A year on from his death, the Ryan McBride Foundation keeps the memory of late, great Derry City captain alive
On 19 March 2017, Derry lost one of its favourite sons.
Ryan McBride, the Derry City captain, passed away in his sleep at the age of 27, sending shockwaves throughout the city and the Irish footballing community.
There is a popular perception of footballers as warriors, but nobody fit that description as naturally as McBride. Off the pitch, he was quiet, unassuming, gentle. On it, he was fiercely passionate. He loved a tackle, too. A player who embraced the art of defending, you could often hear him shout ‘Ryan’s ball!’ when he played at his beloved Brandywell.
And more often than not, it was his ball.
A leader and a role model, McBride was Derry City through and through. When he started out in football, his dream was not to play in the Premier League, it was to turn out in Derry City’s famous red and white stripes in front of the club’s adoring fans.
He got to do it 177 times, 57 of them as captain.
Growing up literally a stone’s throw away from the stadium, he felt completely at home on the Brandywell pitch. Regarded as one of the finest defenders in Irish football, there were, of course, offers from other clubs.
He could never bring himself to leave, though. Derry City just meant too much to him. The emotion etched on his face when he scored or when they won said it all.
His death was a devastating shock for Derry. A footballer in his prime, a fit lad who led an honest, hard-working life - it was difficult to wrap your head around it.
The day before he died, he had captained Derry City to a thumping 4-0 win over Drogheda United, a victory which maintained the Candystripes’ 100% start to the League of Ireland season.
It felt as though the 2017 season was going to be ‘their year’ but it wasn’t to be, instead it was one left shattered by the loss of Derry City's ferocious beating heart.
One year on… Gone but never forgotten!
“In your absence, we still play the game.
But in your absence, it won’t be the same.”
— Derry City FC (@derrycityfc) March 19, 2018
The McBride family understandably struggled to come to terms with it. However, what they have done in the year since his passing is truly remarkable. The McBride Foundation, launched last May by his family, has honoured his legacy by seeking to support kids in the community through a combination of football and education.
“The Foundation started quite quickly, it was only a matter of weeks from when Ryan died, to give us something to focus on,” Ryan's sister, Colleen, tells SportsJOE.
“We had a launch evening in May at the Everglades Hotel. Phil Coulter came, Johnny Giles too, a big black-tie event with over 400 people there, a massive night. That set us up for the first few months, but a lot of people have contributed by doing marathons and things like that, and a few people have donated by doing Sober October.”
It’s entirely fitting that the Foundation’s main aim is to support, assist and inspire children because, to so many children in Derry, McBride was a role model. He inspired them.
The Foundation provided the family something to focus on following his passing, but the impact it has made in the community has surpassed expectations.
And the most rewarding thing for his family has been to see how much it means to the kids.
“The kids absolutely love it,” Colleen says. “Having that connection with the players and getting that close to them, they just think it’s the best thing. The Foundation has been in the schools so players like Rory Patterson and Conor McDermott have been in to do their bit. But you can see how excited the kids get when they see the players, ‘look it’s Conor McDermott.’”
“The kids love all the stories. They get tickets for the home matches, too. They’re learning about football but also getting a few good life lessons too. Our aim with the Foundation is to support kids, assist them and inspire them, not just in sport but in life.
“We’re trying to set up an academy with Derry City for people who didn’t quite make it as footballers. So, it’s about giving people that confidence. We’re also hoping to get a scholarship with Derry City. If we get another Ryan out of it, it’ll all be worth it.”
As a player, McBride was fearless and commanding. He exuded confidence on the pitch but, in his formative years as a footballer, it had been something he struggled with.
McBride started playing football for Brandywell Celtic and Brandywell Harps. He wasn’t brought up through football academies but, when he played on a Saturday morning, his talent and attitude were clear to see.
But, as a quiet young man, McBride’s self-belief perhaps didn’t match what others saw in him. His mother, Noreen, was one of his biggest supporters and, after she passed away in 2010, his determination to play for Derry City became more intense.
“It was my mammy who always wanted him to play for Derry,” Colleen says.
“We always knew he was a good player, but I think he needed more confidence in him more than anything.
“I think after his mother died, he seemed to push himself a bit more,” explains his father, Lexie.
“He knew most of the Derry reserve team, but Ryan had a bit of a speech problem, so he needed the confidence.”
It was a confidence that would soon be captured thanks to the coaches who saw a natural-born leader of a player. Stephen Kenny, the current Dundalk manager, was Derry City boss when McBride made his debut in 2011.
