Albert Isern and Marc Barrachina both live in Barcelona but had never met. By chance they both took an interest in Irish football just as Stephen Kenny was becoming the saviour of Dundalk FC. Captivated by their story, and impressed with the passion in the League of Ireland, they became fully-fledged Lilywhites fans and have founded the Irish champions’ most unlikely supporters’ club.
Albert Isern is a lifelong Girona FC supporter but has always been interested in other football cultures. Ireland is a country he has always liked, feeling an identification with Irish people. One day he started to investigate about the League of Ireland, to follow the results and later to see league games on the internet. It was love at first sight, with the league in general, the national team but especially with Dundalk FC.
“I can’t exactly tell you why. I fell in love with that team and the atmosphere of that town,” says Albert. “This was about four seasons ago, before the massive play-off relegation tie against Waterford. And since then I have been following all the team games and the achievements of the club.”
By discussing the team’s fortunes on Twitter, he struck up a friendship with Lilywhites fan Danny O’Connell who says the Barcelona pair’s love for the team is genuine. “It may seem strange, Spanish football fans mad into the League of Ireland but they’re serious football fanatics and became really interested in both my club and the league.”
Last summer, Albert and his family travelled to Ireland for the first time and took in Dundalk’s game in Bray. On their last day, they decided to make the trip to Louth. Although they hadn’t met face to face previously, Danny arranged to meet and spent the day showing Albert around the town of Dundalk.
“We met in the train station and the first thing we did was go to Oriel Park. It was fantastic, I was lucky enough to be in Oriel! I treated myself well buying the official kit and the jacket of the club. They even gave me some Lilywhites flags, posters, match day programs, etc.”
Just last week, Danny put Albert in touch with another Catalan-based Dundalk fan, and kicked off the most unlikely of League of Ireland supporters’ clubs.
“Danny told me he knew another Dundalk supporter in Barcelona. I thought I was the only one. Marc and I started to explain our stories to each other and they were very similar. He proposed that we create an account of a Dundalk FC group supporters from Barcelona (Catalonia) to make ourselves known on social networks.”
Marc Barrachina is a massive Espanyol fan but he too began supporting Dundalk when they faced off against Waterford in 2012 to stay in the top division.
“I really can’t explain the reason I fell in love with that team, it just happened. Three years ago, I interviewed Danny for a project on football passion asking him about Dundalk FC. I since met Albert and we decided to create the Dundalk FC supporters group from Barcelona.”
While the League of Ireland doesn’t capture as many hearts and minds as it would like in Ireland, what has made two Catalans fall in love with the game here?
“It’s because of the atmosphere in the stadiums,” says Albert. “It’s true that there’s a low number of people supporting local teams in Ireland, basically because of other sports and the Premier League, but I insist, the atmosphere you feel from the football stadiums there when there’s a good attendance, it’s brilliant. I love it.”
“In my opinion in recent years the LOI is growing well, getting better every season. And Dundalk’s European adventure last season proves it. There’s still a lot to do but we’re on the right way.”
“I feel jealous that I can’t be a part of Irish football and can’t feel the atmosphere they have in their stadiums every week.”
Marc says, for Irish sports fans who don’t give the league a chance, it’s about more than football, it’s a social moment. “I always liked the small teams and being part of the minority so I decided to follow the League of Ireland. Football is football everywhere so those who like football like to watch Liverpool FC and Dundalk FC. What I love about football is to go with my father and brother, drink something with them, feel the atmosphere and be there so see my team.”
Directly from RCDE Stadium, in Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/Xl8BtctklJ
— Dundalk FC Catalonia (@DFC_Catalonia) February 10, 2017
So are there any Dundalk players good enough to play in the Spanish leagues. Albert has no doubt.
“Definitely. My town’s team Girona FC plays in the second Spanish division. Patrick Hoban, Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan or Andy Boyle are some of the LOI players who have in the last years reached professional football. But there are a few more in Ireland. I see for example Ronan Finn, Cork’s Maguire or Bolger, St. Pats players Cristy Fagan or Treacy. We also have the case of James McClean, former Derry player, now at a top football level in the Premier League and the national team. And there are a few more.”
Marc says anything is possible. “Who knows? Sergio Busquets changed from playing the 4th division to the first team of FC Barcelona in one year. It’s hard to play in La Liga but you have to work hard and understand Spanish football.”
Following Dundalk’s exploits on social media, and where possible on internet streams, the pair couldn’t have timed it better to spark a love affair, witnessing the best year’s in the club’s history led by the manager Stephen Kenny.
“They deserve massive credit, both club and squad,” says Albert. “But especially King Kenny. He came here to rescue a squad and a club from a critical situation to become the best ever League of Ireland side in just four years. And the way he did it? What a man. I can’t feel more privileged to have been able to witness and enjoy all this, and above all, to have discovered Dundalk four seasons ago. Time flies.”
And they are not the only ones from foreign fields to take an interest in ‘The Town’ as Danny explains. ”
“We are a very welcoming club here at Dundalk and I love making new friendships around the world through football. I give a special mention to the lads in Choiggia, Venice as well as a group at Barnsley whom we visit regularly and vice versa. We’ve had others from parts of England over as well as lads from France, Germany, and Switzerland getting in touch. We have so much respect for those making such an effort to come over to us.”
The newly-formed Catalonia supporter’s club has its sights set on growth as well as further plans to visit Oriel Park.
“It’s difficult, but maybe one day, if we are enough members, we want to make a trip to Ireland and support the team,” says Albert. “Marc has never been to Ireland but would love to. But none of this would have been possible without Danny. A true friend.”