Wednesday 28 September 2016

Eamonn Sweeney: A repeat of '95 and you will never see the English here again

For Irish fans, there will never be anything like beating England

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

‘The real tragedy of the Lansdowne Road riot for many people was that Ireland were winning 1-0 at the time thanks to a David Kelly goal and looking a decent bet to go and score another famous victory’
‘The real tragedy of the Lansdowne Road riot for many people was that Ireland were winning 1-0 at the time thanks to a David Kelly goal and looking a decent bet to go and score another famous victory’

There's always been something special about Ireland-England matches, whether they're competitive or friendly.

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There was, for example, a generation of Irish football followers who could not hear Hungary's 6-3 defeat of England at Wembley in 1953 described as our old enemy's first defeat on home soil by non-British opposition without indignantly shouting at the television that they'd forgotten our 2-0 victory at Goodison Park in 1949.

And the last-gasp John Atyeo goal in 1957 which denied Ireland a famous victory in a World Cup qualifying match at Dalymount Park also lived long in the folk memory of Irish fans, it seemed not so much as another prize example of English treachery, as commemorated at length in historical song and story.

The revival of the national team under the stewardship of Johnny Giles seemed confirmed by the 1-1 draw at Wembley in 1976, Gerry Daly slotting the Irish goal from the penalty spot after a brilliant run by Steve Heighway saw him hacked down in the box.

Daly was on target again in 1978 during the European Championship qualifiers when the score was also 1-1 at Lansdowne Road. And it was the following year's 2-0 defeat at Wembley, Kevin Keegan notching both goals, which seemed to suggest that the Giles era had run its course.

It's one of those rivalries, of course, which the smaller nation approaches with much greater seriousness. That's why the victory in Stuttgart in 1988 made the whole country fall in love with Jack Charlton's team. And why England's failure to reverse that result in several subsequent meetings was so satisfying, that 'You'll never beat the Irish' slogan has never got old.

We over-achieve in these games. The real tragedy of the Lansdowne Road riot for many people was that Ireland were winning 1-0 at the time thanks to a David Kelly goal and looking a decent bet to go and score another famous victory. And the 1-1 draw at Wembley two years ago provided a welcome blast of positivity at a time when we were struggling to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals.

England bring out the best in us. The days when we competed with them on level terms are long gone. There really was very little to choose between the Charlton era Irish team and the English sides they repeatedly frustrated. These days England mightn't put up a show in major tournament finals but they qualify for them with an ease which eludes us.

And that's why today's game will, once more, be more crucial for us than it will be for them. We are not just struggling to qualify for the next European Championship finals, we are doing so at a time when it looks like Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as England, will make it. There's even the possibility that we may be the only nation from these islands to be sitting at home twiddling our thumbs when the 2016 tournament goes ahead.

A win today would at least partly dispel the shroud of gloom which has begun to descend on the team as the suspicion grows that the O'Neill/Keane dream ticket may not be the panacea we initially thought it would be. Of course winning this friendly won't really matter at all in the grand scheme of things. But all the same a victory over England in any sport always feels hugely important for tribal and nationalistic reasons which, in the cold light of day, may look a bit childish but are hard to deny all the same.

There are a sizable number of fans for whom a win over England would trump victory in qualifying games which are far more important in reality. It goes without saying that there will be a certain amount of breath-holding as kick-off time approaches. A repeat of anything like the scenes which marred England's last visit to Dublin and we can wave goodbye to ever seeing them in this country again. You'd hope this wouldn't happen because this is a friendly with added spice. It may be illogical but that's the way it is.

If we do manage to pull it off this generation of young fans will be just as proud of the victory as our forebears were when Con Martin and Peter Farrell hit those goals back in 1949. And chances are it will be remembered for just as long. Because for an Irish sports fan there is nothing like, and there will never be anything like, beating England.

It's just how we are.

Sunday Indo Sport

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