Following his death, Kenny described McBride as the bravest man he’d ever seen on a football pitch. From listening to Lexie McBride, it’s clear that the perception of Ryan as a courageous player was a commonly held one.
“Ryan just loved playing football, he loved a tackle and he would have given everything to win a ball,” Lexie says.
“He literally would go through a brick wall. That’s just the way he played, he just wanted to win.
“Someone was saying once they were up at Maginn Park playing and he put his fist through the door – if somebody had been standing on the other side of the door he would have knocked them out too. That’s the way he was. He came into the house and if Derry had lost, he would have lost the plot for a while but then settled down and went to work.
“If he made a mistake though, he’d definitely hold his hands up and take responsibility.”
That commendably mature attitude was a contributing factor in former manager Peter Hutton naming McBride Derry City captain during the 2015 season.
“Peter and Ryan had a very good relationship,” Colleen said.
“He was absolutely beaming. He came in and we had balloons and a cake to congratulate him, he was just smiling constantly. He was honoured.”
“It gave him that confidence too,” his sister, Siuinin, added. “It showed him that somebody believed in him that he could lead the team out.
Wearing the captain’s armband for Derry City meant a great deal to him. On the pitch, he was immensely focused, but he’d be a bag of nerves leading up to games.
“His teammates had a lot of respect for him too and he had a lot for them. He wanted to lead by example, so he took the captaincy very seriously. Colleen said.
Being named captain was something his grandfather, Chelsea, had been proud as punch about too. A lifelong Derry City fan, Chelsea used to love telling people in the town about his grandson.
“Ryan was always his blue-eyed boy,” Colleen said.
“If he had met someone in the town it would be Ryan this and Ryan that. We’d be a very close-knit family anyway. My grandad and granny just lived across the street, so we were never out of there. But that was it, Ryan was as passionate about his family as he was about his football.”
Chelsea McBride, who had been suffering from a lung condition from October 2016, passed away just a few weeks after his grandson. “The doctors said he would see Christmas, but I think he just gave up after Ryan died,” Colleen said.
It paints a poignant picture of how much his family meant to him. They were his support network and his rock. Whether it was his father or sisters, his partner Mairead, or his nieces, who used to ‘go hyper’ when Ryan walked through the door, they had always been extremely close.
Doctors were unable to ascertain a cause of death, which has understandably been a source of frustration for the family. However, while the sense of loss is still strong, the Foundation has been a wonderful way of maintaining his memory.
It’s been an impressive collaborative effort, too, from the McBride family to Derry City’s players, everyone is keen to do their bit for the cause. Kenny Shiels, the Derry City manager, has made a particularly impressive effort to get involved with the Foundation.
“He’s taken over the youth club competition we set up through the Foundation,” Lexie says. “He can’t settle. He’s on the go all the time.
“Ryan used to tell me when Kenny took over, he asked the boys would they keep going to training during their months off. They’d show up and he’d be sitting there in the car park before training, having done his own training, before going to get it set up for the players. He’s so passionate. He’s into the youth side of things too. He just doesn’t stop, if it’s watching reserve games, U13, U14 or U17.”
The contribution of Shiels symbolises the generosity that has helped make the Foundation’s first year a strong one. It’s been a challenging but worthwhile venture and one that looks to have a bright future.
“There’s a lot happening in the pipeline,” Colleen says.
“The main thing is getting the funds to do all of it, but we can’t really complain, it’s been going really well. People are just really generous. We’ve had people running marathons and one guy from down south did the Boston Marathon and raised funds for the Foundation.”
The Foundation’s next big event is the Master Sixes, which takes place on Easter Monday 2 April at the Brandywell. It’s a six-a-side tournament that will feature a Republic of Ireland side, a Northern Ireland team and a Derry City outfit among others. Damien Duff, Kevin Kilbane and Keith Gillespie are three of the famous faces due to participate.
The main aim is to raise money for the Foundation and, while it’s set to be a relaxed atmosphere, the McBride family say the players seem to be taking it seriously, just like Ryan would have taken it.
“To me, he was just a loving kind of person,” Colleen says. “He was a big part of this household and for him not to be here now, it’s a big hole. But the Foundation is going to keep his memory going. He would have dropped everything to help someone. That was his nature. He was that good.”
The Foundation is also trying to set up a scholarship programme in conjunction with Derry City. The aim is to give someone an opportunity to play for the club.
“If we get another Ryan out of it, it’ll all be worth it,” Colleen said of the prospective scholarship.
While getting a player of his courage, commitment and talent won’t be easy, what the Foundation is doing for the city, the club and Ryan’s memory is something to be celebrated – and supported.