How John Hume played a key role in bring­ing new life to Derry City FC

Hume was a tow­er­ing fig­ure in his home town and his in­flu­ence ex­tended to its foot­ball club too

Irish Independent - - News | John Hume: 1937-2020 - DAVID KELLY – John Hume, No­bel Peace Prize ac­cep­tance speech, 1998

JIM RODDY could barely be­lieve his eyes. It is the morn­ing of Fe­bru­ary 8, 2003, and the chair­man of Derry City is sit­ting along­side his man­ager, Kevin Ma­hon.

It is the only hint of nor­mal­ity in a quite sur­real gath­er­ing, only hours af­ter see­ing the city’s fabled side in ac­tion at the Nou Camp.

Now, around a sump­tu­ous break­fast ta­ble creak­ing with chur­ros and tor­tillas are gath­ered sundry po­lit­i­cal lu­mi­nar­ies of Barcelona.

The Cata­lan city’s foot­ball club are rep­re­sented by their pres­i­dent, Joan Gas­part; they are the of­fi­cial hosts.

But none of them would be here with­out the guest of honour. John

Hume is nom­i­nally rep­re­sent­ing Derry City. But John Hume rep­re­sents ev­ery­one.

That Derry City might con­ceiv­ably in­vite the most fa­mous club in world foot­ball to the crum­bling Brandy­well south of the Bog­side seems im­prob­a­ble enough. But it is Hume’s cap­ti­va­tion of his in­ti­mate au­di­ence that so stuns the chair­man.

“He had them in the palm of his hands,” re­called Roddy.

Span­ish loy­al­ists and Cata­lan sep­a­ratists were in at­ten­dance as Hume, of free Derry and now a free­man of Barcelona, reached again for the now sem­i­nal pas­sage from his No­bel speech of five years ear­lier.

“It made you re­alise that his was a univer­sal mes­sage, that the lo­cal was also the global,” says Roddy now. “And around the ta­ble, friend and foe were all con­cur­ring with nods of their heads at the sim­plic­ity and hu­man­ity of this mes­sage.

“He made them melt. This was John’s great abil­ity. To be such an or­di­nary man but to ap­pear to oth­ers as one so ex­tra­or­di­nary. And though it seemed to oth­ers like such an ef­fort, he didn’t have to try put on an act at all. He just played him­self.”

The friendly later that sum­mer brought Frank Ri­jkaard and his be­jew­elled Barca side, led by the white­toothed perma-smiler Ronald­inho, to the city whose his­toric walls so of­ten sym­bol­ised dark­ness and death within.

Barcelona may have thumped City 5-0 but it was as if the sum­mer Samba of the Brazil­ian ma­gi­cian’s danc­ing feet, cul­mi­nat­ing in his won­drous fifth goal, rep­re­sented the fi­nal foot­steps of a re­mark­able jour­ney by the so of­ten trou­bled city and its tal­is­manic torch­bearer.

Hume was once a ball-boy in the sta­dium and would later use the venue to shield him­self and his fraught com­rades from the bul­lets of en­emy fire. On that hot Au­gust night it was now a sym­bol of peace.

“I was a fire­man in the ’80s and there used to be ri­ots ev­ery week but when Derry en­tered the league, it was like the taps were turned off,” says Roddy. “All the en­ergy was put into foot­ball.”

‘To be such an or­di­nary man but to ap­pear to oth­ers as one so ex­tra­or­di­nary’

As a quite dif­fer­ent, eery calm de­scended on a vir­tu­ally de­serted Rich­mond Park last evening, it seemed oddly poignant that Hume was be­ing com­mem­o­rated by a minute’s si­lence.

Brian Kerr was amongst those pay­ing trib­ute to a ti­tanic fig­ure in this coun­try’s his­tory.

“I got a shiver of up­set when I heard that he was gone be­cause he’s been such an in­flu­en­tial per­son through my life­time,’’ Kerr said.

“He was such a bea­con of hope and good sense and prac­ti­cal­ity and de­cency in those most hor­ri­ble of times.”

Derry and St Pat’s were each formed in 1929; both are firmly en­trenched in com­mu­nity and would class them­selves as, per­haps, out­siders, which ar­guably strength­ened their bond.

Be­fore City re-en­tered the league in 1985, sup­port­ers held a press con­fer­ence in the Burling­ton but ner­vous club of­fi­cials didn’t want any ex­ist­ing LOI clubs to at­tend.

Only one did. St Pat’s. Each club has verged on ex­tinc­tion in re­cent times; in­deed, Hume had to con­jure up con­tacts with Manch­ester United (Pat Crerand) and Celtic, via Martin O’Neill, to help his side evade a ter­mi­nal de­cline.

Hume – with many oth­ers – breathed new life into the club but saved it from death, too.

His own death yes­ter­day was a re­lease from an im­pris­on­ment within his once acute mind, his de­men­tia a thief of all the plea­sures of later life that might have been the peace-maker’s per­sonal re­ward.

“His love for sport was there enough to con­tinue go­ing to Derry City.

‘‘He had a big hand­shake and a wel­com­ing vibe off him to a foot­ball per­son.

“His health de­te­ri­o­rated ear­lier than maybe it should be­cause of the chal­lenges that he took on. He’s one of the he­roes of Ir­ish his­tory.”

“Dif­fer­ence is an ac­ci­dent of birth and it should there­fore never be the source of ha­tred or con­flict”


The team he loved so well: John Hume cel­e­brates with Derry City play­ers af­ter their Air­tric­ity League First Di­vi­sion vic­tory in 2010

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