Terrible Lansdowne Road night almost ended in tragedy

A look back at the abandoned Ireland v England game in 1995 when thugs ran amok

 

Some of us who were caught up in the Lansdowne Road riots of 20 years ago feel lucky to have escaped from it unscathed.

It was an unconscionable breach of security on the part of the FAI and the gardaí which allowed thuggish English fans to run amok.

In 1995 hooliganism was still the “English disease”. English clubs were banned from Europe for five years after the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985. There was universal relief outside England when Graham Taylor’s side did not qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the US.

The gardaí and FAI had been lulled into a false sense of security by a previous Ireland-England match in November 1990 which passed off peacefully enough, though there were incidents around O’Connell Street after the match.

I was right under the English fans on the night of February 15th, 1995, when the match between Ireland v England was called off after just 27 minutes.

In light of what transpired afterwards it hardly mattered, but on the pitch Ireland had given England a chasing and fully deserved the 1-0 lead David Kelly had provided.

Lower Stand

I got a ticket outside the ground a few minutes before kick-off for Row B of the West Lower Stand. Above me in Row A of the West Upper Stand were the English fans who caused all the trouble.

The first thing I noticed as I took my seat was the stench of stale alcohol. As the game started, spittle came showering down from the seats above.

Kelly’s goal after 22 minutes was the cue for the demented, boozed up English fans to riot.

In The Irish Press the following day, I wrote: “There were no gardaí or stewards to stop the endless shower of missiles and debris coming from the Upper West Stand.

“We were sitting ducks as debris from the Upper Stand came showering down a few feet in front of us. Hemmed in on the right by the English fans, it took an age for us to vacate the seats to our left as steel fittings, wooden poles and plastic chairs came showering down on top of us. A garda four yards in front of me was hit on the head by a piece of steel broken off from the wire fencing.

“The gardaí prevented the thugs from leaving through the front, but they could have charged us to the left where the progress of people out of the West Stand was disgracefully slow.

“Eventually we made our way onto the field and to safety. From there I could see the staggering number of yobs on both decks of the West Stand - the intensity of their hatred undiminished by the disgrace they had brought on themselves and their country.

“Why did the FAI deem it unnecessary to put a cordon of gardaí between us and fans who are among the worst in the world?”

Security mistakes

The security mistakes that night were legion. The 2,000 England fans who were allocated tickets were supposed to have been legitimate paid up members of the England Travel Club.

To compound matters, the English fans were allocated the upper tier of the West Stand where they could fire missiles down on those below them.

Belatedly the gardaí took action against the thugs. There were 43 arrests and many convictions. I heard from a garda who was on duty that night that they “took out the timber” on the arrested hooligans at various garda stations across the city. Some gardaí suffered severe injuries.

There was no talk of the Human Rights Act in the police cells that night. It is unlikely the English police would have behaved any differently. The sense of outrage was universal.

There was speculation England would lose the European Championships which was held in the country in 1996. Fortunately for England it was too late to find an alternative host.

Government inquiry

The government set up an inquiry which was chaired by the former Chief Justic Mr Justice Thomas Finlay. Though couched in measured language, his report was an indictment of security measures taken that night.

Despite the reputation of England football fans, only 55 gardaí were on duty in the ground. The gardaí declined an offer by English police to send officers who would identify members of the National Front and Combat 18 at the centre of the violence. The gardaí did not pass on intelligence about the threat from travelling fans to the FAI.

There were no riot squad gardaí on duty that night and they had difficulty accessing the stadium afterwards because the stewards would not let anybody in.

The FAI was criticised for the resale of returned tickets which was not in keeping with its policy of strict segregation.

Twenty years on the English disease is mostly a thing of the past though English police have witnessed trouble at the last four away matches.

Some 1,300 potential troublemakers have been banned from travelling to Ireland for this game.

British police “spotters” will be in the Aviva stadium to identify English troublemakers that may slip through security.

The rickety old stadium has been transformed, relationships between England and Ireland are better than ever and the match is in daylight hours.

Nevertheless, all garda leave has been cancelled in the city. There will be a considerable garda presence in the stadium on Sunday with some 400 expected inside the ground.

For everybody’s sake, what happened 20 years ago must not be allowed to happen again.