“I just hope everyone behaves themselves, but I fear they might not,” opined a concerned Gary Lineker, as I interviewed the England legend at a Dublin hotel just a few yards away from what was to become a crime scene less than 24 hours later.
It may be been a throwaway comment from Lineker as he was probably a little bemused by his decision to grant an interview to a star-struck novice reporter, yet we all knew the Ireland’s clash with the old enemy was laced with undertones.
Even though the headlines in the Irish newspapers on the day of the game warned of trouble ahead, the decision to proceed with the playing of England’s God Save the Queen, a tune the visiting thugs saw as a rallying cry for their rampant version of nasty nationalism, was a mistake that didn’t take long to backfire.
At a time when football was being repeatedly tarnished by its imbecile minority, this once in a lifetime chance to ‘invade’ Irish soil was not be missed by the English trouble makers, with this sub-standard army of morons who used the beautiful game as a vehicle to vent their anger staging the ultimate event to display their venom.
In this modern era, where the Premier League has taken the game into a different social and economic stratosphere, it is hard to recall the days when football fans were viewed as the second-class citizens who ranked a long way below the vermin on the social ladder, yet England fans helped to cement that reputation with their persistent offending.
In the 1980s and early 90s, following the Three Lions abroad was as much about causing trouble as it was watching football with the remit being as follows:
(i) Follow the England team to a capital city in whatever corner of Europe that happen to be in
(ii) Head for a large open space that had bars in it and within a few hours, start a fight
(iii) Police generally arrived with water cannons soon after....what fun they had
It was pastime a few thousand Englishmen simply adored two or three times a year, with the presence of TV camera crews who followed their every move with unedifying relish promoting their cause and turning them into minor celebrities in their tragic little world.
15 February 1995; An England fan is restrained by Gardai after rioting in the West Stand forced the abandonment of the game. International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v England, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE
The date of February 15th 1995 in Dublin was viewed by these lesser gifted individuals as their once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a point at a delicate stage in the fledgling Northern Ireland peace process, with a poisonous concoction of fury allowed to brew among those who were using the beautiful game as a vehicle to vent their anger.
As they sang ‘no surrender to the IRA’ on their march up to Lansdowne Road, it was clear that they meant business, with the Nazi salutes that greeted the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann confirming this was a mob intent on attention seeking on a grand scale.
David Kelly’s opening goal for Ireland merely served to heighten their impatient eagerness to disgrace their nation and as the seats rained down from the upper tier of the stand I was sitting in on the night, it was clear that their final attack was underway.
They duly got the game abandoned before fighting their way through the streets as their were escorted out of the stadium by local police who had been hopelessly under-prepared and equally naive in their approach to controlling such a high profile occasion.
Images of bloodied stewards being led away and and angry Ireland boss Jack Charlton on pitch (below) as fools from the country of his birth ruined a big night at Lansdowne Road live long in the memory. What a shambles.
My personal pride in my Irish heritage mattered little on a night when I feared my English accent would be a major handicap as I gathered with colleagues to try and make sense of the shameful events we had witnessed. There was an air of shock lingering, but it was sadly all so predictable.
Unfortunately, my miserable experience did not end there, as the mindless idiots who dragged the sport and their country through the dirt were in triumphant mood the following day when I joined a clutch of them on their way back to their beloved motherland.
15 February 1995; A young child is carried to safety after rioting broke out in the Upper West Stand forcing the abandonment of the game. International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v England, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Sitting on a low budget airline is rarely a pleasurable experience, but being surrounded by brain dead yobs who affiliated themselves to a hooligan cult that went by the codename of Combat 18, it quickly became evident that their ‘achievements’ of their trip were a source of great pride.
Passing newspapers around the plane and proudly spotting images of themselves and their friends and comrades who had carried out the successful mission to enemy territory, this was a species of human being that had not been blessed with any sense of decency.
The tragedy was that these enemies of our game were allowed to disappear into the night sky, doubtless encouraged by the events of their great night in Dublin to wreak havoc on another foreign land sooner rather than later.
More than 20 years may have passed since that dark February night was etched into the annals of English football infamy and thankfully, most of the fools who used to attach themselves to this curiously jingoistic national team have called a cease fire to their violence. Maybe they grew out of it, maybe the ran out of money. Who cares.
England and hooliganism no longer go hand in hand, it seems, yet many fear the disease of football thuggery is merely in state of hibernation, with incidents of fan violence on the rise around club matches in recent years.
While rugby followers of the two nations have confirmed they can gather together at Croke Park, the most symbolic of Irish sporting venues, and promote an emotive and peaceful harmony, some would still question whether soccer fans could follow suit when Ireland and England play at the new Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Football has never been a war, but England’s most unpleasant exports made it their duty to turn it into one on that fateful night at Lansdowne Road.
The shame for their appalling behaviour is enduring and it can only be hoped those who carried out their premeditated acts of brutality have found something better to do with their time than trying to attach themselves to football.