When Paris Came to Derry

As the final ten minutes of extra time ticked down, Sevilla looked destined to win the all-Spanish UEFA Cup Final. After a goalless hour of football, Frédéric Kanouté restored Sevilla’s lead in the 105th minute. Espanyol, led by the competition’s leading goalscorer, Walter Pandiani, looked defeated. Then, with five minutes left on the clock, defensive midfielder Jônatas, on loan from Flamengo, scored one of only two goals he struck while at the club. It went to penalties. Pandiani scored his – the only Espanyol player to do so – and Jônatas missed. Three out of four was enough for Kanouté’s side and the trophy headed back to Seville.

It was a long journey from start to finish in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup. A total of 219 games were played and 131 teams took part, with 80 making it past the qualifying stages. Among the many to enter at the first hurdle was Derry City, the League of Ireland’s only Northern Ireland side. Qualifying through their league finish of runners-up, they joined Drogheda United as the league’s representatives, who qualified through cup competition. It could have been a different story, however.

The 2005 League of Ireland title went down to the wire and going into the final game of the season, Derry were top. They faced second-place Cork City and needed only a draw to win their first league title for nearly a decade. Instead, Cork scored twice and won the league and with it Champions League football.

Derry entered the 2006/07 UEFA Cup at the first qualifying round and were drawn against Swedish side IFK Goteborg, who too had qualified as runners-up in the league. Among their ranks was future CSKA anchor-man Pontus Wernbloom and the to be prolific Marcus Berg.

Away in the first leg, Derry’s goalkeeper David Forde, who would go on to have a successful career in the English Football League and win 24 international caps for the Republic of Ireland, displayed the kind of form that would earn him a 2007 move to Cardiff.

“A 79th-minute header from Sean Hargan earned Derry a shock victory against former winners Göteborg in Sweden,” the UEFA.com match report read. “The goal came after a spell of prolonged pressure from the determined visitors, which had also seen Killian Brennan crash an effort against the woodwork just before the hour mark.

“Göteborg went close through Stefan Selakovic and Marcus Berg in the first half, and besieged Derry's goalmouth in the closing stages but David Forde made two great late saves to seal a famous victory.

A shock it may have been but if that was the case, Derry proved it wasn’t a fluke two weeks later when on July 27th at Brandywell Stadium they repeated the feat. A first half penalty saw The Candystripes double their advantage when George Mourad handled in the box and Stephen O’Flynn converted the resultant spot-kick. With 15 minutes left Derry conceded a penalty themselves, just for the referee to overturn his decision. He may have been Icelandic, but he wasn’t allying with his Scandinavian counterparts. Forde again made a flurry of late saves and Derry were through to the second qualifying round and about to make history.

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Having made it through the first qualifying round for the first time in 41 years, Derry were handed a tie against Scottish opposition. Away in the first leg, some 3000 fans made the journey from Northern Ireland to Motherwell for their match with Gretna. That day, history was made. Alongside the extremely vocal and fanatical travelling support, was a fitting performance.

The official attendance was 6,040, which must have left many of Derry’s 3000-strong backing in Motherwell town centre, yet they could probably hear the roars throughout the second half as the Northern Irish side scored four after the break, reversing the one goal deficit that they’d eradicated before half-time. The game finished 5-1 with braces from Kevin Deery and Ciaran Martyn, putting a halt to Gretna’s European ambitions and making their weekend steamrolling of Hamilton Accies (6-0) a distant memory. The second leg finished 2-2 and it was likely to be anything other than a formality. The victory at Fir Park remains the largest away winning margin for any team from Ireland in Europe and a lifelong tale to tell for those who were there.

Drawn away in both the first two qualifying legs, Derry then played hosts first in the third and final round. It would be their toughest opposition yet. Paris Saint-Germain were the visitors, and although it was five years before Qatar Sports Investments rocked up and splurged £1bn on the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, the Parisians were still two-time Ligue 1 champions and seven-time Coupe de France winners, and the current holders. They also boasted future club Hall of Famer Pauleta.

PSG underestimated Derry in the first leg, despite the warnings, and although they dominated much of the first half – the BBC match report believed manager Stephen Kenny must have been glad to hear the half-time whistle – the hosts managed to grind out the 0-0 draw. In the return leg in the French capital, PSG boss Guy Lacombe put out a virtually full-strength side, and it showed.

Colombian legend Mario Yepes still remained on the bench for the second leg, but Pauleta started and it was he who scored the French side’s second goal four minutes from half-time, after they’d opened the scoring six minutes in through Edouard Cisse.

"Tonight was a bridge too far but we must keep on trying to improve as a team," said City boss Kenny.

"PSG are a step-up - they are France's biggest club - and we did all right.

"But conceding that first goal from a set-piece was devastating. Then having to get two was ambitious because we did not really threaten the PSG goal."

Had Derry won, or secured a score draw, they would have becoming the first Irish side to reach the group stages of a major European competition. To this day, they are still to progress past the third qualifying round, matching that stage just once more, in 2009/10, by which time it had rebranded as the Europa League. The season after the exit to PSG, they were in the Champions League first qualifying round, however they fell at the first hurdle after a 0-0 and a 2-0 loss to Pyunik of Armenia. A year later, they had their revenge, knocking them out of the Europa League.

It may have ended in defeat, yet for those that travelled to Paris, and indeed to Sweden or Scotland, the summer of 2006 was a memorable – if brief – summer of European football.   

 

By Jordan Florit
Follow on Twitter - @TheFalseLibero