Sport International Soccer

Sunday 22 April 2018

'We weren't footballers anymore. We were husbands, fathers and sons' - Alan Kelly recalls horrific Lansdowne riot

Rioting England fans in the Upper West Stand which forced the abandonment of the game in 1995
Rioting England fans in the Upper West Stand which forced the abandonment of the game in 1995
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

It can be easily lost on some, but it wasn't just the Ireland fans who were engulfed with fear in Lansdowne Road on February 15, 1995.

This Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of when England came to town and ripped up the famous old stadium in a barbaric show of hooliganism that saw the friendly match between Jack Chalrton's Ireland and Terry Venables' England abandoned.

Ireland led 1-0 thanks to a David Kelly strike but after a David Platt goal was ruled out for offside in the 27th minute, the football would end and the neanderthals in the West Upper took centre stage.

Ireland fans in the West Lower were forced to run for their lives as the cowardly English hooligans fired seats and planks of wood from the top tier.

But the fear wasn't only limited to the fans in the stadium. Alan Kelly, who was goalkeeper for Ireland on the night, has recalled the worry that the Ireland players went through as they were hauled into the dressing room away from the chaos outside.

"I just seem to remember what could be perceived as a trigger. David Platt broke through and scored, but his goal was ruled out," Kelly told today's Irish Daily Star.

"After that, all hell broke loose. I was at the far end and I just remember seeing everything erupt."

It subsequently transpired that a large number of English hooligans with links to Combat 18 had travelled to Dublin with the sole intention of causing trouble. And Kelly admits he sensed it kicking off early on.

An English fan is restrained by gardai after rioting at the Republic of Ireland v England friendly at Lansdowne Road in 1995
An English fan is restrained by gardai after rioting at the Republic of Ireland v England friendly at Lansdowne Road in 1995

"You were aware of the hostility of the away fans right from the start," added Kelly.

"As players at the time you were zoning into the game. We had done our warm up, gone out and we had lined up for the anthems. We had the mentality of being ready for the whistle to go.

"You probably hear players say in many interviews that they couldn't hear the crowd or they didn't notice the surroundings. You would be totally focused on the surroundings. You would be totally focused on the game in hand and that was the case for the majority of us."

That focus was to shift however.

David Kelly slided the ball home past England keeper David Seaman in the 21st minute to give Ireland a deserved lead and the Irish fans were in full voice.

But six minutes later Platt saw his goal disallowed and hell broke loose.

"I remember it was sort of a still night. There was a bit of mist that you used to get under the old lights at Lansdowne Road. Suddenly I could see debris - chunks of wood and then virtually a whole section of bench - coming over the second tier and on the people below," added Kelly.

"I was stood that far away I probably had a better view than anyone on the pitch. It looked surreal. I remember thinking 'is this really happening?'.

"It seemed an age before the referee realised the gravity of the situation. My wife and father-in-law were very close to the English fans.

"At that time the family seats were right next to the away fans in the West Upper section. There was literally an isle and a few stewards separating them.

"By that stage we weren't footballers anymore. We were husbands, fathers and sons and we were looking for our family members who were among the fans.

"I remember Denis Irwin was out on the pitch and he said he saw his wife and family. Denis actually brought my wife and father-in-law into the changing rooms. After that it was pretty much a case of - is everyone ok? Have they got out of the stadium? Are they making their way home? Are they coming back in or back to the hotel, as my wife and father-in-law did?"

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