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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future