Originally penned in December 2021
There’s an old saying that goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and with regard to supporting Finn Harps, that was true for me. In the pre-Covid world, I’d only occasionally scoot over to Ballybofey on a Friday night; often finding other ways to pass a Friday night with only sporadic checks on my phone to see how they were getting on. That’s all changed now.
By Jonathan Foley.
During the days of games being played behind closed doors and having to avail of online subscriptions to watch them, something struck a chord with me with how much I took attending games for granted. When the turnstiles opened up again, I suppose I made a wee promise to myself to make a better effort to go and show my support for them that bit more.
It’s a decision I’ve not regretted. Sure the evenings on the terraces can be cold and wet but there’s a charm to League of Ireland football that has remained despite all the changes to the modern game. It’s inexpensive, it’s a chance to have a casual chat with friends you may not have seen for a long time and, above all else, there’s a sense of community.
On the field-of-play, Harps have arguably had one of their best seasons. They played with a sense of confidence and adapted progressive and forward-thinking tactics. They often passed the ball very well and showed that they had players who could find the net on a regular basis; Adam Foley and Tunde Owlabi in particular.
Even when they go for the long ball approach nowadays, it seems that they are actually trying to pick out a player in an advanced position as opposed to the more traditional plan of hoofing the ball anywhere and everywhere. The players played as a cohesive unit and worked well together and never really left fans leaving the ground bemoaning their lack of effort and commitment.
Whether or not many of those same faces will be at the club next season remains to be seen. Séan Boyd and the aforementioned Foley have already said their farewells for pastures new, but things like that are an annual conversation amongst the Harps fanbase at the end of every season, but one thing that is for sure is that the supporters will remain and possibly even grow.
It’s been great to look around the stands of the ground and notice how many young people are choosing to spend their evenings, boys and girls, at the matches. During the recent clash with Derry City, a friend pointed out to me how an aging, but young at heart, parish priest still comes along to the games to cheer the side on. Never descending to any choice language, of course.
Parents are bringing their kids along in greater numbers than before and, while that may not look like much, one cannot forget how special any family event really is. It’s an endearing sight to see a parental figure share a greasy bag of chips and a mineral while cheering on the team from the sidelines.
Friday nights are an ideal time for a game too. It gives you something to look forward to during the working week. Monday to Fridays are consumed with early morning rises, trying to eat well during your lunch breaks while still making sure you take time to get some form of exercise during the evenings.
On a Friday night on Navenny Street though, you can get that reward feeling on the go.
After you’ve draped the blue and white scarf across your shoulders, there’s a sense of anticipation as you make the drive towards Ballybofey. Usually, the Highland Radio DJ will take a breather from shouting out requests to let us all know that “we’ll be going over for live coverage of the Harps at eight o’clock, so stay tuned for that. Now back to the tunes.”
The next major question is where the best parking spot would be. After much deliberation, I personally want to thank the staff at Scoil Mhuire primary school for not adopting a clamping system even though their sign reads that the car park is for staff and church-goers only. Cheers folks.
As you see the lights of the ground peering over the rooftops when you ascend the bridge that runs across the River Finn in Stranorlar, the temptation of the chippie draws ever closer. It’s the start of the weekend so all sense of guilt is swiftly eradicated. Owing to the fact that you have the car means that it’s only a fizzy drink or a non-alcoholic beer in ‘Cheers Bar’ on the corner.
You’d never know who you’d meet here. Last time I was in, the noise that greeted me when I walked in the door was from a pair of Scousers attempting the “we’re really on our way” chant. While their vocal chords were a little raspy and their knowledge of the lyrics wasn’t great, you had to admire their enthusiasm.
After all, they’d flown over from England to watch their brother play.
Not long later, it’s time to make the short walk down Navenny Street where the noise of the drum bangs slowly in the distance. “Are ya for the shed side or the Aldi side the’night?” might be a question. You gotta love that there’s still a place in twenty-first century football where you can choose so easily where in the ground you want to watch the match from.
Not only that, but even at the halftime interval, the fact that you can temporarily vacate the ground to nip for a halftime coffee and bar of chocolate in the Centra shop across the road is just something that you can’t do at matches in most other parts of the world anymore.
As alluded to earlier, it’s all part of the charm of League of Ireland football. And what’s more is that you’re home in no time afterwards.