This article appeared in last Saturday’s Special Edition match programme v Sligo Rivers in the FAI Cup
That special memory from 1969 is never far from my mind – the unbelievable atmosphere, the huge crowd, the smell of grass mingled with muck and wintergreen and the unbridled joy of an unlikely victory for De Town. My comic hero Roy of the Rovers had just landed in Longford and I was hooked forever more.
It was when playing football on the street in Congress Terrace, that I first found that a special game was to take place in Longford. Lowly Longford Town were drawn against the sophisticated might of Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup. Local player Jimmy Savage had stopped by at Ray Masterson’s house. Both were on the team and suddenly they had taken on a new importance in my over active imagination. Never being shy, I marched up to Jimmy and asked for a few free tickets for the big game. “Sure, you never go to matches, young Nevin, no free tickets for you boy.” In those days the players knew all the supporters, even the children !
As the days passed, every one in town was talking about nothing else but the game against slick Sligo Rovers. Even the dogs in the street seemed to be going. So between our games of street football, we were determined that we’d have to be among the masses. With a few precious pence in our pockets, we set off early. But we intended holding on to our funds for sweets . So we trooped off along the canal hoping to gain free entry through a hole in the fence. After all, that’s what kids did in our adventure comics.
But our heroic efforts were frustrated by some vigilant stewards and we just had to change our plans and do without the much anticipated sweets. Coming back over the railway bridge on the Park Road, we couldn’t believe the size of the massive crowds emerging from the special Sligo trains below us. It looked like were being invaded by a foreign army waving red and white flags. Never in our short lives had we ever witnessed like it.
The gang of us young fellas were swept along in a moving mass of humanity and it felt better than any comic book story. I still remember the other lads equally wide eyed with awe – Brendan Nevin, Pascal Flaherty, Zak Hackett, Pat Hussy and Noel Egan.
There had been snow earlier and following a pitch inspection, the game went ahead. An orange coloured ball may even have been used. At the time the population of Longford was 4,073 (it was written on a bench in the station) but between 4,000 and 5,000 crammed into the park (now called the Greyhound Stadium). In today’s terms that would mean more than 10,000 fans in the City Calling Stadium.
The game itself was a bit of a blur because of the nervous excitement and ear shattering noise of a raucous crowd. The stand was jammed, every inch of the surrounding railings was covered and some intrepid fans sat on a roof of a long shed. If the day was cold, no one felt it.
One abiding memory is of the visiting supporters burning their flags after the game. The unfancied Town had shocked Sligo Rovers by 2-0, De Town players had instantly become lifetime , local heroes and I was well and truly hooked.
The following day, I bumped into John Donlon who by then was the Hon Secretary. He was beaming brightly. Not only had we beaten the giants of Irish football, the gate receipts were a staggering £716 and to put that figure in context, during the league a player received the princely sum of 6 pence for a loss, a shilling for a draw and two shillings for a win.
The next game I was ball boy at the Intermediate Cup Final V Transport. We won that game too with a stunning strike from left full back Sammy Caswell. Then the following week, we faced Shelbourne in the next round of the Cup and our hearts were broken as we were beaten 2-0 due, largely to a controversial penalty.
Jimmy Savage said I wasn’t a supporter but since those innocent days my interest in De Town has grown and developed into a wonderful passion for one of Ireland’s greatest little clubs.
C’mon De Town.
Johnny Nevin went on to serve in every role with the club he loves and is currently Treasurer of the Supporters’ Club.