Wednesday 21 March 2018

World-class athletes washing in wheelie bins and changing in sheds...

10 years ago, it really was good riddance to old Lansdowne

Paul O'Connell is beaten at the lineout in Ireland's last game at the old Lansdowne Road in March 2006 (SPORTSFILE)
Paul O'Connell is beaten at the lineout in Ireland's last game at the old Lansdowne Road in March 2006 (SPORTSFILE)
Workmen tear down the stadium in 2007 (SPORTSFILE)
The new Lansdowne Road was officially opened in 2010 (Donal Murphy)

Joe O'Shea

Ten years ago today, the last Six Nations rugby match was played in the old Lansdowne Road.

As Ireland took the field against Scotland, the 36,000 capacity crowd, packed into the creaking stands and heaving terraces, could savour the final roars and the last, pungent wafts of fried onions, stale beer and blocked drains.

Rugby's oldest international test venue (Ireland first played England there on March 11, 1878) was a crumbling relic in an age of 21st century stadia. In terms of demolition, it appeared to be a race between the bulldozers and gravity.

English soccer fans had rioted in the West stand in 1995. FIFA crowd-safety rules dramatically decreased the capacity for soccer matches and in 2005, almost 7,000 fans were turned away from a test against New Zealand after fire broke out under the North terrace before the game.

Demolition began in May, 2007. The new Aviva stadium would take three years to build, cost €410m (with €191m of tax-payers' money) and change Dublin's skyline.

As the last of 4,251 poly-carbonate cladding panels were being fixed to the new stadium in early 2010, the final floors were also being completed on Dublin's tallest commercial building, the Montevetro tower on nearby Grand Canal Dock, which was about to become the European HQ for Google.

Renamed Google Docks and bought from Nama for €100m, the tower and the shiny new stadium nearby symbolised the dramatic redevelopment of some of Dublin's oldest streets and river-side docks.

For one of the lead architects on the project, there was no question that the old stadium had to come down.

Bryan Roe, of Dublin firm Scott Tallon Walker, says the old ground had "long since outlived its working life".

"You had top class international teams coming to play and they really couldn't believe the facilities for the players. The changing rooms were shockingly basic, no baths, not enough showers.

"You had world class athletes washing in wheelie bins and getting kitted out in what looked like sheds you'd find on the side of the road," says Mr Roe.

"The facilities for the fans were just as bad. And people talk about the Lansdowne Roar, but the terraces had no roofs, so the noise just went out of the stadium. Sometimes, it felt like you'd hear more of the roar on Grafton Street."

The brief from the IRFU and their tenants the FAI was to create a home for both sports and a 21st century experience for the fans (along with 36 corporate boxes which can hold 850 guests).

But there was also a very personal aspect to the project for architect Bryan Roe.


"My uncle, Robin Roe, played for Ireland in the fifties, he was capped 22 times and played for the Barbarians and the Lions as well. He was living in London at the time we were working on the new stadium, I kept him very well informed on the work," he says.

There were over 100 major objections lodged with the planners and three weeks of oral hearings in a hotel on O'Connell Street. Building a modern stadium in an old neighbourhood close to the city centre brought many challenges.

The distinctive "dip" in the stadium at the north end, where there is just one ground-level tier of seats, was necessary to allow light into the back gardens of the terrace of two-storey houses that are just 30 metres from the glass wall.

"The poly-carbonate panels used to cover the north terrace were partly chosen because they allow light to reach those gardens. They actually get far more light now than they did when the old terrace was there," says the architect.

For the fans, especially those who remember the many glory days in rugby and soccer at the old ground, you might expect a bit of misty-eyed nostalgia at its passing.

But the man dubbed Ireland's Biggest Sports Fan, retired Garda Jim Ryan from Cork, believes Lansdowne Road had to change.

"I had some great days there but it had long since served its purpose, it was badly in need of modernising," says Jim.

"I think it was when Irish fans started really travelling abroad in the '90s, and saw what modern stadiums were like, that was when Lansdowne Road looked a real relic in comparison."

The self-described sports obsessive, who has been to three Olympics, three World Cup finals, two European Championship finals, scores of All-Ireland finals and hundreds of Ireland soccer matches all over the world, says one night in the old ground stands out in particular.

"The night of the riot with the English fans in '95.

"Before the game started, I was giving out loads to the FAI stewards, because they had moved me from my usual seat, which was right under where the English fans were. I felt bad about it afterwards, they saved me from getting a seat thrown down on my head, or worse."

Irish Independent

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