Postcard from the South Stand - Rovers fans make a return to Tallaght

Sat, Jun 12 2021
Supporters returned to Tallaght Stadium on Friday night

Supporters returned to Tallaght Stadium on Friday night Credit: Macdara Ferris (ETPhotos)

Macdara Ferris ‘reports’ from Tallaght Stadium

For the first time in 469 days supporters returned to Tallaght Stadium to watch Shamrock Rovers play and it was a joyous occasion. 

In the June summer sunshine the fans clapped, celebrated and sung in a social distanced manner as Hoops supporters were finally able to acknowledge their title winning team from 2020.

And while the result didn’t go Rovers way – drawing 1-1 with Finn Harps - it was even great to be able to grumble about that with a couple of friends on the way out of the game – how I’ve missed that post-match debrief!

Fans returned  to League of Ireland venues this weekend in limited numbers of between 100 and 200 spectators depending on capacity. As part of the government test programme in Cork, 600 spectators were allowed in Turner’s Cross while in Tallaght 1,000 fans got to attend. Both those venues were chosen on their ability to seat in excess of 5,000 spectators. 

I have been one of the lucky people to have been able to attend the behind-closed-doors matches that have been the norm during these covid times. I’ve been there in a working capacity reporting on games for extratime.com in Tallaght and it certainly has been a privilege to do so.

However, as we all know being at a game in an empty stadium isn’t the same and, not that I’m expecting much sympathy, I have worked at each game writing an ‘on the final whistle’ match report which has kept me busy.

So the opportunity to get to a game as a spectator and watch the match amongst friends some of whom I haven’t met face-to-face since March 2020 was something I didn’t want to miss.

As one of close to 590 Shamrock Rovers members I was able to claim one of the 1,000 tickets available for Friday night’s test event. The remaining tickets were made available to a selection of season ticket holders. 

Anyone able to claim a ticket could pick out their social distanced seat through the ticket portal. The system allowed me to pick a seat three away from the next person in the same row with a rows gap in front and behind. For those in a family bubble they could sit in a three person group.

There was a covid form to fill in online within 24 hours of kick-off, there was a temperature check on arrival to the stadium and face masks were required to be worn all the time. I had a ticket in the South Stand and had to use a designated block of turnstyles to enter the venue – one of six blocks in use around the full perimeter of the stadium.

The carpark was closed to supporters, no food or drink was on sale in the ground and there was a staggered exit from the venue after the game.

When the Hoops emerged to prior to kick off ‘Rovers are back. Rovers are back. Hello. Hello’ echoed around the stadium. I maybe shouldn’t have been surprised how loud the crowd was. I guess 15 months or so of frustration with not being able to attend in person manifested itself with the Hoops fans supporting their team at maximum volume even through a face mask.

The Rovers favourites were sung – who doesn’t love a bit of David Essex ‘Hold me close’ and a new song was rolled out as a reworked Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ was sung in honour of Rory Gaffney.

The striker was starting his first Rovers game in Tallaght in front of fans and it was his hard work that paid off for the Hoops on nine minutes. He pickpocketed Kosovar Sadiki before squaring to Aaron Greene to tap home.

In the 12th minute, inspired by the 12th man (and women) supporter who always back their team, the crowd broke into applause in memory of the Hoops fans lost since supporters were last in the venue with the Ultras in the South Stand unveiling flags which included images of ‘Big Dec’ and Anthony ‘Waffles’ McDonald on them - two well known and much loved fans who died during the last year.

The Hoops took their lead into half-time and Richie Towell was given a good reception as he walked in front of the crowd – his availability in July can’t come quick enough as Rovers struggle currently with an injury crisis and maybe a certain lack of creativity to break down blanket defences. 

Rovers were punished by Adam Foley when he equalised for Harps ten minutes into the second half. When the goal went in, for once the stadium fell quiet before the fans went back to their vocal support. 

There was to be no late winner for Rovers in this game - that might have tested the social distance restrictions and raised the hackles of some supporters of other clubs who felt Rovers are getting a competitive advantage with supporters allowed in the 8,000 capacity UEFA Category 4 stadium where the Hoops call home.

After the final whistle, the Rovers players came across to the various stands to acknowledge the supporters and the fans got to sing what they had been wanting to sing for several months. ‘Champions, Champions’ echoed around the venue. It is oh so good to be back.

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