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'I felt how most young boys would, thinking ‘F**k this, I’m not playing football’ as I thought I'd been shafted'

Derry City striker Rory Patterson talks his career in Ireland, England and Australia, the brilliance of Paddy McCourt and the return to the Brandywell.

Patterson in Derry's latest home strip.
Patterson in Derry's latest home strip.
Image: Twitter/derrycityfc

DERRY CITY’S LONG-awaited return to the Brandywell was put on hold ten days ago as Storm Emma brought the League of Ireland, and the whole country, to a standstill.

After spending a season as temporary lodgers at Buncrana’s Maginn Park, the Foylesiders were due back in their spiritual home for the Premier Division visit of former boss Stephen Kenny and title-challengers Dundalk.

But issues with the Derry and Strabane District Council meant they had been unable to train on the new 3G pitch — leaving manager Kenny Shiels furious. With a round of fixtures postponed and rescheduled for later this month, the stadium’s grand re-opening is set for this evening’s meeting with Limerick.

“For a few factors, it was a blessing,” Candystripes striker Rory Patterson admits. “There was a bit of touching up to do in the ground so it was probably a week too early. They’ve been tidied up now, so hopefully by the time Monday comes around the whole place will be ready to rock.

“There are a lot of good memories there. Boys who have come in have only played at Maginn Park so they haven’t seen it yet. At the Brandywell, on a good night when the team is doing well, there aren’t many better places to play.”

With over 100 league appearances for the club during two spells, the 33-year-old knows better than most what it means to wear the red and white. Patterson proved the match-winner when Derry won their last major trophy as he was sprung from the bench to score twice in the 2012 FAI Cup final.

For the young lad from a council estate in Strabane, he has enjoyed a long and varied club career — in Ireland, England and Australia — while also receiving international recognition at senior level for Northern Ireland.

His childhood was spent playing football on the streets “from the crack of dawn until you were called in for your dinner” and it was all Rory ever wanted to do. So when the offer came to join Rochdale as a teenager, he jumped at it.

It was there that he first became team-mates with the man who would later earn the nickname ‘The Derry Pele’ — Paddy McCourt.

He was the best player I ever played with,” Patterson says. “The stuff I’ve seen him do in training and matches when he was only 17 or 18 against grown men. He embarrassed them at times!

“I’m not putting him in the same bracket, obviously, but you’d be looking on the TV and see Messi doing similar things to him. You were watching Paddy and thinking ‘How has he even done that?’ He’s some player.

“It’s probably a cliche but he literally did it day in day out to boys in training.”

Paddy McCourt The Derry Pele: Paddy McCourt. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

While developing at youth level, the young striker was handed his shot to impress in the first team, thanks largely to being in the right place at the right time.

“I got my chance by luck,” he remembers. “I went to watch a pre-season match and the referee sent one of the lads off. I was sitting beside the dug-out and the first-team manager, Phil Parkinson, told me to go and get a pair of boots on in the dressing room. I came on and I was in and around the first team from then on even though I was doing my YTS (Youth Training Scheme).”

Despite being named the club’s Young Player of the Year, he was released by Rochdale in 2004 after picking up an ankle injury a couple of months before the end of the season.

It was a hard one to take.

“I probably felt how most young boys in that situation would, thinking ‘Fuck this, I’m not playing football’ as I thought I had been shafted.”

Now a free agent, Patterson lived a few of streets away from Bernard Manning Jr, son of the late British comedian, and the pair had met on a couple of occasions. Chairman of Northern Premier League side Radcliffe Borough, Manning asked him to come down and play some friendlies against Premier League opposition.

Patterson got himself on the scoresheet and caught the eye of Karl Marginson, who had been playing with Radcliffe before agreeing to become the first manager of FC United of Manchester — a breakaway club founded by supporters of Man United in opposition to the Glazers’ ownership.

Despite entering Division Two of the North West Counties Football League, they had a strong following and he became a fan-favourite right from the off.

I just wanted to get back into full-team football,” he says. “Karl came to my house and picked me up for a pre-season match. There were 3,500 there but none of the fans knew who I was.

“There was a match programme and I wasn’t on it so they couldn’t figure out who I was or where I came from. I went to take a free-kick and they were all singing to ask what my name was. I was like ‘What?’ but I felt the love from that day and it kicked off from there. That move gave me the kick up the arse I needed to get back into football. I won a lot of trophies and individual awards so it was a good fit.”

FC United claimed three consecutive promotions and Patterson played a major role in their success, chipping in with 99 goals.

Soccer - Friendly - Bury v FC United - Gigg Lane During his first spell at FC United (pictured here with Bury's Andy Parrish in 2006). Source: Barrington Coombs

But in 2008, Bradford Park Avenue offered him considerably more money to leave FC United. He and his girlfriend at the time were expecting their first child, so Patterson agreed to move. It didn’t work out, however, and he was soon playing for Coleraine.

“I came back to Ireland just for summer holidays and the Coleraine manager rang to see if I would be interested,” he explains. “I had a talk with my family and it felt like a good idea.

