Sunday 19 November 2017

'At the port, a bloodied fan raised his fist and joined the mob'

An English fan is restrained by a Garda during Republic of Ireland v England, Lansdowne Road, Dublin
An English fan is restrained by a Garda during Republic of Ireland v England, Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Nazi salutes among the England fans in the Lansdowne Road riot of 1995

At the time of the Lansdowne Road riot I was a reporter on the now defunct Evening Press.

Soon after the match was abandoned, with missiles raining down on the pitch, I was instructed by my news editor to go to Dun Laoghaire as quickly as possible.

The English fans were to be herded on to the Holyhead ferry at the old terminal (since demolished). The plan was to ship the fans out of the country as quickly as possible before they ran amok in the city centre.

I went there to find hordes of English supporters streaming in by DART and by taxi, decked in red, white and blue.

Most were ordinary, innocent supporters as disgusted as the rest of us that another sporting event had been marred. But others chanted anti-Irish slogans - "No surrender to the IRA" - and were ready to continue the fight.

The abiding image that sticks in my memory is of an English fan with a bandaged head arriving at the terminal in a taxi.

He was bloodied and unbowed, emerging from the vehicle with a cheerful countenance.


He politely thanked the taxi driver, and gave him a generous tip, before raising his fist, shouting and rejoining the mob.

For these fans, hooliganism was a recreational activity, almost akin to birdwatching or train-spotting.

One of the peculiarities of the travelling English thugs is that some seemed well-to-do. It later emerged that one of those convicted for his part in the riot was a senior official in the British Inland Revenue.

I suppose only the richer hooligans could afford to travel to every English match.

Having lived in England previously, I knew how capable the police there were at herding football fans hither and thither - from football grounds to railway stations. They were like unruly cattle being led to market. But our own boys in blue seemed quite unprepared for the trouble.

A thin blue line of gardai surrounded the fans as they were loaded on to the boat, but every so often a group broke way and ran up the street.

The situation was not helped by a group of local lads who had gathered along the railings overlooking the terminal.

They started taunting the English fans from a safe distance. At one point, with insults being hurled both ways, a group of English fans broke away and chased the local lads up towards Marine Road. There were pitched battles on the Promenade as baton-wielding gardai tried to control them.

In those days few reporters had mobile phones and laptops. So I had to commandeer the nearest public phone box in Dun Laoghaire, and breathlessly read a few paragraphs to a copy taker back at Press headquarters.

The riot strengthened the resolve of authorities to bring an end to England's era of rampant soccer hooliganism, and happily there have not been many similar incidents since.

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