The UEFA Under 17 Championship is being staged in Ireland from May 3-19 and Longford Town FC had the honour of being one of the clubs chosen to host some of the group game matches.
The award-winning stadium received plaudits all around, as it played host to four group game clashes over the course of the week from May 3-May 10.
The first match hosted at the stadium involved Group B rivals England and France, featuring top youth talents such as the son of Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, Theo Zidane. The other games involved Belgium and Greece, Italy and Austria, and Portugal vs Iceland to finish up on May 10.
Longford Town officials, stewards and ground staff received an abundance of praise for their top-class staging of the four encounters, as well as the pristine facilities in place.
“It’s a cliché, but the club is family and people look out for one another,” Tiernan Dolan, PRO of the Longford Town supporters club told the Leader.
“People involved are very, very proud of what has been achieved.”
City Calling already received substantial praise in recent months, after it took the FAI SSE Airtricity League pitch of the year award for 2018.
“People were really taken with the facilities. They thought they were outstanding. The English FA made a special presentation to the club in recognition of that,” Tiernan explained.
This achievement was put down to the tireless and continuous work of locals Seamus and Paul Murray, the two groundsmen responsible for the maintenance of the pitch for over 19 years.
Seamus Murray told the Leader, “It is nice to receive recognition, but over the last number of years we have always worked particularly hard to get the pitch to the level that it should be at, for our own team and not just specifically for International matches or anything like that.
“This is the level we have achieved over the last number of years regardless.”
The ever-modest Seamus brushed aside his part in the plaudits received, noting that like the game itself it is very much a team effort.
He said, “Our chairman Jim Hanley is the ultimate driving force behind the club, the facilities and how it is run. Without guys like that, the club would definitely struggle to survive.
“There are approximately 30-35 people involved in total, between stewarts, people in the shop, people that do the tea, people that look after the ground and everyone else are just as important as me. There is no point having a good pitch if the ground is poor and vice versa. It is very much a community club.”
Seamus said the reaction among locals and those from across the pond has been excellent.
“It has been very good,” said Seamus, “Probably much better than I expected.
“Even the comments from the visiting teams have been very, very good. They were more than pleased and some of them indicated that a lot of what they are used to, even in their own countries, were not as good as what we have at City Calling which is nice to hear.”
Seamus again reiterated that the nothing has changed as of late in terms of the facilities, recounting a story of the late Liam Miller and the last time he played at City Calling a number of years previous, as testament to this.
“Our kitman heard him talking to one of his colleagues at one of the games and he said ‘this is the best pitch I have stood on in Ireland in a long, long time,” he explained.
“It is a huge credit, not just to me, but to the amount of voluntary work between the club, the supporters club and all of the people involved.”
Supporters club PRO Tiernan Dolan says the successful hosting of the championships proves that the facilities at the City Calling Stadium are better than anything else within the FAI SSE Airtricity divisions.
“They are better than anything else in the country,” he said.
“We are very fortunate to have some of the people who are associated with the club. The likes of Jim Hanley, MC Farrell, Seamus Murray, Liam Healion, Aisling Conway, Archie Bell, and all of those. The people who are associated with the club are just superb.
“A huge amount of work went into it,” Tiernan added.
Tiernan also commended the dedication of the team involved and the volunteers, with some helping host not only the matches in question, but also the regular events occurring at the facilities.
Tiernan told the Leader that not only the match officials were impressed by City Calling Stadium, but also the players involved. The Supporters club PRO says the visiting players were not expecting the great reception they received.
“Jeremy Doku, Belgium’s top player, stayed back with all of the young fans for about 30 mins. He signed autographs, took selfies and he even stood with a Longford Town scarf over his head.
“He is a rising star with both Belgium and Anderlecht and he was really taken aback with the reception and respect the kids gave to him and the other players.
“All of the officials were also very, very happy with everything,” he added.
The hosting of the championships, not only helped promote the work of Longford Town FC, but also the wonders of Longford county.
Tiernan, “It was a huge tourist boost to Longford. We are the least visited county in Ireland and last Friday night there were 30 international journalists here. It was broadcast on Eurosport and the pitch looked magnificent, everybody commented on that.
“Everybody associated with the club was hugely proud of the finished product.
“We had officials here from Latvia, Wales, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden, Croatia, Malta, Kosovo, Gilbraiter.
“They were all hugely impressed with what is really a small club, punching above our weight.”
Tiernan says he and members of the club hope that this is the start of more to come. They also hope that the hosting of the championships will help inspire future footballing generations from within Longford.
“What really made me happy was seeing the amount of young boys and girls out enjoying the matches with their parents.It was like a Mini-Champions League game happening just out the road on our own home patch.
“We have the cathedral on the crest of the club and I think the restored cathedral has restored pride and I think Longford Town FC is doing the same for sport locally as well. The facilities are one of the best in the country and they are owned by the club itself,” he concluded.