“I hit the ground running there. It was a great year and I scored 41 goals. We had some team with [current Ireland international] Eunan O’Kane, who joined after his release from Everton, Stephen Dooley, who was only young at that point, and Stephen Carson, who had been at Rangers. That was the supply I had so I had no excuses to score goals. I cleaned up that year, winning top goalscorer and all the soccer writers’ awards.”

Rory Patterson celebrates Celebrating a goal for Coleraine against Glentoran in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final. Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

After winning Ulster Footballer of the Year for his exploits, a campaign began to get Patterson into the Northern Ireland set-up. He had grown up a fan of the Republic, but while that call never came, Nigel Worthington did pick up the phone.

“At that time, there was some record that they hadn’t scored a goal in so many matches, so the media put pressure on Nigel to at least have a look at me.”

He made his international debut away to Albania in March 2010, as a second-half substitute for Kyle Lafferty. Patterson hit the post with one of his first touches and earned praise from his manager after the cameo.

I got an adrenaline rush and I was trying to get myself in the team from then on. They had some big players then but I was in and around the squad for a couple of years.

“I was just happy to be involved in international football. We had Jonny Evans, Corey Evans, Kyle Lafferty, David Healy, David Healy, Aaron Hughes, George McCartney and Maik Taylor was in nets, so it wasn’t like they were nobodies.”

Soccer - International Friendly - Northern Ireland v Morocco - Windsor Park Patterson in the Northern Ireland team with Chris Brunt, Jonny Evans, Adam Barton, Ryan McGivern, John Gorman, Paddy McCourt, Jonny Tuffey, Aaron Hughes, Niall McGinn and Lee Hodson. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Making a total of five appearances, Patterson scored his one and only goal for Northern Ireland from the penalty spot in a friendly against Morocco at Windsor Park.

“It was just an honour to be on the pitch and involved in squads with them,” he says. “It wasn’t a successful time like it is now, but it is what it is and there are no regrets there. It’s one ticked off the bucket list.”

Source: sp1873/YouTube

Some of that group of players have gone on to achieve great things under current manager Michael O’Neill, and Patterson has been hugely-impressed by the ex-Shamrock Rovers boss.

“It’s amazing with the small pool they have there,” he adds. “That’s no mean feat what he’s done. They’ve got good players but they’re competing against the major countries.

“It’s not like they are getting bashed either. They were unlucky [against Wales] at Euro 2016 and they were done by a shocking decision for the penalty in the World Cup play-off [with Switzerland]. He has really taken the country on and he’s doing some job.”

Northern Ireland's Rory Patterson (R) ce Celebrating his goal for Northern Ireland against Morocco. Source: PETER MUHLY

In March 2010, Plymouth Argyle invited Patterson over to train with a view to signing.

“An agent rang me up and I thought it was a wind-up,” he admits. “Then he turned up at my door the next day and said Plymouth wanted me to go over for a couple of weeks to train. They were in the Championship at the time, Paul Mariner and John Carver were in charge and I think they had just lost out on the play-offs that year.

“Coleraine let me go over and train and it was the easiest trial I’ve ever had. It was the day after a match so we just did shooting drills and after that they said they wanted to sign me so that was good enough for me!”

However, he had already agreed a pre-contract to join Glentoran in January and Plymouth were forced to pay the angered Irish outfit an undisclosed fee.

Having been relegated to League One that summer, the Pilgrims had been chosen as one of the stadia to host the 2018 World Cup should England win the bid. They began work on a new stand, but Russia ended up claiming victory and Plymouth entered administration in 2011.

There were a couple of Irish and Scottish boys there slagging that England wasn’t going to get the World Cup, but when it was announced you could tell that the whole board went ‘Aw shit’ as they had put a lot of money into doing up the ground.

“They ended up selling half the team and they were relegated with minus ten points because we went into administration. It was unfortunate but these things happen in football and there’s not much you can do about it.

“I had another year left but the club was a mess and Peter Ridsdale took over, which made it a bigger mess. I was to go back the second year and do up my house but I weighed it up and didn’t think it was worth the risk.”

Soccer - npower Football League One - Bristol Rovers v Plymouth Argyle - The Memorial Stadium At Plymouth. Source: EMPICS Sport

He opted to link up with David Jeffrey at Linfield on loan for the remainder of the season, before Derry City came calling in January 2012.

“I didn’t need to leave Linfield and they wanted me to stay on, but I was driving up to Belfast from Strabane,” Patterson reveals. “I know you probably do more travelling on the bus and stuff but the drive up and down was doing my head in. Davey was accommodating and he understood my situation so he let me go.”

Under Declan Devine, he hit the ground running with the Candystripes. The goals flowed and the centre forward scored two in the Setanta Cup final. Despite also dispatching the first spot-kick in a penalty shootout, Patterson couldn’t prevent them losing out to Crusaders, however.

A ruptured hamstring would then sideline him for a number of months. By the time the FAI Cup final came around that November, Patterson was raring to go, but had to settle for a place on the bench against St Patrick’s Athletic at the Aviva Stadium.

