Derry City - A club in crisis

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Derry City - A club in crisis
By Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS

2018 promised so much for this famous old club, European football, a state of the art new home in which to play and a testimonial season for a club great in goalkeeper and captain, Ger Doherty. But what did 2018 bring Derry City Football Club in the end? It brought 20 League defeats (16 of those coming in the last 21 games), an eighth place finish in a ten team division, supporter boycotts of European games over extortionate ticket prices and perhaps most damaging of all, it has seen manager Kenny Shiels go to war with almost everyone in sight, from fans to players to local junior clubs and most notably the media, Shiels constant attacks and moaning in the press have alienated large groups of a passionate fan base who are now demanding change and rightfully so.

Of course Shiels success of the past two seasons and indeed the capture of a first major trophy in six-seasons, just a few weeks ago, should not be overlooked when judging the former Kilmarnock managers chances of retaining his position for next season. And while Shiels has perhaps overplayed his excuses card in the media this season, the fact of the matter is being the manager of Derry City Football Club does offer up some unique challenges that other League of Ireland managers do not face. 

As part of the United Kingdom, Derry City FC are the only club in the league that must pay VAT on their fare receipts, this is an immediate financial disadvantage to a club already struggling to keep pace spending wise with the likes of Dundalk, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and even new boys on the block, Waterford FC. 

Geographically, Derry City are at an obvious disadvantage in trying to attract players, who are usually not willing to relocate so far north of Dublin and this again gives the likes of Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and the more centrally based clubs a trump card in trying to attract the brightest and best ahead of the ‘’Candystripes’’. Then you have the issue of another semi-professional League operating right on City’s doorstep and with some decent levels of investment floating around a number of clubs in the Northern Irish Football League it is easy to see why so many would be Derry City players are opting to play in the NIFL as opposed to the League of Ireland with Derry City. 

Finally, if that wasn’t already enough to contend with, Derry City also suffer the same year on year fate that the vast majority of League clubs suffer in losing their star names to British clubs for peanuts or perhaps even more frustratingly to rival League of Ireland clubs.

With all of this in mind perhaps Kenny Shiels should be cut a bit of slack? What’s one bad league season in the context of two European qualifications and a major cup victory? And it’s fair to say that normally this would be case and the view point of the supporters of most clubs but Kenny Shiels decline in popularity with the fans has been a long lingering issue which has only become more prevalent with defeat after defeat in recent months. Throw in attacks on those very fans by the Derry boss through the media and it’s now safe to say the atmosphere around the City has become toxic.

If losing to an already relegated Bray Wanderers, who have a goal difference of minus seventy-three, on Monday night wasn’t enough, the ‘’Candystripes’’ shipped five goals at Richmond Park on their final outing for 2018 last night with rumors of major rifts in the camp between players and management followed by announcements of departure post match. Rory Hale the latest bright prospect to say his goodbyes to the Brandywell faithful.

Testimonial man, Ger Doherty one of numerous mysterious absences from last nights squad list with strong suggestions starting to leak out in the media that the Derry captain and his manager have suffered a total breakdown in relationship. According to one media report prior to last nights hammering by a fairly average St.Pat’s team this season, Ger Doherty, Aaron McEneff and Rory Hale are all set to say their goodbyes at the conclusion of the season. Considering Shiels has spoken of the almost impossibility of progressing as a club when you consistently lose the bulk of your key assets, to see such names once again on their way out the exit door would lead to questions of where exactly the club is heading?

Despite the incredible backing of chairman Philip O’Doherty, the ‘’Candystripes’’ can clearly no longer keep pace financially with the current top four clubs and with new management teams arriving at St.Pat’s and Sligo Rovers in recent days, there is at the very least a sense of freshness and enthusiasm surround those two clubs after some poor League campaigns of their own in recent seasons.

As for Derry City, the same can not be said. Another mass player exodus, supporters at war with the clubs hierarchy and a manager who seems more intent on taking pops at the media than addressing the issues he faces within a dressing room that he has clearly lost. They say change doesn’t always guarantee success but one thing is for sure at the moment and that is Derry City are a club on a rapid downward slide and something drastic must be done to alter the clubs course. In football, once a decline sets in it can often be difficult to get out of and that is the danger the Derry City decision makers must face if they opt to keep faith in a manager who has lost the two main stakeholders of every club, the players and the fans. The decision is clear, do Derry have the steel to make it?

Kenny Shiels future and the issues surrounding Derry City this season we discussed in depth on this weekends Between the Stripes LOI podcast. Catch Series 2-Episode 29 of the hit weekly show now using the Audioboom player below. Alternatively, you can find the show on almost any podcast platform, such as Itunes, SoundCloud, Spotify and many more!