Comment - 22 years on from THAT night at Lansdowne Road and England's shame is enduring
“I just hope everyone behaves themselves,” observed Gary Lineker, as I interviewed the England legend at the old Jury’s hotel just a few yards away from what was to become a crime scene less than 24 hours later.
It may be been a throwaway comment from Lineker as he was being quizzed by star-struck novice reporter who doubtless struggled to disguise his excitement to be granted an audience with one of his heroes, yet we all knew the Ireland’s clash with the old enemy was laced with undertones.
Even though the headlines in the Irish newspapers on the day of the game warned of trouble ahead, a foolish decision was taken to proceed with the playing of the thugs rallying cry God Save the Queen and the inevitable reaction it provoked was so horribly predictable for all present.
At a time when football was being persistently tarnished by imbeciles who were using the sport as a vehicle to release their hate, this once in a lifetime chance to ‘invade’ Irish soil was one not be missed, with this sub-standard army of morons who used the beautiful game as a vehicle to vent their anger staging the ultimate party to display their venom.
As they sang ‘no surrender to the IRA’ on their march up to Lansdowne Road, it was clear that they meant business, with the Nazi salutes they offered up to greet the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann confirming this was a mob intent on attention seeking on a grand scale.
David Kelly’s opening goal for Ireland merely served to heighten their impatient eagerness to disgrace their nation and as the ripped up seats from the upper tier of the stand I was sitting in started to rein down onto the pitch, their final attack was underway.
The game was duly abandoned and football had another dark night of violence to etch into its history, with England supporters apparently gleeful that their efforts have produced such an outcome.
My Irish parentage mattered little on a night when I feared my English accent would be a major handicap as I gathered with my media colleagues to try and make sense of the shameful events we had witnessed. There was an air of shock lingering, but it was sadly all so predictable.
Unfortunately, the miserable experience was not to end there as the mindless idiots who dragged their country’s reputation through the dirt were in triumphant mood the following day as I joined a clutch of them on the way back to their beloved motherland.
As they gathered on board a mid-afternoon flight to toast their ‘victory’ over the hated Irish, this was a hopeless underclass that delighted in their association with a hooligan cult that went by the codename of Combat 18.
Passing newspapers around the plane and proudly spotting images of themselves and their comrades who had carried out this successful mission to enemy territory, it was unpleasant to share the same air with such human waste.
Then some who had been toasting their glory had the audacity to stand in front of waiting TV cameras at Luton airport and put on an acting display to suggest they had been horrified by what they had witnessed. Mummy would have been proud of them as they spoke of their horror on the early evening news bulletins.
The tragedy was that they were allowed to disappear into the night sky, doubtless encouraged by the events of their great night in Dublin to wreak havoc on another foreign land sooner rather than later.
Some 22 years have passed since February 15th 1995 was etched into the annuls of English football folklore as one of its darkest days and thankfully, most of the morons who attached themselves to this curiously jingoistic national team back then have reached a point in their development that ensures outbreaks of violence are surprising once again.
Attending a Premier League game in England now tends to be a more pleasurable experience that it was back then, with pockets of deplorables hanging on in on a football landscape that is now dominated by the remaining few who can actually afford to attend matches.
Many of the thugs who used football as a vehicle to release their hatred have been forced to rebrand their hooligan tendencies as they have become armchair watchers of the game due to the spiralling costs of tickets and their removal from the sport is a hopefully a permanent cure.
On the anniversary of an occasion that saw England’s most unpleasant exports made it their duty to turn it into a battlefield, we should never forget that their shame is enduring.