marseille.”

  1990/91  

Derry City vs. Vitesse Arnhem

Vitesse won 1-0 on aggregate

Derry City certainly gave as good as they got throughout in a game which was televised live in Holland by RTL4 but one moment of complacency ultimately cost Derry as a simple long ball forward allowed striker Huub Loeffen to run in behind the Derry defence and he lobbed Tim Dalton for the only goal of the game.

City were superb in the second leg but just couldn’t get the goal they deserved. With Derry on top, Vitesse fans began to turn on their own team, jeering, burning flags and even singing Derry City songs. Towards the end of the game, Raimond Van Der Gouw then produced a brilliant save to deny Paul Curran an equaliser, and despite a valiant performance, Derry could not get the goal they needed.

  1992/93  

Vitesse Arnhem vs. Derry City

Vitesse won 5-1 on aggregate

Derry City were drawn to face Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem for the second time in just three seasons.
An internal dispute overshadowed the return to Europe however.

“There was a bit of a dispute with the players and the board,” goalkeeper Dermot O’Neill admitted. “We had actually refused to play because of a dispute with bonuses. We wanted a bonus for playing in Europe. I remember rooming with Paul Mooney, who was Roy Coyle’s son-in-law. Roy came into the room and asked us if we were going to play and we both said no. Roy was not at all happy with that and he slammed the door. But to be fair to the boys, we were very professional. Although we wanted to make an issue of it and make a stand, we knew we were going to play. We were trying to call the board’s bluff.”

The game did go ahead but the Vitesse team was a much stronger one than they had faced just two years earlier and City were well beaten 3-0.

The second leg against Vitesse was a mere formality but City produced a better display with a beautiful 30-yard free kick from Paul Mooney brining Derry level at one stage before they fell to a 2-1 defeat.

  1995/96  

Derry City vs. Lokomotiv Sofia

Sofia win 2-1 on aggregate

Those fortunate to get a ticket for the game were to witness a truly historic day at the Brandywell as Derry finally got their first European win as a League of Ireland team, defeating CSKA Sofia in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

The only goal of the game came just before half time when Sofia goalkeeper Ruman Apostolev misjudged a cross from Harry McCourt and the ball flicked off the underside of the crossbar and the goal was awarded.

It all went wrong in the second leg however. Two first half goals put Sofia on control and when City goalkeeper Tony O’Dowd was red carded in the second half, the tie was over. With no goalkeeper on the bench, Anthony Tohill had to go in goals, and it was he who so nearly scored for Derry late on, flashing a header just past the post.

  1997/98  

Derry City vs. Maribor

Maribor won 3-0 on aggregate

Fans flocked to the Brandywell on July 23 in anticipation of an exciting Champions League clash and they certainly got their money’s worth. Their team had a number of chances, but got caught twice on the counter attack as Maribor came away with a 2-0 win.

Another defensive mistake cost Derry dearly in the second leg when Kevin Brady was dispossessed by Gajser, who crossed for Oskar Drobne to score. City just couldn’t put the ball in the net despite creating a number of chances.

  2003  

APOEL vs. Derry City

APOEL won 5-1 on aggregate

Just two days after a glamour friendly game against Barcelona, the Candy Stripes were in Cyprus for their UEFA Cup tie against Apoel Nicosia and it proved to be a significant occasion as Derry City finally hit an away goal in a European tie, Gary Beckett, scoring on the stroke of half time to cancel out Wojciech Kowlczyk’s earlier effort.

Nicosia went on to win the game 2-1 thanks to Stelios Okkarides’ second half strike, but the crucial away goal meant that Dermot Keely’s side were still in with a chance in the second leg.

Derry City striker Liam Coyle is closed down by the Apoel defence during the UEFA Cup tie at Brandywell in 2003.(Photo: Matt Browne, Sportsfile)

It all went wrong at the Brandywell however as City fell to a 3-0 defeat.

“The heat was unbelievable out there,” McLaughlin recalled. “It was the first game in Europe for a lot of the boys and we were chasing shadows for a long time because they were a quality outfit.

“That night Dermot Keely allowed us to go down for a few beers, but a few players stayed on for an extra hour. The manager got wind of it, and although it’s funny now, it was serious then and the players were running away through the hotel to get away from him. They were genuinely afraid of getting caught but that was Keely era.”

