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'One of the worst displays of football violence' - Giles

IT was the night England's culture of soccer hooliganism came to Dublin.

Hundreds of drunken supporters had travelled across the water with the sole intention of causing mayhem.

"On the night, it was fairly horrific and it spoiled what should have been a great sporting occasion," recalled former TD Bernard Allen, who was in Lansdowne Road on February 15, 1995, in his capacity as the Sports Minister.

Along with the rest of the dignitaries – including President Mary Robinson – he was asked to leave once the rioting broke out, but decided to stay.

"I stayed and I was looking at what happened," he added.

 

ALLEGATION

What surprised him afterwards was the reaction of the then Tory sports minister, who blamed gardai for the disturbances.

Conservative MP Iain Sproat accused gardai of "inefficiencies" when the two men met, Mr Allen said.

The ex-Fine Gael deputy believed the allegation was "totally unjustified".

Mr Allen told Mr Sproat that the problem lay with English fans.

"I said, you have the problem, it's your fans – you have the culture of violence in soccer. It was foreign to Irish sport," he recalled.

But Mr Allen admitted the riots raised questions about stadium safety and crowd control.

Football pundit John Giles described the events of February 15 as "dreadful".

 

ORGANISED

"It was one of the worst exhibitions [of football violence] I had seen. It was at a time of a lot of troubles [with fan behaviour] anyway.

"Normally, when it happened in England, it was organised disruption. I think it was definitely organised on the night by an element of the English crowd."

Herald photographer Kyran O'Brien was given the task of accompanying the thugs on their return journey to Holyhead.

"Gardai managed to get them all down towards the port in Dun Laoghaire. About 20 gardai were put on the ferry with them," Kyran said. Officers advised him not to take photographs as it might antagonise the hundreds of drunken fans on board.

"Gardai were saying to me, don't incite them at all. We were trying to stay incognito. They were shouting and roaring, and then they calmed down," he said.

On the other side, British transport police were waiting with dogs and horses to contain the situation.

"They were well used to them and well ready for them. The minute they got off the boat, the supporters were like kittens. They were herded on to trains. If they put a foot wrong, the police were on them," Kyran said.

comurphy@herald.ie


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