Thursday 12 December 2019

FAI riots scared me more than UK terrace thuggery

Tony Gavin has been held hostage by the UFF, but last week's FAI Cup clashes were in a different league

As a news photographer I covered the worst of the Troubles in the North, and one time was even held captive by the UFF during a particularly tense time in the conflict.

That's part of the job. You only have yourself to look after, and I suppose experience and the camaraderie of the press pack helps you cope with the more frightening aspects of the news photographer's beat. But the disturbances between fans at last week's FAI semi-final between St Pat's and Shamrock Rovers was a different ball game.

This time I wasn't working. I was just a dad with my son and his young friends at my side. And for a few moments at last weekend's game I feared for our safety.

The FAI and promoters of the League of Ireland bemoan the fact that most young fans support foreign teams, so for the last few years I've been bringing my 10-year-old son Rory and his friends to see St Patrick's Athletic matches.

On Tuesday evening we went to the FAI Cup semi-final replay at Richmond Park to see the Saints play rivals Shamrock Rovers.

As the match ended, the pitch was invaded by hundreds of Shamrock Rovers fans who, after congratulating their team, ran to the far end of the pitch and taunted rival Pat's fans. The boys looked on startled as rival fans exchanged a barrage of plastic bottles. As the trouble flared on the pitch I headed for the exit with the boys.

Before the match had started some Rovers fans had lit up the Shed End with flares, tossing them on to the pitch, and at one stage narrowly missing a linesman.

As I led the boys out of the ground on Tuesday, the garda riot squad was preparing to go in. When we drove home through Inchicore they hid their scarves and flags afraid they'd attract the attentions of what they perceived as violent Rovers fans. I now face the task of trying to persuade them that these incidents are rare in Irish soccer and hope that they will not be put off going to League of Ireland football in the future.

Growing up in London in the early seventies, I used to go to First Division soccer matches which were often marred by crowd violence. Many years ago when working for The Irish Press I was sent to Lansdowne Road to cover the rioting English fans who had earlier caused the Ireland v England international to be abandoned. Some of my colleagues were seriously injured in the confrontation by rampaging hooligans.

When you are working you are prepared to look after yourself in these situations. It's far different when you are out for an evening's entertainment at your local soccer club and have children with you. Shouldn't they be entitled to watch matches free from the threats and aggression of these mindless hoodlums?

Sunday Independent

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