“I spent most of that season trying to get back fit,” he says. “I put a lot of hard work into getting myself fit and Declan went with the team that had been playing. That was the manager’s decision but it was disappointing.

I ended up coming on and scoring the two goals to win it. It was a great feeling.”

Introduced on 59 minutes, Patterson coolly slotted a penalty past Saints goalkeeper Brendan Clarke before popping up with an extra-time winner.

Source: yeatscounty/YouTube

Rory Patterson with the FAI Cup Lifting the FAI Cup in 2012. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

By the beginning of 2015, Patterson decided he would like to experience life Down Under and left for Perth to sign for Cockburn City.

“There was a lot of media talk that [Derry manager] Peter Hutton was going a different way at the time,” he says. “I had another year there but there were murmurs that he was trying to get players in and my brother was in Australia at the time so I decided I’d get away.

“He had contacts over there and Mark Anthony, who used to play for Celtic, was looking after a team. He took a punt and I got a job looking after all the kids at the same club I was playing with.

It all just fit well and I went over for the year. It’s a different lifestyle, the first match we play was in 42 degrees. That was serious heat. We had a decent team and I scored goals over there. I was glad of the experience.”

Ten months later, he returned to this part of the world to begin a second spell at FC United. However, the buzz around the club wasn’t the same and his stay was short-lived.

“There was a big difference,” he tells. “When I first started, I was one of the younger ones and it was a great place to be. Things were done the old school way and after the match you would be in the pub having a pint with the fans.

“This time, it didn’t feel like the same club. The manager and other people around the club were still there and it was good to see them. When I came back from Australia with my partner, we got the news that we were expecting a baby.

“[Derry goalkeeper] Ger Doherty got in touch with me to say Kenny Shiels had taken over at Derry and he was asking for me. In the situation, it made more sense to come home. My partner could be near her family and we would have them around us.”

Kenny Shiels Candystripes boss Kenny Shiels. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

While he may rub opposition managers and fans up the wrong way at times, Shiels has been a breath of fresh for the Candystripes and the League of Ireland since taking over in November 2015, and Patterson is a big fan.

“I’m on Twitter and I see a lot people who just don’t get him,” he says. “I suppose I could say that about myself as well. I look at him and I think he’s funny, some of the things he comes out with gets under people’s skin. Whether he means it or not, it works.

He’s a smart man and I’d have to say there aren’t many managers I’ve played under that put as much work in. The man is there from 6am in the morning and he’s the last to leave. He’s done so much around the community and he’s definitely been good for Derry.”

He adds: “I think Derry has been good for him as well. Maybe he wouldn’t say it, but deep down he likes the challenge of bringing young lads through and the fact that it’s not just handed to him on a plate with big budgets that he can go and get whoever he wants with.

“He likes trying to mix it all together. He’s pulled some cracking signings out. When big Niclas Vemmelund first came in I was thinking this boy is honking! That season he was probably our best player.”

With the tragic passing of captain Ryan McBride just under a year ago, it’s been an extremely testing time for everyone involved with Derry City. Tonight’s return to the Brandywell offers a fresh start, however, as a new chapter in the history of one of Ireland’s finest clubs is written.

After doing damage to the medial ligament in his knee in the first game of last season, Patterson spent much of 2017 trying to get himself right again.

“There was a lot of bad stuff said that I was done and what have you. The team wasn’t doing too bad but I wasn’t letting it get me down and I knew that I had it in me mentally to get back. It probably did take a bit longer than expected but for the last two months of the season, I literally had no pain at all.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started scoring and playing better. I got there in the end and I continued to get myself fit in pre-season so hopefully that continues.”

Bohemians v Derry City - SSE Airtricity League Premier Division Winning a head for Derry in the recent win over Bohemians. Source: David Fitzgerald

At 33, he’s back in the team — leading the line and helping the development of younger players whatever way he can.

“I would talk a lot to Ronan Hale, as it’s first year in senior football,” Patterson explains. “When he first came he was trying to drop in but at the end of the day he’s a goalscorer and he’s up there with any of the young boys I’ve seen. He knows where the net is, but he’ll probably tell you that he’s a young player and he’s got a lot to learn.

“I would say he’s a natural goalscorer. He’s one to look out for. Ronan Curtis has been playing the last few years and he knows himself he has to kick on this year to get himself across the water.”

Patterson may be at the veteran stage of his career, but he intends to play on for as long as his body will allow him.

I’m just a competitive person,” he adds. “I don’t think that will ever leave me. Even when the time comes to hang the boots up, I will struggle not playing, but at the moment I’m just enjoying playing with the young boys. It doesn’t get any easier as you get older but I’m hoping to continue on the way I’ve been playing lately.

“I can’t see myself ever leaving. I just have that fire in my belly and I hate losing. There are young lads coming up and I’ve to keep up. That’s the challenge for me and it’s one that I enjoy. It’s not like I’m looking and thinking ‘Jesus, I can’t do this anymore’. I’m keeping fit and I’m in good shape at the minute so I’m hoping I can stay like that.”

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