Football

The Lansdowne Road Riot - Reliving One Of The Most Infamous Nights In Irish Sport

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of one of the most bizarre and sad nights in Irish and indeed English football, the Landsdowne Road riot.

It should be remembered a friendly with England near the end of the Jack Charlton era - the one opponent who helped define the whole amazing ride with Jack. We didn't know then that it was all coming to an end.

Ireland were top of our Euro 1996 qualifying group when England came to town. Just back from the World Cup, and three wins out of three since, including a 4-0 win in Windsor Park in November.

It would quickly all fall apart and our greatest ever team would almost immediately begin its sad decline, but as of February 1995, all was well for Jack Charlton and the Republic of Ireland.

England meanwhile had turned to Terry Venables after failing to qualify for the USA. Because they were to host Euro 96, he settled into the job with two years of "crucial friendlies" to help define his team and his style of play.

So it was an exciting time. England had been here in late 1990 for a Euro 92 qualifier, but in the era of pre-floodlights Lansdowne Road, it was somehow the least memorable of our three consecutive 1-1 draws with them over the course of 1990 and 1991.

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This was still a rare visit from the old enemy and was as exciting an occasion as an international friendly is ever likely to be.

The game was living up to it too. Every Irish fan back then knew the script. England couldn't beat Ireland. And then we went ahead through David Kelly.

Kelly was stalwart of the Charlton era, who was never quite first choice but always seemed to score. We were following the script. At the very least, we were heading to another 1-1 draw.

Unfortunately, by the end of the night, football and the on-pitch storyline had taken a backseat.

Our favourite YouTube user KillianM2 has uploaded the entire RTE broadcast of the game here:

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The trouble starts at around the 39 minute mark in the video, and in the 27th minute of the game, not long after the Irish goal and immediately after a David Platt equaliser for England is ruled out for an obvious offside.

The TV audience would only slowly become aware of what was happening. The game is going on but a loud booing has started in the crowd that is ignored by George Hamilton and the RTE director for what seems like ages, but is actually only a few seconds.

Then we see it, trouble in the old West Stand.

In 1995, we weren't as removed from the idea of violence and rioting in football grounds as we might be now. And still, something about it happening during a friendly at Lansdowne Road, was both shocking and disconcerting.

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We would later find out a lot of the details of just how abhorent these "fans" were, and there would be serious questions about how they were allowed access to the game. We would also learn that due to a ticketing mix up, a number of Irish fans had been placed right in the middle of the trouble.

At the time though, the shock of the situation consumed us all.

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Conor Neville broke down exaxtly who these people were on this site a couple of years ago.

This World in Action programme from the late 90s uncovered the group blamed for orchestrating the rioting.

They door-stepped Charlie Sargent, the slightly gormless individual (his mouth is almost permanently open) who was the brains behind Combat 18. During the course of the interview, Sargent made several valiant attempts to attack the camera lens and threatened his interviewer with the promise of a bullet in the head.

Sargent founded Combat 18 in 1992. The number 18 was used because of the numerical position of Adolf Hitler's initials on the alphabet. Initially they operated as a kind of stewarding/security group for the BNP but split from them the following year because of their hostility to electoral politics. The BNP's philosophy also left them cold. They weren't nationalists, they were racialists.

Football hooligans, political sophisticates that they are, were receptive to this group's 'message'. Neo-Nazi literature was distributed at English football grounds and was found among the debris at Lansdowne Road the following morning.

Their links to the UDA were well known. When asked on World in Action whether he agreed with the killing of Catholics C18/UDA operative Eddie Whicker decided it would be imprudent to answer in either the positive or the negative.

They asserted the invasion of Dublin as their greatest 'success'. Whether they organised it or not, Combat 18 claimed the 'credit' for it.

On the back of the game, the FA would get a lot tougher in making sure that banned "fans" stayed away from games and the English football team didn't visit Ireland again for another twenty years. It became a massive issue for a country that would be hosting the European Championships just 16 months later.

Ireland would not be making the trip to Euro 96, after falling apart in the campaign and losing a playoff to the Netherlands in Anfield. Later in 1995, we would beat Portugal in Lansdowne but that was to be the end of the great days under Jack. The rioters perhaps robbed us of one the last true epic results in our greatest footballing era.


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