Segregation nightmare that became a bloody coup for far-right hatred

Mayhem fuelled by anti-Irish bigotry Jim White, Alan Murdoch and Glenn Moore trace the events that ended in a night of shame THE DUBLIN FOTBALL RIOT
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At 11pm on Tuesday, in a bar in Dublin's O'Connell Street, Michael Williams, 23, from Stanley, Co Durham, and Andrew Hodges, 26, from Wigan, got into an argument.

In town for the following night's international football match between England and Ireland, they were refused service at closing time. In the ensuing clash a barman suffered stab wounds and was slashed with a broken bottle. The two men were arrested and are now on remand in Mountjoy prison.

Half an hour later, further down the street, a gang of 20 Englishmen tried to storm a night-club after being refused entry.

The police were called and baton-charged the gang in a bid to disperse them. According to the garda, the group was under the direction of Shaun Pullen, 22, from Leicester, who was, the next morning, fined Ir£75 for disturbing the peace.

Tuesday was, then, a quiet night in Dublin. Or at least quiet by the standards European cities have come to expect on the night before a football international involving England.

The garda had been warned, from regular briefings over the last month with their Scotland Yard counterparts, to expect trouble: a group of 30 or so right-wing extremists, it was thought, was anxious to use the opportunity presented by the media focus on the game to make its point about the present nature of Anglo-Irish relations.

But, as a public order incident, Tuesday night was no worse than the rugby international between the two countries a month before, better certainly, than the aftermath of the annual St Patrick's Day parade. And nothing compared to the usual beery mayhem unleashed by England on tour.

Gardai preened themselves on a good night's work. It didn't occur to anyone that energies were being saved and numbers preserved for another place. A place where the cameras would be.

By Wednesday afternoon, in pubs around the Lansdowne Road stadium, the Englishmen had grown more ostentatious. Their lager-fuelled chants were not the usual stuff of football followers: "No surrender to the IRA", they sang, and "Fuck the Pope" and "Clegg is innocent."

Irish supporters were goaded, spat on and attacked. Pub staff, breathing a sigh of relief when their visitors moved off to the match, discovered right-wing literature, bearing the imprint of the British National Party, distributed liberally about their premises. Some pubs found their lavatories redecorated in pro-Ulster loyalist graffiti. Outside in the street, Irish fans were surprised to see one sizeable group of English marching toward the stadium in military-style formation.

Despite the prior intelligence, no one knew quite how many English were in Dublin. The garda suggested there were 4,000, but only 2,700 tickets had been sent to the Football Association in London, for sale through the quaintly named "England Travel Club".

Nine hundred of these were returned unsold, many of which leaked out on to the streets of Dublin with the consequence that dozens of Irish fans found themselves buying tickets marked: "Visiting Team Supporters." One man rang up the Football Association of Ireland to inquire whether it would be safe to take his 14-year-old daughter on such a ticket. He was told it would be.

Generally, football and rugby games at Lansdowne Road are played in the afternoon. But, because Sky Television wanted to screen the game live, the kick-off was put back to 6.15pm. The usual practice of checking tickets at crash barriers several dozen yards from the stadium became difficult in the dark, and thousands of spectators flooded past unscreened.

The kind of security usually associated with England matches overseas - cross-checking tickets with proof of identity - was entirely absent.

Inside the ground, it was soon clear that the upper and lower tiers of the west stand were a segregation nightmare, with English and Irish mixing in both sections. Irish fans in the upper tier were informed that they would be attacked if Ireland took the lead: "you'll get your fucking head kicked in if the IRA bastards score", one was told.

From her position across the stadium, Jill Smith, the FA Travel Club organiser, was horrified as she surveyed the England contingent. "I knew as soon as I saw our supporters that there were fans among them who didn't belong to the travel club," Ms Smith said.

"I couldn't understand how they got into the ground because we have control of sale and distribution of tickets to travel-club members."

Indeed, this was not the usual run of England follower in Lansdowne Road. These were not the shower of unfashionably dressed inadequates from Chippenham and Cheltenham who generally find a channel for their unfocused racist and nationalist urges through latching on to the England team.

These were, in the words of one fan, "top lads" from respected older crews at Chelsea, Millwall, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Real headcases. Few wore colours, several had balaclavas, several more had pocket cameras, recording every incident in detail, to be published later in specialist literature, perhaps.

At 6.12pm, the game's preliminaries began and the band's salute for the Irish President, Mary Robinson, was drowned by whistles and catcalls from the upper west stand. Prior police intelligence predicted that the singing of the anthems - the first time they had been aired before an England match in Dublin since 1964 - might be the pre-arranged signal for significant disturbance. But, though both tunes were punctuated with catcalls and whistles and Nazi salutes, nothing occurred.

At 6.17pm the game kicked off, and 28 minutes later, with the England team floundering, David Kelly scored for Ireland. The Irish fans, with some historical justification, chanted "you'll never beat the Irish".

The speed and violence of the response in the upper west stand suggested it was an opposition goal, rather than the anthems, that was the pre-arranged signal for English action.

While the Irish supporters in their midst were bundled, kicked and punched down the exit stairs, a significant group of Englishmen began to throw missiles on to the supporters below. Golf balls, stones in socks, and sharpened coins landed on the heads of the English and Irish mixed below.

Many of these fans sought refuge on the pitch, where several of the English engaged in skirmishes with gardai, stewards, television crews and Irish fans. The half dozen or so riot police in the upper west stand made their excuses and left.

It was immediately clear that this was no ordinary disturbance: mindless it was not. With no police in evidence, with the majority of their number standing around sympathetically, and with all the cameras trained their way, large numbers of the English began to tear up seats and advertising hoardings and fling them at anyone who took their fancy - a photographer suffered a fractured skull, another man was taken to hospital after a sharp object penetrated his head. Their work was conducted to the constant refrain of "Fuck the IRA".

At 6.45pm, Dennis Jol, the match referee, abandoned proceedings. David Platt, the England captain and Jack Charlton, the Irish manager, went over to the stand to appeal for calm. The response suggested their chances of success were limited: Charlton was taunted with cries of "Judas". It was 20 minutes before riot police reinforcements arrived from outside the ground and made their way into the upper west stand. By now, most of the Irish and the non-politically motivated English fans had left the stadium, but the rioters continued to throw missiles (20 rows of seats were re-allocated to a different part of the ground) for nearly half an hour before the riot police began to shepherd them towards their transport to Dun Laoghaire.

When the English reacted to being herded, the gardai, perhaps frustrated by their previous softly-softly approach, responded with a vigorous and sustained display of truncheon wielding.

At Dun Laoghaire, the 150 yards between the train station and Dublin Wall ferry terminal, became a battleground as gardai saw the English homeward with a baton charge.

Meanwhile, in O'Connell Street, thousands of Irish fans poured out angry and seeking retribution from the pubs where they had gathered to watch the game: English fans who had made their way to the city were attacked and taunted. By midnight, when the riot had finally subsided, the score was England 38 arrests, Ireland 3. Sixty-one people were injured.

The next morning, as the English arrived back at Holyhead to a hurricane of coverage, many uttered the standard "it- wasn't-us-and-anyway-if-it- was-we-was-provoked" cry of the returning England football fans.

Nick, a 26-year-old from south London, had a different view. "The people who started it off this time weren't England fans. There were only 30 hard-core right-wing racists who started it off. They're the ones to blame." Which was the message the British police had been trying to deliver for a month. Leading article, page 16

Hooligans most foul, page 17

European prospects, page 36