Founded in 1928, the club decided against using the controversial official title of the city – Londonderry – in its name, while also deciding against continuing the name of the city’s previous main club, Derry Celtic, so as to be more inclusive to all identities and football fans in the city. Derry City was granted entry into the Irish League in 1929 as professionals and was given permission by the Londonderry Corporation to use the municipal Brandywell Stadium. The club’s first significant success came in 1935 when it lifted the City Cup. It repeated the feat in 1937, but did not win another major trophy until 1949, when it beat Glentoran to win its first Irish Cup. It won the Irish Cup for a second time in 1954, beating Glentoran again, and for a third time in 1964 – that year also winning the Gold Cup – despite the club’s conversion to part-time status after the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961. This led to the club’s first entry into European competition, in the 1964–65 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, in which it was beaten by Steaua Bucharest 5–0 on aggregate. The club won the 1964–65 Irish League and subsequently became the first Irish League team to win a European tie over two legs, beating FK Lyn 8–6 on aggregate in the 1965–66 European Cup. Derry did not complete the next round, as the Irish Football Association (IFA) declared its ground was not up to standard, after a game had been played there during the previous round. Derry suspected sectarian motives,as it played in a mainly nationalist city and so had come to be supported largely by Catholics. The IFA, Belfast-based, was dominated by Protestants and it was widely suspected that it would rather have been represented by a traditionally unionist team. Relations between the club and IFA quickly deteriorated.
There had been no significant history of sectarian difficulties at matches in the first 40 years of the club’s history, but in 1969 the Civil Rights campaign disintegrated into communal violence, which were followed by 30 years of the Troubles. Despite the social and political unrest, Derry reached the Irish Cup final in 1971, in which it was beaten 3–0 by Distillery. As the republican locality surrounding the Brandywell saw some of the worst violence, numerous unionist-supported clubs were reluctant to play there. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) ruled the zone unsafe for fixtures and with the use of no other local ground feasible, Derry had to travel to the majority unionist town of Coleraine, over 30 miles (48 km) away, to play its “home” games at the Showgrounds. This situation lasted from September 1971 until October 1972 when, faced with dwindling crowds (most Derry fans were unwilling to travel to Coleraine due to the political situation and the longer journey) and dire finances, the club formally requested permission to return to the Brandywell. Despite a new assessment by the security forces concluding that the Brandywell was no longer any more dangerous than any other league ground and a lifting of the security ban, Derry’s proposal fell by one vote at the hands of its fellow Irish League teams. Continuing without a ground was seen as unsustainable and on 13 October 1972 Derry withdrew from the league amidst a perception that it was effectively forced out while a complex of victimisation and marginalisation developed within the nationalist community behind the club.
The club continued as a junior team during the 13-year long “wilderness years”, playing in the local Saturday morning league, and sought re-admission to the Irish League. Each time, the club nominated the Brandywell as its chosen home ground but the Irish League refused re-admission. Suspecting refusal was driven by sectarianism and believing it would never gain re-admission, Derry turned its attentions elsewhere.
The official programme from a home game against Sligo Rovers on 17 November 1985 in Derry City’s first League of Ireland season
Entry into the League of Ireland
Derry applied to join the reorganised League of Ireland (the league in the Republic of Ireland) in 1985 with the Brandywell as its home. The move required special dispensation from the IFA and FIFA, but eventually Derry was admitted to the league’s new First Division for 1985, joining as semi-professionals. As its stadium was situated in a staunchly republican area once known as “Free Derry”, with a history of scepticism towards the RUC in the local community, Derry received special permission from UEFA to steward its own games. The presence of the RUC was regarded as more likely to provoke trouble than help prevent it.
Derry’s first match in the new system was a 3–1 League of Ireland Cup win over Home Farm of Dublin at the Brandywell on 8 September 1985. The return of senior football to Derry attracted large crowds. Later in the season, after turning professional, it won the League of Ireland First Division Shield with a 6–1 aggregate victory over Longford Town. The following year – 1987 – Derry won the First Division and promotion to the Premier Division, staying there since. The club reached the 1988 FAI Cup final, but lost to Dundalk. The next season – 1988–89 – the club was financially forced to revert to semi-professional status but Jim McLaughlin’s side managed to win a treble; the league, the League Cup and the FAI Cup. Qualifying for the 1989–90 European Cup, it met past winners, Benfica, in the first round.
League titles (at highest level): 3
Irish Football League: 1964–65
League of Ireland: 1988–89, 1996–97
FAI Cup: 5
1988–89, 1994–95, 2002, 2006, 2012
League of Ireland Cup: 10
1988–89, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1993–94, 1999–2000, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011
IFA Cup: 3
1948–49, 1953–54, 1963–64
League of Ireland First Division: 2
League of Ireland First Division Shield: 1
City Cup: 2
Gold Cup: 1
Top Four Winners: 1
Irish News Cup: 1
North West Senior Cup: 16
1931/32, 1932/33, 1933/34, 1934/35, 1935/36, 1936/37, 1938/39, 1953/54, 1959/60, 1961/62, 1962/63, 1963/64, 1965/66, 1968/69, 1969/70, 1970/71
Northern Ireland Intermediate League: 2