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Ireland step into the danger zone

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15 Febuary 1995, England Fans in Landsdowne Road.
Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

15 Febuary 1995, England Fans in Landsdowne Road. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

15 Febuary 1995, England Fans in Landsdowne Road. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

THE frozen snapshots in time which many media outlets have used to illustrate the true awfulness of a night in November in 1995 can never really tell the full story of the Lansdowne Riot.

I was there that night, sitting in the press box when it all kicked off. I saw the thug with the umbrella – a big yellow one if memory serves me well – which provided the signal for mayhem to commence when he opened it.

But the fighting had been ongoing for hours before the game around Dublin and Lansdowne Road was just the centre-piece. How someone didn't die that day was a major miracle.

Tonight's Wembley extravaganza could not be further away from the cold reality of blood and weapons of casual destruction used by some very nasty Englishmen. The stadiums have changed dramatically and policing is easier.

But the men who ripped Lansdowne Road to pieces haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.

Right now, London is on a hair-trigger with every tiny possibility of terror exposed immediately to the full searchlight of Her Majesty's finest. It is desperately off-putting to see young men and women toting heavy assault rifles in broad daylight.

Their major interest is in the obvious; deranged men and women who brandish the Koran as justification for outrageously brutal acts of violence with appalling consequences for ordinary people.

But they have other targets and a few days back, the police watched nervously while the English Defence League, a distillation of the National Front, Combat 18, BNP and every other nutty and inherently racist group in Britain, marched on Downing Street to protest about the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby.

 

Division

It should be remembered that Combat 18 members were right in the middle of events in Lansdowne Road on that night and over the years have continued to preach a message of hate and division, these days aimed more at Islam than the IRA but they have not forgotten.

Many of the details of the Lansdowne Road event have been smoothed out over time and the focus for the last week or so has been on the nature of the violence and the people committing it.

But the FAI was in the firing line at the time as indeed were the Gardaí and pretty much everyone involved in organising and policing a big event like a football match in Dublin.

First and foremost, everyone wanted to know why English fans were placed in a position where they commanded high ground and if they did choose to cut loose, could not be contained.

Pre-match intelligence supplied by the English police which highlighted the threat from Combat 18 slipped through the cracks and was not acted upon.

Questions were asked about the number of Gardaí allocated to the task of policing the game. It wasn't as though Dublin had never seen such violence before as anyone who witnessed the march on the British Embassy in 1981 or Dalymount Riot in 1984 would readily testify.

But in 1995, the football hooligan issue was in decline and while security preparations for the England game were spectacularly inadequate, nobody really believed that there would be serious trouble.

Mostly, Ireland fans turned up to see a good game and when you run a finger down the two team sheets, there was a better than even chance that they would get their wish.

England had men like Adams and Pallister, Shearer, Beardsley and Matt Le Tissier in his pomp while Ireland had Alan Kelly, Denis Irwin, Andy Townsend, Paul McGrath and Steve Staunton.

There are some who still maintain that the football played by the boys in green during those 27 minutes was about the best they had ever seen from an Irish team and that if the game had run its full course, a benchmark beating of England would have been established that would have been almost impossible to top.

Certainly, nobody is expecting anything similar from Giovanni Trapattoni's vintage. The man has been preaching caution all week and while he does seem to understand the dynamic of the fixture, he has never paused for a moment in the past when it comes to party-pooping.

He will return to his formula and Ireland will attempt to contain England in their own half with goal chances likely to emerge from set-pieces – standard stuff really.

For all sorts of reasons, this is a game we would all love to win, but it is definitely one the players will not want to lose – especially if it takes another 18 years to find a slot for a return fixture in Dublin.

What could be very, very interesting indeed, however, is if England hit a purple patch and do what Spain and Germany have done to Trapattoni's Ireland in the last 12 months and administer a caning.

Sure, there are no points at issue but a 5-0 scoreline in England's favour would stretch the notion that no international manager should ever fear the sack after a friendly defeat.

And the hooligans? There might be a song or two and even a scuffle or three but London's current state of lockdown will prevent anything of serious consequence from occurring. Heavy weaponry in police hands has a way of calming things down.


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