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Friday 4th July ko 19.45

League of Ireland Premier Division

BRAY WANDERERS 1 (Kelly 19) Mitchell sent off 60 (2nd booking)

DROGHEDA UNITED 3 (Brennan 4 Holahan 37 Brady 90)

Att 495

Entry €15 (€1 = £0.80)

Programme €3

Badge €3

Pennant €10

NB. The Irish tour’s cost of £285 included entry into all the 3 games, and programmes, all transport, all excursions, and 3 nights bed and breakfast at Dublin City University

This weekend represented something new for GroundhopUK, a trip outside the UK, and the chance to try something different, a tour that didn’t revolve exclusively around football. We’ve been aware for some time that people can attend an organised groundhop and never see much else save for a steady succession of football grounds. This tour was to break that mould completely.

The Republic of Ireland fascinates me; I’m well used to landing in a foreign country and having to adapt to local culture and custom. However until 1919 Ireland was wholly a part of the UK, so the differences are far more subtle here. To some extent I found a vision of what the UK could have been like if we had taken a different route since Irish independence. That feeling was strengthened by our afternoon tour of Dublin.

We started by visiting the Guinness storehouse. A coachload of hoppers will tend to be fairly well acquainted with the brewing process, but the sheer volume of beer brewed here is staggering. The brewery uses 6 million litres of water a day, its a wonder the River Liffey hasn’t run dry! Another little nugget the guide gave us is that the Irish harp logo used by the brewery is still under copyright. In practical terms it means that if anyone wants to use an Irish harp logo with the sound box to the left, they will have to pay for the privilege, and yes that does include the Irish government. The centre of the building is shaped like a gigantic Guinness glass that would hold 14.5 million pints! At its top is the Gravity Bar, where our tickets included a pint of the black stuff and some spectacular views of the Dublin skyline.

From there we visited the General Post Office in O’Connell Street. This was the scene of the armed rebellion in 1916 that eventually led to Irish independence. The building was severely damaged, but thankfully has been rebuilt to reflect how it used to look. We were given a detailed talk on Ireland’s philately, including the practicalities of switching from the British postal system to their own. The stocks of King George V stamps were over-printed with “Irish Free State” until stocks were exhausted before new designs were introduced. To date, Ireland has no post, or zip-code system.

Outside the Post Office is the Dublin Spire, a huge steel needle rising high into the sky in the middle of the street. It replaced a Pillar with Lord Nelson on top, a relic of British rule, but I was a little surprised when I discovered it stayed in situ until 1966 when “former” members of the IRA blew it up!

From there we battled Friday night traffic to head just south of the capital to Bray. It’s a seaside resort, that did rather well out of British post-war rationing. Ireland had been neutral and had not rationed, so the chance to escape the coupons for a week proved popular! The Carlisle Grounds is situated just off the seafront, and under the railway bridge. It’s a hotch-potch of terracing, seats bolted on former steps, and a canvas affair replacing the barrel-roofed stand that used to provide the cover. There’s an interesting little grass bank behind one goal. It was roped off and guarded, apparently it’s not to the FAI’s liking.

I had a read through the programme and the form guides stood out, reading LLDLL for Bray, and LLLLL for the visitors. So two struggling sides, but on this occasion Drogheda were too strong for their hosts. The problem Bray had was a high, but slow defensive line and time after time a through ball gave Drogheda a clear view on goal. The tactic cost Bray Adam Mitchell, sent off for two trips of a player heading for goal, and their only reply was a quite wonderful free kick from Jake Kelly that perhaps the Drogheda wall will not look back on with any great satisfaction.

The young Drogheda fans enjoyed themselves, but not to such an extent to incur the wrath of the watching Garda, as the heavy second-half rain sent everyone watching to shelter under the canvas roof. Eventually Bray’s misery was confirmed, the Drogheda lads sang their way back to their bus, and the British tourists back to ours, destined for a pint of Guinness in the Students Union bar. Under the circumstances it would have been rude not to!