  2006  

IFK Gothenburg vs. Derry City

Derry City won 2-0 on aggregate

The events of July 13, 2006 will never be forgotten.

Every Derry City fan will be able to say where they were and what they doing when news filtered through from Sweden that the Candy Stripes had beaten IFK Gothenburg on their own patch. For those lucky enough to be in attendance at the Ullevi Stadium, it was scarcely believable and tales of the celebrations which followed the final whistle became as legendary as Sean Hargan’s winning goal, which came just 10 minutes from time; Kevin Deery floated a corner into the penalty area where Sean Hargan jumped highest to send the ball back across goal and into the net. It was an unstoppable header, and arguably the club’s most famous goal ever.

The second leg was just as nerve-wrecking. A sold out Brandywell watched Derry repeat the trick as Stephen O’Flynn’s first half penalty put City 2-0 up on aggregate and the hosts on the verge of an historic triumph. IFK Gothenburg huffed and puffed, but could not get near David Forde’s goal as Derry City defended heroically.

Gretna vs. Derry City

Derry City won 7-3 on aggregate

Over 3,000 Derry City fans descended on Motherwell’s Fir Park to witness Derry City’s biggest win in European competition to that point.

A goal down early on, City drew level through Darren Kelly before the most incredible second half saw Gretna taken apart by a ruthless Derry.

Two stunning goals from Kevin Deery put City fans in dreamland, but it wasn’t finished there as a classy double from Ciaran Martyn floored moneybags Gretna and ended the tie before a ball was kicked in the second leg.

A 2-2 draw followed at the Brandywell, but the events of Fir Park would never be forgotten.

“Derry supporters were incredible that day at Fir Park,” Stephen Kenny agreed. “Gretna were very experienced with seasoned Scottish pros. The money was good, they were full time, and they had come up through the divisions, without much of a fan base, which was unusual. Their manager Rowan Alexander was over-confident and they had really dismissed us before the game. Their stock was high and their confidence was high.

“The goals were just incredible and the euphoria and the passion elevated the players to a level where they could score the goals. It was incredible. We knew we were through. It was quite amazing.”

Derry City vs. PSG

PSG won 2-0 on aggregate

September 14 was a huge date in the history of Derry City Football Club as the mighty Paris St. Germain arrived at the Brandywell to great fanfare.

The game itself produced another valiant performance from the Candy Stripes, as they showed respect, but no fear, to their glamourous opponents. Killian Brennan hit the crossbar but PSG had their chances as they had two efforts cleared off the line.
Derry had a penalty shout when Kevin McHugh went down in the PSG area but the referee said no.

Derry City players walk out at the Parc Des Princes ahead of their second leg UEFA Cup tie against Paris St. Germain back in 2006. (Photo: Oliver McVeigh, Sportsfile)

The incredible European run came to an end in Paris in the second leg as they fell to a 2-0 defeat, but it nonetheless remained a magnificent occasion.

In the end, Derry City were comfortably beaten by PSG, but they were deservedly hailed as heroes at the final whistle, as the most extraordinary European adventure finally came to an end. While the PSG fans quickly left the stadium, Derry fans remained to laud the players, with choruses of ‘We’re gonna win the league’, echoing through the famous stadium.

The UEFA Cup run was over, but it had provided incredible memories which would last a lifetime.

  2007  

Derry City vs. FC Pyunik

Pyunik won 2-0 on aggregate

Paddy McCourt ran the show for Derry on another exciting European night at the Brandywell, the Shantallow man running the Pyunik defence ragged, coming close on several occasions. Pyunik in contrast were happy to sit back and take a 0-0 draw into the second leg, where they finished the job.

The scorching heat of Pyunik ensured that Derry City were in for a tough time in the second leg. Ciaran Martyn had a stonewall penalty claim denied, while Darren Kelly hit the crossbar with one header and had another cleared off the line. Ultimately, it came down to putting the ball into the net, and Pyunik winger Levon Phchajyan was the downfall of Derry, playing a part in goals for Arsen Avetisyan and Gevorg Ghazaryan as Derry crashed to a 2-0 defeat on aggregate.

