Article by James Donnelly
A fantastic week for Longford Town Football club has come to an end. And with the end of the week, it brings an end to the City Calling Stadium hosting four games in the UEFA U17 European Championship Finals.
It was a tremendous honour for the club and City Calling Stadium to be chosen as one of the host venues for such a high profile and prestigous tournament. Having won pitch of the year for 2018, the selection of the facilities on the Strokestown Road was like another award in itself for the club. Years of hard work was being recognised.
The busy bees from UEFA and the FAI arrived into Longford early on Friday 3rd May to begin their work. But the work had already begun long before that for Longford Town FC and the club’s many volunteers and officers as they expertly brought the City Calling Stadium up to an even higher standard than it already was. Fresh paint, new walls and extra electrics were just a number of upgrades the LTFC work-horses installed to accommodate UEFA and the FAI. Scaffolding was put in place for TV crews who would be live streaming across Europe. There was rehearsals, even pre-rehearsals! Many of the LTFC staff were there a good 4 or 5 hours before kick off. There was an even more professional feel to the ground than usual and that was complimented by the media, international supporters and foreign delegates who turned up for the opener between England and France.
The local LTFC supporters and the new supporters to the ground began to fill into the stadium, a good hour or so before the game. National media, journalists and photographers began to arrive in their droves. There was accreditation checked, bibs given out, and tickets picked up. There was a huge sense of anticipation as we edged closer to the kick off time. It wasn’t long before the two teams emerged from the tunnel to UEFA music and a huge roar and round of applause. The Elite of Youth Football in Europe had arrived in Longford.
Theo Zidane, son of Zinedine…yes that Zinedine, was a major attraction for the fans as kids and adults alike rushed to try and get an autograph. There was whispers throughout the City Calling that his famous Da might make an appearance in the midlands but it wasn’t to be! As the French and English national anthems blasted out over the PA speakers, I looked up to the full stand and took it all in. Two of Europes top sides were playing in a tournament in Longford. What a moment. The players launched a number of footballs into the stand, much to the delight of all the children and the match began. A decent game between the two sides ended in a 1-1 draw. The physicality and speed of the encounter entertained the 1500+ in attendance and left the spectators happy and looking forward to the rest of the matches in the following days. The English FA presented the club with a small gift of thanks before they left which I thought was a nice touch.
UEFA and the FAI seemed extremely pleased with how smoothly things went on the opening day at the home of the Red and Black. De Town’s facilities were complimented and it was noted how helpful the volunteers and stewards were. I was told we were also the first stadium to hand out a few team sheets! Multiple scouts from big European clubs had informed me that they had not received a team sheet in Tolka earlier that day!
European heavies Belgium arrived at the City Calling Stadium on the Monday to take on Greece with an earlier kick of 5PM. Scouts quickly informed me that Belgium’s number 11, Doku, was the one to watch. Fans, press and VIP’s began to filter in once again as De Town hosted their second big night in the tournament. The night couldn’t have went better as Belgium cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win. Supporters were impressed by the style of play the Belgians produced and many worried what they had in the tank for their match against Ireland! There were brilliant scenes after the final whistle as the Belgian players interacted with supporters, young and old. Club Photographer Tiernan Dolan was on hand as always, to capture the wonderful moments and in doing so, shot a brilliant image of Doku holding up a Longford Town scarf. A picture for the archive if the young man goes on to bigger and better things. The second night was over and what an occasion it was.
On the Tuesday, we welcomed another giant in Italy as they took on Austria. The fact that the bank holiday weekend was over along with some overcast weather didn’t turn the crowds off and another sizeable audience made their way into the stadium. Faces of joy and laughter greeted the teams as they made their way onto the grass. A lot must be said for Seamus Murray and his team for how they’ve kept the turf of the City Calling Stadium in such pristine condition during the tournament. You can see why it was awarded pitch of the year. It’s the best pitch out of all the grounds used for the tournament and it’s just a pity that there will be no quarter finals played on it. The Italians picked up the victory in a game that they never truly looked like losing. Both teams had plenty of nice things to say about the CCS and its staff and the Austrians in particular praised the pitch after the game, even in their disappointment of their defeat.
There was a buzz about the place as more and more new faces sampled what the club had to offer. The shop sold out, Brendan Finnegan had his hands full in the clubhouse and yet, the stadium staff never let their standards slip even when rushed off their feet. Credit must go to them!
The final game brought the fancy footwork of the Portuguese to face off with the warriors from Iceland. An intriguing match up on paper as both teams needed to win to progress. A certain Eidur Gudjohnsen and his family made their way into the stand and word soon got around that there was a Premier League, La Liga and Champions League winner at the home of Longford Town FC. Eidur’s son is a major figure in the Iceland team and was named in the starting lineup. He happily posed for photos until the game began and didn’t refuse anybody aftetr the final whistle either. It turned out to be the best game of the lot. A 4-2 victory for Portugal saw them progress with Iceland crashing out. The Portuguese national TV crew were on hand to capture the scenes as the team and their loud and sizeable support celebrated after the game. Unfortunately for Iceland, two errors from their young keeper cost them in the end but they can hold their heads up high as they gave it their all and certainly impressed those in attendance. The club presented Eidur with a Town jersey after the game which he appreciated. I told him he was probably the most famous player to ever step foot in the ground…after Keith Gillespie of course!
At half time during the game, Christophe von Wattenwyl, UEFA Project Leader, presented the club with a beatiful plaque as a thank you and in recognition of hosting the games. It is a beautiful piece and will stand proudly in the clubhouse as another great bit of history in the club. Christophe spoke of his fondness for the friendliness of the Longford people and mentioned how exceptional everything was run at the City Calling Stadium. He finished off his speech by suggesting the staff head to the Longford Arms to enjoy a well deserved drink! Michael Farrell, Stadium Controller for LTFC, accepted the award on the clubs behalf. Michael insisted it was an honour and privilege for the club to be chosen by UEFA to host the games and that it was a momentous occassion in the clubs history and for everyone involved.
And that was that. A fantastic week of football, friendship and recognition came to an end, at least in UEFA competitions in Longford! The volunteers, staff, delegates, helpers, etc all contributed hugely to what was a memorable occasion for Longford Town FC and the locality in general. There was lots of running around, stressful times, little mistakes, crazy moments (like the referees turning up late to the opening game because the chauffuer brought them to Moate!) but the club and everyone involved truly did themselves proud.
But for Longford Town, the football and the work never stops. We play Cabinteely FC tonight in a top of the table clash. We’re unbeaten in the league and sit in first place. We’d love to see all the supporters from the week gone by, come out to the City Calling Stadium once again and this time to cheer on the famous Red and Black. Trust us, it’s great supporting national teams…but it’s even better cheering on your own club! Kick off is at 7.30pm. Nothing beats live football.
C’mon De Town!
For more images from the tournament, check out www.facebook.com/ltfc.ie