James Lawton on England v Republic of Ireland: Here's hoping England's dark days are in the past

Every other nation had dealt with the problem. Why not England?

However much of it you had seen, the hooliganism that so coldly and systematically destroyed the last football match played between England and Ireland 18 years ago had a peculiar horror.

It was so dismissive, so contemptuous. Football meant nothing, or at least no more than the most vulnerable stage invaded by thugs with an entirely different purpose.

The innocent had to flee for their lives. Fathers had to protect sons from the missiles, which were mostly seats torn up in an old stadium which stored so many great memories.

On this occasion the beast had come out of its box at the bidding of the right-wing organisation Combat 18. The chants of 'Seig Heil' and 'No Surrender to the IRA' were fuelled more by orchestrated hate than the routine swilling of booze, and when the game was wiped out inside half an hour it was this that brought the sharpest despair.

England was just 18 months away from staging the second most important international tournament, the European Championships, and here was Terry Venables, the coach charged with renovating the national team shockingly excluded from the previous year's World Cup, shaking his head and saying, "Some days now you have to wonder about the point of football when it can be abused like it has been tonight."

Now it is comfortable to believe there will no such scarring tomorrow night when England and Ireland meet again, this time at the new Wembley rather than the old, ransacked Lansdowne Road, but Venables' successor Roy Hodgson is surely right to put every England fan on guard.

His call is for respect, not just for the Irish fans who have built an enviable reputation as arguably world football's most agreeable travellers since their English messiah Jack Charlton first gained entrance to the Euro and World Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, but for the game itself.

The call is timely in view of the brush some England fans had with claims against them of racial chanting at the recent World Cup qualifier in San Marino, and Hodgson has simply underlined the point that if there is one football nation on earth which cannot forget the need for vigilance it is England.

Dublin on 15 February, 1995, surely made the point for all time. A football match had been hijacked, a stadium had been trashed, and there is an enduring image of a young Irish boy, his father's protective arm around his shoulder, looking with apprehension and disbelief at the engulfing riot.

The chief executive of the Football Association, Graham Kelly, said he would assure Uefa that security would be redoubled for Euro 96 but he could not begin to dissipate an appalling sense of futility. England's captain David Platt was as disconsolate as his coach, saying: "I'm a footballer who likes to play on a rectangular pitch, but who wants to talk about football tonight?"

Venables added: "I don't think I've ever felt so empty in all my time in the game. Something like this makes you feel hollow, completely numb. We are supposed to be building towards a great tournament next year, something to make the whole country proud, but something like this happens. It's sickening that these people can come along and wreck everything in just a few minutes."

Such people are somewhat in abeyance now, of course, but this was no reason for Hodgson not to sound his warning and make his plea.

The horror certainly still had plenty of momentum after they cleaned up Lansdowne Road. The following year there was much good cheer and singing of "Football's Coming Home'' before England lost in the semi-final to Germany and then there was a riot in Trafalgar Square.

Two years later in the World Cup in France, Marseilles was besieged, the old port district becoming a battlefield – and Kelly again wore the expression of a man who could see no light in the darkness. "No, you cannot really see where it will end," he said in the stench of tear gas.

Two years later in the European Championships in Belgium, England were warned of possible expulsion – the first front rank nation to suffer such a threat with the then Uefa president, Lennart Johannson, declaring: "Every other nation has found a way of dealing with this problem – why not England?" The government was asked the same question with some ferocity after disgusting scenes in Brussels and Charleroi.

Why not England? Because an overwhelmed game and, more significantly, successive governments were so slow to react to the problem that began to emerge as early as the early Sixties and which a decade later provoked the great old Spurs manager Bill Nicholson to yell to rioting fans in the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam: "You make me ashamed to be an Englishman."

We can only hope that Roy Hodgson has done enough to head off the merest hint of such old embarrassment at Wembley tomorrow night.

Suggested Topics
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss