Monday 19 February 2018

Flashback 1995: England soccer fans riot in Lansdowne Road

Twenty-one years ago this week, a friendly match at Lansdowne Road turned into a riot as England soccer fans tore the stadium apart

The Landsdowne Road riot 1995. Photo: David Conachy
The Landsdowne Road riot 1995. Photo: David Conachy

Ger Siggins

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, English soccer fans were feared all over Europe. Nobody wanted to be drawn against their teams in competition. The deaths of 39 Italian fans in Brussels in 1985 led to the football and civil authorities clamping down, and within a decade the problem had largely been eradicated.

By February 1995, scheduling a game between Ireland and England in Dublin was not widely seen as a problem. And the FAI was delighted at the chance to fill Lansdowne Road with its senior team riding high at No 9 in the world rankings.

The gardaí agreed the game could go ahead, but wanted it to kick off at lunchtime on February 15. Neither the FAI nor FA agreed, and broadcasters bridled at the idea too, but they arrived at a compromise starting time of 6.15pm. Ireland were badly hit by injuries, with six first-choice stars missing including Roy Keane, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge. But the replacements were keen to impress Jack Charlton, and after 21 minutes they took the lead through David Kelly. But whatever chance of a famous victory ended eight minutes later as the evening descended into chaos and the referee brought the players into the dressing room, never to re-emerge.

'England's shame' ran the Irish Independent's headline next day, with the ugly face of an England fan contorted in hate as gardaí dragged him away. Stephen O'Brien, David Murphy and Jody Corcoran began their report: "English soccer hooliganism exploded in an orgy of violence at Lansdowne Road last night when the 'friendly' international was abandoned amid scenes of vandalism and riot."

Several mistakes were made in the run-up to the game - including the gardaí refusing the offer of assistance in identifying potential hooligans from specialist English police units - but perhaps the worst mistake was the decision to place the visiting fans on the upper deck of the West Stand where there were also Irish fans. These bore the brunt of the initial wave of abuse and fled. "We were kicked down the stairs," said one Irish fan. "We could have been killed."

The near-dilapidated grandstand provided the thugs with plenty of ammunition. The wooden and plastic seats were ripped up and thrown from the top deck on fans below and out on to the field. Star photographer Neil Fraser and garda (and Roscommon footballer) Eamon McManus both suffered fractured skulls. Sixty-two people were treated for their injuries.

A report by Chief Justice Liam Hamilton was critical of the gardaí and FAI, but also found that right-wing English factions had planned and executed the violence. Eighty-six English fans were convicted of public order offences and most were heavily fined and banned from Ireland for up to 20 years.

It was more than those 20 years before England would return to Dublin for a friendly, a 0-0 draw last June which passed off without incident.

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