Sunday 20 October 2019

Nicky Byrne: ‘All hell broke loose’ in Lansdowne Road in 1995

Ken Sweeney

FORMER Westlife singer Nicky Byrne has told how one of the scariest experiences of his childhood was being caught in the Lansdowne Road riots during Ireland’s last meeting with England.

The popstar was just 16 at the time of the infamous match and attending his first international on his own.

The two teams face each other tonight for the first time since that controversial night in February 1995.

“I had always gone with my dad to see Ireland play and here I was out for the first time on my own and I walked into that,” Nicky told the Herald.

“The thing I remember straight away going into Lansdowne that night was the atmosphere. There was such hatred, you couldn't hear the national anthems of either England or Ireland such was the booing.

“I was only a kid then, but I knew something was going to kick off,” Nicky (34) said.

The ex-boyband star, who is presenting Ryan Tubridy’s show on 2fm today, was with two friends in the south terrace.

He was far from the skinhead, Nazi-saluting English hooligans in the upper West Stand, but remembers “all hell breaking loose” when Ireland scored 20 minutes into the game.

“The Irish fans celebrated that goal more than any goal at any Ireland match ever. But it was like an explosion, because it drove the English fans crazy and immediately they started ripping up their seats.

“You were looking at 4,000-5,000 English fans wondering, what if they were going to come this way.

“Irish fans were going out on the pitch wanting a fight. I was in the middle of this wondering, ‘Where is all this going to stop?’”

The rioting by English fans sparked by the Irish goal spelled the end of the game, but the Dublin youngster said he had been scared for the gardai who were called to deal with the rioters.

“I remember walking out of the turnstiles that night and seeing 10 garda vans, and these guards putting their helmets and gloves on looking scared. Someone in the crowd shouted

‘Go on, lads, give it to them', but they really didn't know what to expect.” In an era before mobile phones, Nicky had to walk to Ringsend to find a phone box to ring his parents and tell them he was okay.

“The DART was cancelled so myself and my friends walked into town and got back home.

“I can still remember the relief of getting home. That night will live with me forever and there haven't been that many Ireland versus England matches since.”

In a twist of fate, just a few months later Nicky would be playing for an English soccer team when he signed for Leeds United.

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