Intrigued by the notion of hardcore UCD soccer fans, Matt Gregg meets the group aiming to put the passion back into Friday nights at the Belfield Bowl
The word ‘Ultras’ cannot escape its footballing connotations. It immediately evokes images of flare waving Italians or street fighting Serbians. So when I received the call to check out the ‘UCD Ultras’, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Was this in fact a job better suited to Danny Dyer, football’s official hardest man? I needn’t have worried.
“Do we have to be called the Ultras?” exclaimed Mark Connors, ring leader of the group, seconds into our meeting. “We’d prefer to be called something a little more gay! Maybe we could be the ‘Blue Army’ instead?”
It’s a remarkable comment considering the widely held stereotypes that young, particularly male, football fans enjoy nothing better than fighting. As Mark made clear, that’s just not what the ‘Blue Army’ is about.
“It’s a bunch of lads having a bit of craic,” he began, musingly. “We’ve always gone to League of Ireland games but not really to support one team. We just said this year we’re going to take on a team and reckoned UCD would be the team with the least fans. So we decided we’d be their fans.”
The idea was born before the Christmas break but remained a pipe dream right up until the final week of pre-season. Between college, jobs and girlfriends the group that would become the ‘Blue Army’ had little time to discuss the details much further. But when the first game against Drogheda United came round, the lads were there to witness a 3-0 victory for UCD.
With the Students’ league attendances rarely surpassing the hundreds, new groups of supporters are hard to miss. After 90 minutes of continuous chanting, disrupted only by their copious use of drums, no one in the ground could possibly remain unaware of the ‘Blue Army’.
“We just went to the first game and the [UCD] PR lads came over to us and basically said ‘Look, are you planning on going to all the games?’” explained Mark matter of factly. “We said ‘yes’ so they gave us free season tickets.”
“He wants us there because if we definitely go they’ll have some supporters,” chimed in Jamie Conroy, a fellow member of the ‘Blue Army’. “Then other supporters just start coming over and sitting around us.”
Five games into the season and it’s looking like the club’s investment has already started to pay off. “Last Friday, there was about fifty people joining us,” continued Lee McEneff, a member currently attending UCD, enthusiastically. “Compare that to pictures of the first match where it was literally just us.”
“The other night there was the seven of us with a load of people around us which was great,” added Mark, nodding his head in agreement. “That’s the aim. Just keep adding people to us.”
It is often wondered, by the boys amongst many others, why the football team of a college that caters to over 20,000 members has such poor attendance levels and a reputation for fairly passive crowds.
“Not everyone at UCD is going to like football but surely at least 5,000 do?” Mark opines. “Would they not be interested in going to a game?”
Of course the college has made several attempts to entice students into matches, most notably the discount price for tickets purchased with a student card, but Lee feels even more could be done. “There’s enough tellys around here, especially in the Student Bar and Centre, with nothing on them which could be used to tell students about the matches. Most people on campus just aren’t aware that the matches are going on.” It’s a fair criticism. Games regularly occur on Friday evenings but from walking through campus it would be almost impossible to tell. There are no announcements, no fanfare and no posters.
“If people went once or twice, they’d see there was a bit of an atmosphere,” bemoans Mark. “UCD are a pretty exciting team, they’re all still young fellows but they play good football. If they can just get people into the stadium, they’ll see there’s a bit of craic going on.”
However, that’s no easy task. The Airtricity League is, and perhaps forever will be, firmly in the shadows of its more illustrious neighbours. Leinster’s renaissance makes them a favourite destination for Friday’s sporting fix, whilst outside Dublin, interest in the GAA is as strong as ever. Even within football, UCD faces stiff competition. From their more successful Irish rivals to the behemoth that is the English Premier League, there exist numerous drains on the College’s fan base.
Still, if you’re ever stuck for something to do, UCD are playing Sporting Fingal this Thursday. The boys would be more than happy to see you.
UCD’s Ultras share their own inimitable chants
College are the team for me
With a knick, knack paddy-whack, Give a dog a bone,
f*** off Bohs, Go on home!”
(To the tune of ‘New York, New York’)
“Start spreading the news, he’s playing today
He’s gonna score a goal for us, Kilduff, Kilduff;
If he can score from there, he’ll score from anywhere
It’s up to you Kilduff, Kilduff!”
Ciaran Kilduff he’s our man, hero of our nation
Ciaran Kilduff scores a goal, it’s college jubilation!
“Oh when the U! (Oh when the U!)
The UCD! (The UCD!)
When UCD go marching in!
Oh how I want to be in that number
When UCD go marching in!”
“Low lie the fields of Belfield Bowl
Where once we watched the great college play
Evan McMillian is our captain
We have dreams and songs to sing
Of the glory round the fields of Belfield Bowl…”