Derry City were founded in 1928, as the city of Derry had been without a team since the demise of Derry Celtic. The club were admitted to the Irish League in 1929 and settled in the Brandywell, a ground to the south of the City which was owned by the local council, then known as the Londonderry Corporation.
Joe McCleery, a Derry man who was in charge of Dundalk was tempted home and was appointed as the first coach of the team. City began their senior career in claret and blue and experienced defeat to Glentoran in their opening game at the Brandywell in front of a crowd of 7,500.
Becoming the Candystripes
The club experienced mixed fortunes in the early years. Billy Gillespie replaced McCleery as manager and he would have a lasting impact on the club’s history, with the decision to change the club’s strip to red and white stripes, the “Candystripes” that Derry still play in today. This was heavily influenced by Gillespie’s previous club, Sheffield United.
The First Trophy & Legend
The club lifted their first silver ware in 1935 when they won the City Cup and repeated the success in 1937. The first “legend” came to prominence in this period, with Jimmy Kelly from Ballybofey turning out for City. The striker would go on to rack up 363 goals over a 21 year career and would be capped internationally and at representative level.
The First Taste of Europe
City enjoyed a barren decade but won their first Irish Cup in 1949 when they defeated Glentoran in the final. City won the Irish Cup again in 1954 and 1964. The victory in 1964 saw City get their first taste of European football when they played Steaua Bucharest in the 1964-65 Cup Winners Cup, where they lost 5-0 on aggregate.
It was a purple patch for the Brandywell side though as they followed up the Irish Cup and Gold Cup of 1964 by winning the League in 1965. City entered the European Cup and were the first side to progress in a tie, beating FK Lynn 8-6 on aggregate to progress to the next round. City drew Anderlecht in the next round but withdrew from the tie when the IFA ruled that the ground was not fit to host the tie.
A Turbulent Time
Derry was the scene of civil unrest after 1969 and there was increasing unrest around the ground, albeit limited issues were noted inside the venue. Linfield declared that they were no longer travel to Derry and City were forced to play their “home” games against the Blues in Windsor Park. City reached the IFA Cup Final in 1971 but were defeated by Distillery. After the Ballymena bus was burned in 1971, the RUC ruled that the games could not be played in the Brandywell. City were forced to play home games in Coleraine. This had a catastrophic impact on the club, with fans reluctant to travel due to the distance, poor public transport links and unstable political environment. City applied to return to the Brandywell and despite the support of the RUC, this was defeated by a vote of the other Irish League club. The club withdrew from the league on the result of the vote, and were forced into junior football. The club reapplied to join the Irish League annually for over a decade, but each time the application was rejected.
A New Hope
City sought political and footballing support to play in the League of Ireland, under the auspices of the Football Association of Ireland. Having secured permission for UEFA and FIFA, Derry continued to lobby support domestically. A series of friendlies against the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and others attracted large crowds and City were successful in their application to join the newly founded First Division in 1985. City opened their second life as a senior side with a 3-1 victory against Home Farm in September 1985.
The Glory Days
Huge crowds followed City around the country in the early years and City picked up the First Division Shield in 1986, before lifting the title in 1987. With Noel King in charge, City had a host of exotic imports from as far afield as South Africa and Yugoslavia and were the talk of Ireland and beyond. King was replaced by Jim McLaughlin, a Derry native who was the most successful manager in Ireland with both Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers. City reached the FAI Cup final in 1988, losing out to Dundalk after a controversial penalty decision. McLaughlin returned “home” and led the team to the domestic treble -picking up the Premier Division, FAI Cup and League Cup in the 1988-89 season. City drew European powerhouse Benfica in the European Cup as the club continued to make waves.
The 1990’s & Another Title
The club have yet to repeat the heights on and off the season and have struggled on and off the field. After the initial interest, attendances waned and the club have experienced financial issues. McLaughlin was replaced by Roy Coyle, who had experienced great success as Linfield boss, but was not able to replicate the same success at Brandywell. He was replaced by Tony O’Doherty, who had played for City in both the Irish League and League of Ireland before taking the managerial reigns. Felix Healy followed O’Doherty and led the club to the FAI Cup in 94/95 and the League the following year. In fact, Healy was unlcuky not to replicate the likes of the success of Jim McLaughlin. His side lost the league on the final day of the season in 94/95 and then lost out in the Cup Final the next year.
On the Brink
Healy was replaced by Kevin Mahon but City’s problems were larger off the field. Whilst attendances continued to fall, the City fans still felt that their sides should be competing at the top of the table. The Inland Revenue pressed ahead with an attempt to close the club down over unpaid taxes. Only the political influence of John Hume who secured visits from Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as the visits of Celtic and Manchester United helped to secure the future of the club. Mahon was forced to operate on a shoestring budget and an all local squad policy, with the resultant challenges of keeping his side competitive. City were nearly relegated in 2003 and faced a two legged playoff with local rivals Finn Harps. With the tie all square after the first leg, a packed Brandywell saw club legend Liam Coyle strike in injury time to secure the premier division status.
Cup Specialists & The European Odyssey
Stephen Kenny was installed as the new manager and with increased investment, City were once again a force in Irish football. The side finished runners up in both the 2005 and 2006 seasons in the League, and many felt that with Shels expelled for financial irregularities following their 2006, many felt that City should have been awarded the title on those occasions. 2006 was a glorious season as City experienced their best run in Europe, defeating both IFK Gothenburg and Gretna in order to set up a tie with Paris St Germain. City held the French side level at home, exiting 2-0 in the Parc De Princes. City also won a string of League Cups during their period, winning four titles in a row between 2005 and 2008.
City again challenged for the title in 2008, but were pipped by Shamrock Rovers but were not able to replicate the same European success. The club were expelled from the Premier Division in 2009 after the club were found to have breached the agreements in place with the FAI. The club were “re-admitted” to the First Division in 2010 and having retained most of the squad, secured the title and promotion on the first attempt. Declan Devine led the club to the FAI Cup success in 2012 and also qualified the club for Europe on back to back occasions.
Up to Now
The club have struggled in recent years with Roddy Collins and Peter Hutton unable to return success to the club. Paul Hegarty returned in 2015 to steer the club away from relegation, before the club appointed Kenny Shiels as first team manager later that year. He guided a young Derry side to 3rd place in his first season in charge.