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Friday 9 December 2016

Grudge match? This was more like a hungover Sunday brunch

England's Raheem Sterling (right) and Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman battle for the ball during the international friendly at The Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
England's Raheem Sterling (right) and Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman battle for the ball during the international friendly at The Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland

What a difference two decades makes. In February 1995, I stood on the north terrace at the old Lansdowne Road watching in shock as bits of the old West stand rained down.

English hooligans went on the rampage and baton- wielding gardai waded into Combat 18-supporting headcases after the game was abandoned. You'll have relived some of these scenes in the build-up to yesterday's game, the first between the two nations since that infamous night.

Twenty years on, and walking around town before kick-off you were more likely to see groups of English hen nights than hooligans (although this can sometimes be just as scary!).

As for the game itself? I almost nodded off. This was a drab, dreary exercise in laying an old ghost to rest.

An early kick-off and a collection of hangovers most likely made a huge difference.

The distance we've travelled since that cold night in 1995 seems remarkable now: the Good Friday Agreement, the boom and bust of the Celtic Tiger, the successful visits of both the Queen and Prince Charles.

The relationship with our near neighbours has changed utterly.

Where the England fans gave us Nazi salutes and brainlessly droned on about not surrendering to the IRA in '95, yesterday it was chanting Thierry Henry's name and a cheeky pop at the FAI with a chant of "Sepp Blatter, he paid for your ground".

The Irish fans could only applaud the wind-up.

The England fans filled the Havelock Square end, St George's flags pinned along the back wall of a stadium very different from their last visit.

They seemed subdued, bored even. Their breakfasts had barely settled.

SURPRISE

When Jack Charlton appeared from the tunnel in the day's most pleasant surprise, they joined in the applause as the home fans burst into an "Ole ole ole" and paid their respects to a visibly-moved Charlton.

When the anthems came, a smattering of boos rippled through the crowd but were soon drowned out.

The home support applauded politely after God Save The Queen then joined the cross-border 'Peace Choir' in belting out Amhran na bhFiann.

The English responded with a chorus of 'Ingerlund'.

That's about as loud as it got all day.

Less a hard-hitting, ankle-clipping grudge match, this was more like Sunday brunch in sunny D4 with someone you never got on particularly well with.

It was very polite, well- behaved and utterly boring. We spent most of the game looking at our watches wondering how long was left.

The fans gave it their all but with qualifying games on the horizon for both sides, this was never going to be the blood and thunder affair we all craved.

Both sides made a rake of substitutions and a bored support resorted to taking their frustrations out on Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, who was booed throughout.

Compared with the nastiness of '95, this was nothing to write home about.

Just like the game.

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