  2009  

Skonto Riga vs. Derry City

Derry City won 2-1 on aggregate

The Derry City board told the players they would have to beat Skonto Riga if they were to be guaranteed their wages.
Derry fell behind early on, but they regrouped and equalised when Mark Farren crossed for Tam McManus to head in his first Derry City goal.

City finished the job in the second leg, thanks to Kevin Deery’s winning goal, but it was a moment to forget for Skonto goalkeeper Germans Malins, who thought the shot was going wide.

CSKA Sofia vs. Derry City

Sofia won 2-1 on aggregate

Another brave defensive performance frustrated the Bulgarians, but just as the final whistle came within sight, they made the breakthrough, with Kostadin Stoyanov scoring the only goal of the game in the 75th minute to round off a long spell of pressure by the home side.

The second leg at the Brandywell proved frustrating for Derry. Sofia got the decisive goal on 69 minutes when Brazilian Marcos Malachias found the net with a 40-yard free kick, leaving Derry needing three goals if they were to progress.

David Scullion bundled in an equaliser but a red card to Gareth McGlynn ended City chances.

  2013  

Trabzonspor vs. Derry City

Trabzonspor won 7-2 on agg

Derry City endured a disastrous start, going two goals down inside the first 20 minutes, but they stunned the home fans by drawing level thanks to goals from Paddy Kavanagh and David McDaid.

David McDaid celebrates with his teammates as he draws Derry City level against Trabzonspor back in 2013. (Photo: Sportsfile)

Derry were behind again before half time when Barry Molloy headed the ball into his own net, and the Turkish side restored their two goal advantage when Giray Kacar headed in from a corner in the second half. A brave City side fought hard and caused a few scares but they couldn’t find another goal.

The second leg was not as dramatic as Trabzonspor won easily with three second half goals sending City out of Europe.

  2014  

Derry City v Aberystwyth

Derry City won 9-0 on aggregate

Aberystwyth were already 1-0 down thanks to a goal from Patrick McEleney when goalkeeper Mike Lewis was controversially red-carded for fouling Rory Patterson. The striker scored the resulting penalty and that set up a comfortable night for the hosts, with Mark Timlin and Barry McNamee adding to the score line in the second half. City travelled to Wales in the second leg certain of a place in the next round of the Europa League qualifiers.

City were even better in the second leg, and proved that the first half wasn’t a fluke as they dominated their Welsh opponents. Goals from Michael Duffy and Barry McNamee had the tie sewn up, but Rory Patterson added a second half hat trick to clock up City’s biggest away win in Europe.

Derry City vs. Shakhtyor Soligorsk

Soligorsk won 6-1 on aggregate

A mistake by Shane McEleney gifted Soligorsk the winning goal in the first leg at the Brandywell. Michael Duffy’s early goal gave City hope in the second leg, but they were quickly blown away, losing 5-1 on the night.

  2017  

Midtjylland v Derry City

Midtjylland won 10-2 on agg

Derry City were thumped 6-1 by FC Midtjylland in the first leg of their first round Europa League qualifier with Ronan Curtis’ goal just a consolation. It didn’t get much better in the second leg played at the Sligo Showgrounds as despite Aaron McEneff’s goal, the Danes came out comfortable 4-1 winners.

  2018  

Derry City vs. Dinamo Minsk

Minsk won 3-2 on aggregate

Ten-man Derry City slumped to a first-leg loss to Dinamo Minsk in the first round of the Europa League qualifiers.

The match was held at a poorly attended Brandywell Stadium as supporters held a protest over the club's decision to increase ticket prices. Derry's task became even tougher in the closing stages when McDermott was shown a second yellow card.

City actually won the second leg and narrowly missed out on winning the tie overall. Ally Roy and Ronan Hale both scored for the visitors, who were ultimately left to rue their first-leg defeat at the Brandywell. It was only the Candystripes' ninth victory in European competition.

  2020  

FK Riteriai vs. Derry City

FK Riteriai won 3-2

Derry City crashed out of the first round of Europa League qualifying after a 3-2 extra-time defeat by FK Riteriai in Lithuania.
Joe Thompson netted the opener but Gytis Paulauskas scored either side of half-time to put the hosts ahead.

Eoin Toal headed home an equaliser for Declan Devine's side midway through the second half.

Donatas Kazlauskas scored a superb winner 40 seconds in extra-time to send the home side through.

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