Emmet Ryan explains his love for the Club.
Going to a Football game, as anyone spending their Monday here is no doubt aware, isn't just about whether the team you support wins or loses. There are important matters like convincing the total stranger beside you to give you some of his chocolate.
The Easter of the 96/97 I met a group of lads behind the goal who brought along their eggs and with that began the bizarre odyssey of taking fandom beyond 'that thing I do on Sundays to get out of the house' that began the season before.
The end of the 97/98 season saw UCD go into a relegationplayoff with Limerick, where the first leg would go down in infamy as the Battle of Belfield. Four players received reds, 3 for Limerick and 1 for UCD, and the score was 1-1 deep into injury time. A 97th minute winner gave the Students the win, leading to poor Eoin Hand and Pat Dolan getting mobbed by a pile of us on the hill at the old Belfield Park as we looked for people to celebrate with/on.
A mid-table finish in 97/98 was followed by a surge in 1999/2000. It all came down to one day in Drogheda as UCD looked to overtake Pats for the Intertoto Cup slot. With we were in the state one would expect a bunch of 19 year olds to be in by the time we got to United Park. The permutations were lengthy but if Pats drew with Galway, then a 5-0 win would send UCD into the Intertoto Cup. UCD 3-0 up late in the game but appeared to have lost the spark. Then a fourth came and, for all we knew. There was no score in Galway. RTE Radio were glacial in providing updates but we held onto our drunken belief. Then Mick O'Donnell struck, it was 5-0. Then my head struck the concrete.
You see John, the chap who gave me the chocolate, had sent my head flying into the concrete support of the bench as we celebrated. As we gathered ourselves the full time whistle blew celebrations were in full flow. Everyone, players and fans, froze as Ciaran heard word on RTE. “There's been a goal in Galway [interminable pause] Galway have won.” What followed next would end up getting retold in my best man speech for John last summer. Suffice to say his journey back to normalcy was harsher than the rest of ours.
Another relegation playoff win a year later, with the remarkable half-season of Derek Swan saving the Students, would be followed by yet another great escape in 2003. Alas two relegations and two promotions would follow in the years to come but there was always hope of something special happening.
In the late summer of 2011 UCD's season was effectively over. Relegation looked near impossible, both Cup campaigns had ended, and Europe was not on the cards. The focus turned to the visit of Villarreal. With a World Cup winner in Joan Capdevila and Euro 2008 winner Marcos Senna in their ranks, this was a glamour friendly. In an upgrade from the usual fare of commentating on the Superleague Cup Final, I partnered with Lee Daly on commentary. Lee was the model pro, with a deep knowledge of the Spanish game. My approach was a bit more impassioned, to put it politely.
It was 90 minutes of swashbuckling attacking from both sides with this group of youngsters in blue holding their own against a Champions League team. Every time Villarreal scored there was a sense the floodgates would open but as Samir Belhout repeatedly skinned Capdevila, the mood of the crowd changed with half-time approaching.
The audio on the last 10 minutes of that game still gives me goosebumps listening back. Before the game Diarmuid McNally had said he was confident but come on, this was Roy of the Rovers stuff. UCD went 4-3 up late on, via an OG that of course went unannounced as is tradition. There were a few close calls but Goliath wasn't getting back into this one. The final whistle came, bringing with it unbridled elation and a dire need for Strepsils. How could I not support UCD?
Emmet Ryan is a former media officer with UCD AFC and is editor of Action81.com