Derry City football club lost a lifelong supporter with the passing of Martin McGuinness who once went to quite extraordinary measures to help the club in a time of difficulty.

McGuinness, whose brother, Paul, and son-in-law, Sean Hargan, both played for the club, was personally contacted when an apparent explosive device was found in the cemetery next to the Brandywell hours before their European Cup clash with Benfica in 1989.

The incident is recounted in the book Gods versus Mortals, which chronicles League of Ireland teams in Europe, though McGuinness declined to comment when contacted ahead of its publication in 2010.

The former IRA commander did reference the bizarre incident in a 2001 interview with the Observer Sport Monthly, however, under the headline ‘My Team’.

“Some senior representatives of the club came to see me and said there was a major problem,” McGuinness said in the article.

“They explained that explosives had been found in the cemetery close to the ground. The club’s view was if the British army and the RUC were brought in they would, as they usually do, make a meal out of the whole thing, stretch it out for a week and inconvenience everybody.

“The game would have been called off and that would have been a disaster from Derry’s point of view.

“This was pretty much the biggest game in Derry’s history, remember.

“Myself and some of the club’s directors went up to the cemetery. I remember them hiding behind the headstone while I tied a rope around the device which, I think, was a substantial device of maybe 100lbs, and pulled the thing out.

“Nothing happened but it was a device of some description. We opened a manhole in the cemetery and threw whatever material was in it 1 I don’t know if it was explosives - down the drain and flushed it away. Between the directors and ourselves we managed to avert what would have been a disaster for Derry City.

“The game went ahead; we lost 2-1. No doubt if it had been left to the authorities, the game would have been cancelled.”

Ian Doherty was Derry chairman at the time and recalled the remarkable incident in Gods versus Mortals. 

“To tell the absolute truth, I asked, ‘Is it gone?’” said Doherty. “‘Yes, it is gone’, was the reply. So I said, ‘I just don’t want to know about it’. What could I do? I only know what I was told at the time that the device turned up.

“Somebody went to Martin McGuinness when it happened. He decided, and I hold no brief for Sinn Fein, (to dispose of the bomb). If he did that, in all the circumstances, it was a decent thing to do, a courageous thing to do.”

Following McGuinness’ 2001 interview, it was claimed in media reports the device was originally planted by the provisional IRA and aimed at an army patrol. 

Tim Dalton, who played in goal for Derry against Benfica, said the players thought it was a hoax at the time.

“As far as we were concerned, it was a hoax,” said Dalton in the book. “I didn’t think at that particular time somebody would have wanted to follow through with something like that.

“Maybe I’m being naive but it wasn’t the impression we got at the time. So, did it phase us? Not in the least.”


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