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?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
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

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power