Dublin 4 and Lansdowne Road is soon to see history come around again when the three lions roll back into town bringing back haunting recollections of February 1995 when the West Stand went wild.
For many Irish fans, our embedded memories evoke vivid images of excitement turning to horror on the night when Ireland’s one-goal lead became overshadowed by unbridled hooliganism. The sight of pieces of timbers flying down like arrows on the exposed fans below evoke shivers down the spine.
Most Irish fans have strong memories about the infamous night of ’95. However, there are also many myths about the game that pervade in folklore, but some are surprised when facts question their certainty. Many fans have images of England playing in white while they actually played in red. Some recall the match in daylight but it was at night.
The biggest misconception, however, is how many recall the trouble starting after the Irish goal, but few remember that England had a disallowed goal for offside when Ireland were leading one-nil and that is the catalyst which sparked the most unrest.
Dutch referee Dick Jol had no hesitation in calling the players off the field when he looked over and saw the seriousness of the situation. Once they were heading for the tunnel there would be no coming back as the bravado of the hooligans picked up intensity. Irish fans in the same area could be seen scurrying out leading to one major question – why they were there initially?
This was one of the perplexing questions that the media asked in the coming days. Were the Gardaí unprepared? Was the planning incorrect? Did the FAI make mistakes in ticket allocation? All questions that would be answered in the affirmative in subsequent investigations.
The Minister for Justice appointed former Chief Justice Thomas Finlay in the immediate aftermath to find out the facts. As well as this, there would be a Garda inquiry (with which the FAI would not cooperate).
Finlay reported that the violence was caused solely by the English fans at the game at Lansdowne Road – without any provocation. “With hindsight, certain measures could have been taken by all concerned to contain the violence,” the judge said.
Finlay also blamed the Irish police for refusing assistance from the National Criminal Intelligence Service in Britain and failing to act on information about Combat 18 travelling to Ireland. The present-day assumption many fans have is that Combat 18 orchestrated the violence. Nazi salutes by some English fans certainly augmented that and even statements by a Labour MP, Peter Hain’s assertion that “leaflets were circulated at football matches in London last Saturday which advertised the Ireland match and actively encouraged violence.”
Although Gardaí report having seen about 20 English fans with the militant insignia of Combat 18, it was not conclusive evidence that Combat 18 orchestrated the riot.
More likely the truth lies in the laissez faire approach by both the FAI and the Gardaí at the time. In an insightful interview with Ger Keville of the Irish Independent this year, former football hooligan Annis Abraham discussed a critical piece of information. Many smaller football clubs had mobs wandering around before the match trying to fight each other. Some teamed up as they got closer to the stadium on the day and bigger mobs fought bigger mobs. When at the ground they were in a defiant and bullish frenzy, robbing tickets off touts and storming insufficient security to get inside. Abraham remarks that “they were mostly youngsters who were over, trying to make a name for themselves.”
Travelling England supporters who want to go to away matches have to apply to England’s ‘Travel Club’. There had not been an England away game for about 15 months and this system had lapsed somewhat, with many memberships being lost or lapsed. There was a flood of applications for the Travel Club before the match and the F.A. had insufficient time to vet many applications. Many tickets ended up in the hands of the fighting fans called ‘The Casuals’ due to the expensive clothes they wore.
The match has taken so long to replay it is effectively a new era now. There is a brand new stadium and even the stadium name has changed although to the core fans it will always be LANSDOWNE.
The stadium director, Martin Murphy recently discussed present-day preparations with NewsFour. Murphy is a man who would put the average fan at ease about this match.
“There are risk assessments for every game,” he said. “There are other games already played here that we would be more concerned about.” Preparations have started over a year ago with planning meetings between the relevant bodies such as the Gardaí, FAI, and the FA. While no one expects there to be any repeat of 20 years ago, Murphy gives assurance that these days the relevant organisations have “really raised the bar. We follow best practice protocols such as the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds.’
This time, the England fans will be in the North Terrace and will undoubtedly contain properly vetted football supporters. The hooliganism and extreme elements are largely gone now. “Communication channels are a lot stronger,” added Murphy with respect to planning and preventing anything like 1995 happening again. D4 may well enjoy this one this time around.
There were calls for a replay by Jack Charlton. Tentative plans to reschedule the fixture for later that season were dropped. England’s hosting of Euro ’96 was also called into question but that never transpired.
The Head of Security for the FAI at the time was Bernard O’Byrne. He went on to become FAI CEO!
Wimbledon player Vinnie Jones was at the match as a fan. He is alleged to have bitten a reporter’s nose and was seen causing trouble in the breakfast area at his hotel.
His manager Joe Kinnear was also in the same hotel and Vinnie settled down when seeing Kinnear.
Mick McCarthy was also in attendance. He was manager of Millwall. He left at the beginning of the match when he saw the first trouble brewing, saying he was sickened by the English fans.
Former Westlife member Nicky Byrne was also there. Our Taoiseach John Bruton attended with his 12 year old son.
The Republic of Ireland play England on Sunday June 7th at 1pm.
By Ferg Hayden